Idris Khan Tackles Loss of Sensory Perception

BY Katrina Kufer / Oct 31 2017 / 15:44 PM

Looking at Syria’s harshest prison, Saydnaya, Khan’s latest work addresses psychological trauma

Idris Khan Tackles Loss of Sensory Perception
Image courtesy Victoria Miro, London
Installation view at Victoria Miro, London

Until 20 December, visitors at Victoria Miro gallery in London will see Absorbing Light by Idris Khan, a show that grapples with the experience of detainees at Syria’s Saydnaya prison. Several works attempt to tackle notions of solitary confinement and its effects on perception, both physical and mental. “I first heard about Saydnaya through Amnesty International, and then did further research,” Khan said to The Art Newspaper. “The initial [plan] was to focus on the current issues regarding this particular prison. But the work itself became about the history of that kind of detention, and the disorientation that prisoners go through. This inspired the work, which is about the prisoners losing perception and eventually their minds.”

As of last year, Amnesty International produced a scale model of the prison based on testimonies, and has stated that prisoners are “incarcerated in horrific conditions [in Saydnaya], and systematically and brutally tortured,” with thousands of casualties. Works include Absorbing Light, 46 in the form of 46 bronze sculptures that depict the verbal messages of Syrians who have fled the war; Forty Seven, comprising light and dark stripes that are intentionally difficult to distinguish in reference to one prisoner’s story of his growing obsession with counting everything from tiles to water drips and footsteps; and Cell, a four-metre sculpture consisting of 15 columns is “about making the viewer aware of the sheer volume of space that 15 people were confined to,” said Khan to The Art Newspaper, adding that the barely visible light between the forms is a sign of hope. 

Khan recently won the 2017 American Architecture Prize for Cultural Architecture for a monumental casualty of war memorial in Abu Dhabi that was unveiled last year.

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