Isabella Ducrot, Laila Tara H, Anousha Payne: Press Release


Friends Apartment, Berlin

April 27 – May 21, 2023


Isabella Ducrot, Laila Tara H, Anousha Payne features a selection of paintings, wall sculptures and works on paper from each of the three artists. The exhibition initiates a story that we’re invited into – a story of generations, cultures and identities.

Isabella Ducrot is known for her devoted use of woven cloth as the founding material of her artistic practice. Living in Rome for sixty years and only beginning her artistic career later in life, the Italian artist has assembled an extensive collection of antique textiles and papers through her many travels across Asia and the Middle East over the course of her life. A numerous amount of these materials originate from India, China, Tibet and Afghanistan, and act as a key point of departure in her practice.

Ducrot’s works in the exhibition span three series: Amore, Bella Terra and Eros. Employing diverse media, her Bella Terra series are made from sheets of handmade paper and thin cotton, showing a landscape in different hours and seasons. Oscillating between day and night in warm and cool tones, the central tree remains steadfast beside a stream of water that runs across the picture plane. Repetition, whether in subject matter or composition can be seen throughout Ducrot’s different bodies of work. In the calming ambience of the Bella Terra works and the intimacy of Amore and Eros, there seems to be a stasis of space and time in Ducrot’s subjects.
We see the entwined lovers in two Amore works that are painted in china ink on different coloured papers, replicating the rounded shapes of the hills and organic forms of the Bella Terra series. Since the late 1990s, Ducrot has been depicting scenes of entangled lovers in tender and sensual ways. Though seldom shown in public until more recently, the Eros series depict her gestural brushstrokes – executed both delicately small and monumental in scale – and share an elemental human form of tenderness. While many of these works were painted on traditional Chinese paper that the artist has collected, erotic drawings of the ancient oriental world became a reference and inspiration to start the series.

The medium of paper is central to the practice of Laila Tara H. Collecting these parchments from India, Iran and the Middle East, the three works on show are all reflective of a larger body of work that deals with the topic of womanhood and the consequent dynamics of control – both domestic and political. A large male head that reoccurs in the works is representative of an oppressive male figure. All the heads are in profile to avoid a sense of individuality, and as such, they chiefly act as signifiers.

In her work Lice, the artist employs a sterile, stainless steel comb to depict the metal seen in operating theatres, that is literally brushing ‘men’ out of one’s hair. The notion of showing hair in Iran is, to this day, an intense and delicate subject matter. She portrays these culturally significant seven heads as causing an itch, at once invading and spreading across the work.

In both Bed Bugs and Termites we see marching processions albeit in differing stages. The former acts within a domestic setting, where a pillowcase becomes the stage for the composition. It is representative of our subject dreaming of her attempts trying to separate herself from six marching women that dance across the pillow. In Termites, a noisy and determined procession unfolds across the work. Women are in action, as the pencil marks offer a type of impermanence: one that will conclude shortly. As the men march below, enforcing and oppressing, they represent the ‘Termites’, and at the same time, metaphorically, the controlled manner required in the practice of miniature painting.

The work of Anousha Payne explores cultural identity through allegory, interweaving of folktales, lived experiences and ancient hindu mythologies. The two hanging sculptures No dreamer (to learn something by being nothing) and No dreamer, In full bloom (Surahonne/Mahdokht), are of heads made from Tzalam wood and rattan, pierced with hand painted ceramic flowers. They were completed in Mexico this year, where the artist lived, worked and sourced the materials during a residency.

Payne’s works question hierarchies – both material and social – and so the allegorical source of A Flowering Tree details the story of a woman who repeatedly transforms into a tree; always performing for others rather than herself. Her generosity is eventually taken advantage of and she becomes stuck (half human/half ‘thing’; a bust). The two works by Payne aim at returning the protagonist’s autonomy back to her.
Depicted in their final iterations (as the artist states), both are now masks; the protagonist can choose when to wear the mask and when to transform. One head is ‘in full bloom’, while the other bust in its ‘final’ stage, showing a cascade of fallen flowers, a kind of representation of the end of a season, and a ‘goodbye’ to the character.

Payne’s two figurative canvases A lucid state (brain squeeze) and A mask, a temporary shift consider varying states of mind: What is reality and what is fiction? Both figures derive from a character that the artist wrote about in a short story called The Gravity of Fur. By representing this character’s dissociative state of mind and existential worldview, we see that in A mask, a temporary shift, the female figure holds a head up to her own; echoing a Hamlet-like pose, representative of the isolation of the mind from the rest of the body. In the former, we see the figure push her finger through her eye-socket, into her brain; checking, as Payne notes, ‘to see if her brain is being squeezed’. Trapped in her own solitude from the short story, the character builds her own isolated narrative, creating her own love affair with an imagined creature.

As we are encouraged to walk through the two apartments of the exhibition space, connecting with this series of works much like a film script or scene – a landscape in changing seasons, entangled lovers, birth and death, womanhood and consequent dynamics of control – we are encouraged to fill in the stories that each artist has laid bare.