Penumbra: textured shadow, coloured light, by Rashid Al Khalifa, at Saatchi Gallery

The exhibition Penumbra: textured shadow, coloured light curated by Eva MacGraw and Tatiana Palinkasev opened on the 3rd of October at Saatchi Gallery, London, and presents the Bahraini artist’s, Rashid Al Khalifa, most recent tridimensional work.

On painted aluminium surfaces the artist creates small openings revealing what is behind those surfaces, something that is normally hidden. The meshes made out of the same material create light and shadow effects that explore changes in spatial experience depending on the viewer’s position.


Since more or less the beginning of the 2000 that you have started to challenge the bidimensional aspects of painting, of painting support. This exhibition brings together new tridimensional works that are the result of an experimentation path that has probably started in your convex canvases. How does your interest in creating space influenced the technique and support used on your pieces?

As you rightly said, from the year 2000 I have started using a convex support for painting. I have started with a wood support and I have done several paintings on it. I have always liked the convex shape and, at some point, I wanted to try to do it with different materials. So I thought that aluminium could be a good one since it is flexible and light can be reflected on it suggesting movement.

Of course that on aluminium you can not use normal oil paint, you have to use enamel paint whose application is completely different from oil, normally used on a canvas. With that medium, the work has to have certain guidelines, a certain execution procedure. In that sense, firstly you have to apply a primer, then a first coat and right after, a second coat in order to make it really durable so that it can stand the external conditions (weather, etc). You have to understand those conditions. Besides, it is an extremely flexible material since there are many possibilities that one can do with an aluminium surface. You can have different layers and create openings, small holes with different shapes that allow an interaction between the overlapped surfaces.

This exhibition seems to be very well related with the most recent technical aspects of your work that you had just described. Concerning its name, Penumbra: textured shadow, coloured light, conceptually, what is behind the adopted technical and support?

The starting question that came out while preparing this exhibition was, what should I exhibit? Should I exhibit some works that I have done before or should I make new works to be exhibited? That was when the definition of the exhibition concept has started. The name and the idea behind it, is directly related with the pieces I have produced for this exhibition. As a starting point to know what should I do with this works, I thought about two main guiding ideas: 1. thinking about contemporary, 2. the use of light and shadow.

In many parts of the world such as in your country, Portugal, in my country or in some other places in Europe, latticework is used to filter the light, we call it mashrabiya. Mashrabiya is the latticework normally placed over windows, over some doors, etc, to keep the sun, the strong light, out. However, from the inside you can still see the outside.

When this devices are placed over the windows and the rooms inside are dark, with no light, and the sun shines on the mashrabiya, the light comes through in a very nice way. Very thin light lines come through the windows and invade the interior space. And some of these lines have colour, so coloured lights come in.

The suspended column is exhibited in a very scenographic way due to the dramatic light and shadow effects created by the way the piece is lit. Does this piece seek some references on the atmospheres created by the mashrabiya?

The column is a mobile and to be a mobile it has to be lifted up. For the lightening of this piece I didn’t want to use normal lights, I wanted lights to be projected on it from the top so that they could create shadows on the floor when passing through the metal mesh. So I wanted to use spotlights rather that flat lights in order to create shadows on the floor. Reminiscent of the sun light passing through the mashrabiya into the rooms, into the interior of the houses.

What about the colours that you have used on this piece?

The mobile has different segments, separate segments, and I added them in three different layers. The last layer has a double thickness, a double skin of mesh. The colours are quite subtle, pastel tones. I have used cold colours outside and a warm colour inside, lilac. Lilac is a strong colour so I wanted it to be used in the smaller part of the piece. Because it is a strong colour and used in the centre in a small quantity, it lights up from within, like there is a light coming from the interior.

I have also tried to use yellow in this smaller part but it showed up too bright. So I took out the yellow. There was yellow, lilac, green and blue but in the end it resulted better without the yellow.

When I think about penumbra I think about something intimate, something within a private realm. When you create openings in your aluminium surfaces, it seems that you want to reveal something that is behind, something that is hidden. Tell us more about this idea of Penumbra and what is behind these openings in the aluminium surfaces.

Penumbra is the time of the day when the darkness of the night disappears and the early morning light comes. It is dawn. It is the very early morning when it is not dark anymore, but there is still no light. This period of the day is called penumbra. Why? Because the light is subtle, the light is not too strong. These are some of my thoughts considering light and shadow.

The pieces that are on the wall have a convex shape. The small metal pieces with different sizes placed on the openings made on the aluminium surface coming out of it, give it a sort of a tridimensional look. The viewer has to be close to those pieces and move left or right in order to understand and to appreciate them. The two larger wall pieces, with 4,50m by 1,50m, have a middle part which is concave, which goes inside, as opposed to the convex surfaces surrounding it. This induces a movement in the viewer so that he or she can understand, see and appreciate the whole piece, so that he or she can exactly see how it looks like.

Do you consider these wall pieces paintings in comparison with the other pieces exhibited?

They are sculptural paintings. They are not paintings as we all know but they have more of a sculptural, more of a tridimensional effect.

The maze is a big structure that creates some sort of urbanism inside the gallery space, it is a space within a space. It encounters direct connections with architectonic aspects. Would you like to tell us more about these architectonic relations and atmospheres created?

The maze has implicit the same idea of creating a mashrabyia atmosphere. I wanted people to experience the feeling created by the mashrabyia not only through a mobile or through pieces on the wall but through some structure that they could interact with. Having an ample exhibition space at Saatchi Gallery, gave me the idea of creating a big piece. I wanted something big in that room. I visualized this piece not only as a piece that refers to the mashrabyia atmosphere but also as an interactive structure that recreates the small narrow streets in old medieval cities in which the viewer could walk through. The walls are not solid, are made out of a mesh. You can see the space next to the one you are in but you can’t see it clearly. On the outside of the maze I have used only one colour and in the inside partition walls I have used different colours. At the entrance, you can have the idea that somehow some of the walls and of the narrow streets have different colours and tones.

Do you ever think about going back to bidimensional painting?



Colourful light and shadow atmospheres can be experienced at Penumbra: textured shadow, coloured light exhibition, from Rashid Al Khalifa, at the Saatchi Gallery in London until the 19st November.

Russia and Georgia will be the next destinations for these immersive pieces.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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