Origins at HEIST : An exquisite representation of nature and human identity.

Celebrating human identity and unchanged traditions from across the world, fine art photography exhibition Origins is exposed at HEIST. This anti-gallery, having been launched in June 2014, was the first of its kind in London that creates an immersive experience for the viewer in an uncommon way. With music and food inspired by and complimenting each new exhibition, the entire venue becomes an experience in itself, contradictory to the usual sterile white gallery space we are familiar with. Mashael Al-Rushaid, founder of HEIST, was successful in transforming the traditional building to accommodate other-worldly photographes of these diverse tribes. However, to stand in the middle of it all drinking champagne feels rather conflicting and hypocritical, as it forces to our attention that we are only observing these fascinating cultures from a distance without fully understanding their traditions, values and way of life.

That being said, the exhibition is breath-taking and provides a small insight into the raw and untouched beauties of our natural earth and unique inhabitants unaffected by globalisation. Origins urges the viewer to consider what they can learn from these indigenous people and recognise what developed countries have lost in their modern way of life. It also addresses the belief that much of the earth’s population is losing its identity as our societies unassumingly mould us all in the same way.

Every single photograph and sculpture in this exhibition is enticing, engrossing and utterly exquisite. There is such a vibrancy in the gallery with pieces from seven renowned photographers, four sculptors, one filmmaker and a performance artist. Photographers Jimmy Nelson, Jean Claude Moschetti, Mario Marino and Xavier Guardans have captured their subjects in traditional dress, some posed within natural landscapes and others set against black background. Distinct from dark skin tones of the people, the colourful garnishing and expressive body paint is accentuated creating extremely captivating images. Portraits of individuals such as Surma Girl, Ethiopia, 2011 by Mario Marino are particularly striking as the composition is completely balanced and their gaze is unwavering. It is powerful and compelling to look into the eyes of these strangers and wonder about their story and how different their lives are to ours.

The protagonists featured in the photographs by Jean Claude Moschetti on the other hand, have their faces completely obscured. Wearing unique masks and extremely vivid clothing, these subjects pop out from the almost-monochrome background. Many of these images, mainly the photographs by Jimmy Nelson, have been the cause of some controversy. For some audiences, the composition of the images appears to be very staged and glamorised, creating an unrealistic representation of the indigenous people. There have complaints that the images look no different from fashion photography. Nelson however, has defended his photographs by explaining that these people have wealth and pride within their communities, which was what he wanted to capture. The indigenous people do indeed appear collected and strong.

A less contentious room of the exhibition is host to charming series of photographs Birds of a Feather by Claire Rosen. Rosen captures different species of parrot, one per image, with an elaborate and floral wallpaper in the background, reminiscent of William Morris. The colour palette of each vintage wallpaper is harmonious and complimentary with each bird, creating aesthetically pleasing images. A more of a Western feel is apparent within this room, and these images are greatly contrasting with all other artefacts within the exhibition. However, the poses of the birds and composition of the images are purposeful, nudging us to draw out human emotions from their expressions and reflect on our emotions within our own lifestyles.

Following this reflection, our attentions were turned to Hala Ali halfway through the evening, who wearing a vibrant dress, had seated herself on one of Gunjam Gupta’s chair sculptures. Once there was silence in the room, Ali proceeded to perform a live poetry reading. Comedic anecdotes were conveyed through her verse but serious undertones about life and traditions were also addressed. Ali’s performance overall was energetic, entertaining and enlightening. One particular thought relayed that resonates with me is that there is no line between art and life, no difference between the beauty of art and the beauty of life. The entire exhibition promotes this thoroughly.

Gregory Colbert‘s film Ashes and Snow in particular was the most powerful in advocating this ideal. Remarkable interactions between humans and animals are captured and brought together to create a beautiful, artistic and compositionally fantastic film. A sense of wonder and stillness is brought about; the images are so engaging that you are able feel the emotional connection these people have with the animals and the nature that surrounds them. The collection as a whole is compelling, impressive and extremely thought-provoking.

An edited version of my review was published by The Upcoming and can be read here.

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