Helena Tahir / Words Fail Me
Curated by Piera Ravnikar
14 January - 11 March 2022
Levstikova ulica 3
SI 1000, Ljubljana
Photography by Mario Zupanov
The exhibition Words Fail Me is the latest in an ambitious series of drawings that Helena Tahir has built up over many years. It consists of a lush colour triptych and five small black and white drawings. The artist's pictorial expression is dominated by the figurative, which she has gradually developed from initial portraits to full-figure representations that she incorporates into refined compositions in the present exhibition. The large-scale, life-size sets of the central triptych are distinctly narrative, and the artist's sometimes romantic, sometimes chaotic fantasy world demands a slow and meticulous reading from the viewer. Thanks to her consistent and thorough questioning of the medium, each drawing presents her with a new technical challenge. She has found a convincingly fresh and authentic expression within a traditional medium; exploring volumes, proportions, contrasts and lighting effects by reflecting on the capacity of coloured pencil to contrast with other media such as painting and printmaking. The drawings are saturated with details that are either precisely sharpened or distorted beyond recognition. The latter is related to the artist's working process: she first intuitively forms individual figures and objects in a digital collage, where she stretches, mirrors and multiplies them at will. She is also instinctive in her choice of motifs, which she finds while leafing through old magazines or is attracted by their symbolism. At the same time, she chooses them by following the previously described aesthetic principles given that for the next stage, i.e. the transfer of the images from digital collage to drawing, the selected elements must be varied, attractive in colour and have a unique texture or a particular sheen as luminous objects require greater precision in the application of subtle transitions between tones. The incredibly precise drawings required total dedication and a tireless eye for detail – it took the artist 32 days with 14 intense hours per day to complete the central triptych.
Words Fail Me is a rich visual narrative in which each drawing has its protagonist, surrounded by accompanying figures, undefined objects and other indefinable details. Tahir often returns to certain themes and symbols that are not just a technical exercise but already have an extensive iconographic history, manifested in the metaphor of colours, the question of light in relation to darkness, the significance of water, animals and flowers. These offer alternative, ambiguous references in a new context. The figures depicted are often members of various marginalised groups, victims of imperialist and colonialist violence, and the artist also recognises the echoes of their stories in her own experience. The fragmentary scenes seem like momentary insights and impressions from her life that she reproduces on paper, where they serve as an almost liberating method of self-knowledge. Nevertheless, knowledge of the artist's personal iconography is not a prerequisite for the viewer as Tahir understands the artwork as a totality of images, experiences and emotions that can be recognised solely through perception, visual experience and only then on the intellectual level. Essential to the overall experience of the artwork is the synthesis between artistic intention, the work as such and the viewer, who comes before the work with his or her own expectations and perceptions. The artist places great emphasis on the emotional experience, on the insight that the viewer can gain through the "conversation" with her.
Helena Tahir works in the fields of painting, drawing, photography and graphic art. For the latter, she received this year’s May Saloon (ZDSLU) award for the best young graphic artist. She is a postgraduate student in the painting programme at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Ljubljana, where in 2015 she also graduated with distinction in painting and graphic arts. In recent years she was an exchange student at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Porto, Portugal, and at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig, Germany. She has participated in several solo and group exhibitions at home and in international cultural environments.