Loading Events

Foyer Gallery | Merna Liddawi: Revelation

Uncreated Light Merna Liddawi Size: 40 x 30 x 1.8 cm 23.5 ct gold leaf, bole, true gesso on birch plywood{Left}, Genesis 1 Merna Liddawi Size: 40 x 30 x 1.8 cm egg tempera, minerla pigments, true gesson on birch plywood {Right}

31 August – 27 October, closed on weekends, free
Private view 12 September, 18.00 – 20.00 – free, booking required – click here.

Merna Liddawi’s  small and beautifully crafted paintings  act as a kind of palimpsest (from the Greek,palímpsēstos, to be scraped clean and used again) in the sense that they reveal nuanced layers of pigments, encaustic elements and swirling marks made from thread dropped onto the paint surfaces, then removed to leave the negative imprint of  their existence. Yet at the same time, there is a sense of simultaneously layering and of an erasure, of a stripping away of materials.

Using century’s old painting methods, the artist’s process evolves through the multi-layering of mineral and earth pigments mixed with egg tempera to create depth and transparency. Process and materiality are central to her practice; the authenticity of the base elements, the careful preparation of the materials and the multi thin glazes of paint are revealed through time; much like the process of creating an icon in the Russo- Byzantine style that adorn places of worship.

“I was born into the Orthodox Church so the first images I was exposed to were icons”, explains the artist. “But it wasn’t until I started studying art that I revisited that part of my life.”  Her tryptic, entitled,  Uncreated Light,  is a reflection of this study, created using a method known as water gilding—a traditional technique used by early Renaissance and Byzantine painters. “I enjoy the contemplative, meditative nature of it,” says Liddawi. It’s a method that requires a high level of skill—and even higher levels of patience.

In her studio, Liddawi goes through the lengthy process of preparing her own gesso made out of rabbit skin glue and chalk, which she applies in layers to panels onto which the tempera is laid down. Genuine gold leaf is applied using techniques of water gildingwith the use of specialist tools, similar to those in 15th century. The physical process of creating art was a form of worship for the medieval artist, a prayer in itself, as it can be for Liddawi too. Yet the images created remain simple as time and space allowing everything to be open to interpretation and for contemplation by the viewer.

In Theology, for example, the term ‘Revelation’ the title given to the exhibition by the artist, references both the disclosure of the divine and the title in liturgical texts of, The Book of Revelation. The book’s title is derived from the first word of the text, written in Koine Greekapokalypsis, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation”. Where, as a noun, it denotes a sudden awareness, or surprise encounter as if seeing something for the first time, even though it may always have existed within the work.

To illustrate such an encounter is to re-visit the 17th century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer’s, Woman with a Pearl Necklace, where the perspectival focus draws the viewer towards the main figure; a young women standing in a room whilst adjusting the ends of the yellow ribbon holding the string of pearls around her neck. She appears to be gazing at what a mirror placed at head- height on the adjacent wall and hung to the right of a leaded window.

Interestingly, if the viewer’s eye tracks her gaze yet ventures towards the top right hand side of the window frame, there, tucked in-between the ledge and the draped curtain surprisingly, is a glistening, egg-shaped object, as a child might hide an object in a game of hide-and-seek.

From an art historical perspective, this raises a number of interesting theories with regards to the iconography of the painting; the light through the window reflecting the egg, the pearls as a symbol of purity, and the fact that her hands and arms are held in a gesture similar to other painted icons of manifestations of the Blessed Virgin Mary in artists representation of the Annunciation, Vermeer may possibly be referencing the young woman carrying the miracle of life.

When contemplating Merna Liddawi’s paintings, the riches accumulated in the base elements, precious minerals, and luminous gold, similarly draws the viewer towards reflecting on the on the alchemical, to surprise us anew, with their ephemeral, elusive surfaces and textures that hint at nature and of the mysteries of creation.

This interest in the transformative and in the spiritual element of art is what lies at the heart of Liddawi’s practice, as she describes her work as “a spiritual journey to discover the hidden beauty at the very heart of the universe”. The artist also wants to bring the icon into a contemporary setting.  “I hope that people might see something of its legacy and beauty, but be able to connect with it, no matter what their faith.”

Essay by Pamela Kember & curated by Mariam Neza

There will be a private view evening reception in the presence of the artist on Tuesday 12 September, 18.00 – 20.00  at Asia House. Free, booking required – click here.


August 31, 2017 12:00
October 27, 2017 12:00
Event Category:


Asia House
63 New Cavendish St W1G 7LP United Kingdom
+ Google Map

Event Navigation