Solo presentation at Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco
July 20-August 17, 2019
Alongside the more well known Sumerian Royal Cemetery at Ur which yielded such incredible art and artifacts relating to the great Queen Puabi, a lesser known ancient tomb was recently uncovered on the wind-swept plains of Southern Iraq. Instead of elaborate gold and lapis jewelry, musical instruments and ancient works of art, this latest archaeological site seems to have contained what could only be described as party supplies once owned by Queen Puabi and intended for the throwing of elaborate festivities. Ceramic predominates the collection housed within the walls of Guerrero Gallery, from tall sculptural pots with searing sets of eyes, a large bust of the queen, party crowns, and even oversized ceramic cassette covers which seem to hint at yet another invention that had its origins in ancient Sumerian culture. It quickly becomes clear that Puabi was in fact an intense lover of music, and seems to herself have been a popular singer at the time.
On one wall we’re met with an arrangement of what seems for lack of a better term to be ceramic handbags–a form that persists throughout ancient Assyrian and Sumerian art, and reappears within the artwork created by early American and Mesoamerican cultures. The largest of the group, covered in a rich jade glaze surrounding the mirrored visage of a royal figure, returns a confused gaze as if to wonder what strange forces have coalesced to find such royalty meeting eye to eye with an equally confused contemporary viewer. Around the corner we find a large hanging pot, suspended by an intricate macrame weaving hung from the gallery’s beams, a flat relief with a cartoony portrait of the queen pasted to the front of the pot. Surrounding the viewer are a myriad of forms populated by representations of Puabi–whether it be her watching eyes, or posters of her live concerts and events depicting this strong and celebrated heroine.
Conflating time, aesthetic sensibilities, cultures and materials, Baghdad-born and San Francisco-based artist Maryam Yousif plumbs the depths of the many cultures that have shaped her, prompting as many questions as are answered. Finding a grounding affinity with the powerful women of the artist’s Middle-Eastern culture, be it Yousif’s mother and grandmother, the Pan Arab pop stars of her childhood or the Sumerian queen Puabi who lived almost 3000 years prior and from whom this show draws great inspiration. Ceramic has unsurprisingly become the primary material utilized by Yousif, a material that speaks both to the ancient Iraqi cultures that inspire Yousif, as well as a connection to the present and historic Bay Area in the many lineages of great clay artists that have shaped our contemporary concept of the medium. Combining the irreverent gesturality of the Bay Area Funk Art movement, with the myth and artifacts of ancient Iraq, Yousif elegantly connects old and new in wholly unique ways.