Beirut-born Artist Najla El Zein's Inaugural Exhibition in New York

BY Ayesha Sohail Shehmir Shaikh / May 22 2019 / 16:42 PM

Sensuality, desire and femininity meet simultaneously through a series of interactive displays in Beirut-based designer Najla El Zein’s first exhibition in New York, writes Ayesha Shehmir

Beirut-born Artist Najla El Zein's Inaugural Exhibition in New York
Courtesy of the artist
Installation view of Distortion

Titled Transition, Najla El Zein’s first solo exhibition at Friedman Benda in New York unveiled work inspired by motherhood and comprises three series: Distortion, Fragmented Pillar and Seduction. With an educational background in product design and interior architecture from Paris, in her first show Najla portrayed a woman’s journey of pregnancy through a range of abstract forms. The exhibition was influenced by the artist’s personal experiences with the underlying themes of sensuality, desire, femininity and the subconscious.

The Distortion series embraces femininity with an exploration of the female body during pregnancy, through a number of bench-like structures made up of fibre-reinforced concrete. “Distortion was a way for me to dissect the different feelings sensed during pregnancy,” says Najla. “Pregnancy relates to the transformation of the body, hence the distortion, but it also involves the awareness of various contradictory feelings such as alienation, femininity, sensuality, weight, warmth and coldness.”

Through these sculptures, the artist narrates the story of the remarkable psychological transformation and physical journey that a woman undergoes during pregnancy. “The body transforms, the way you see life changes, the perception of the self changes, and that is something no one can prepare you for, or describe, where at the same time it is very personal,” she says.

Artist Najla El Zein. Courtesy of the artist

Crafted using plaster and sand, Fragmented Pillar depicts the fragility of human condition through a series of varying sculptures. “If disturbed, the pillar won’t necessarily break, but will become fragile,” says Najla. “This metaphor applies to one’s own foundation, to the notion of the self.” The altering pillars represent the resulting consequences produced by the disturbance of a being’s foundation.

The Seduction series, shaped using a form of limestone, namely travertine, explores the relationship between a woman’s body before pregnancy and its connection with the new, growing body. “When the body of a woman changes, not only physically but as well internally, one needs time to adjust and re-connect to the new body,” says Najla. “This happens through a first stage where one of the bodies is introverted, folded and closed, to finally opening up and desiring.”

The sculptures shed light on the relationship between the subconscious mind and the physical realm through a range of interactive displays that are open to interpretation. “I think it is fascinating to think about intuition as a choice one makes driven by the subconscious,” says Najla. In future, the artist says that she will continue to seek new inspirations and materials for her work. “I discovered new horizons while working with stone, a true revelation,” she says.  “I hope to continue working with this material and explore new ones. It will all depend on the story.”

Transition launched 28 February until 13 April 2019 at Friedman Benda in New York 

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