Iman Issa

Iman Issa’s practice is characterized by a sharp look at the power of display in relation to cultural and academic institutions. While she (born in 1979, lives and works in Vienna and Berlin) often approaches her work experimentally – inviting the viewer to bring their own experience and expectations to the project – her practice is also marked by a precise and clear visual language. Her interest in histories, museums, and collections translates into a method of destabilizing preconceived ideas in respect to knowledge and historical transparency or accuracy by recontextualizing and recombining object-text pairings that suggest other narratives and visions of what we think we know. Whether she is questioning the role of art texts in her Lexicon series (2012–2019) or the relationship between the artist and their work in Proxies, with a Life of Their Own (2019–ongoing), Iman Issa’s work is always a nuanced contemplation of meanings below the surface of the visible.

In a proposition titled I, the Artwork, Iman Issa combines her own works with eight artworks from the collection of MoCA Skopje. The common thread linking these works – a combination of sculptures and prints – is that they all depict figures, many of their faces hidden from view.

Her selection poses the question of whether the artist can take second place to their works and if an artwork can determine its own institutional and artistic context. Carefully selected and arranged, the sculptures, photographs, and video works interweave to create something akin to remakes, where original relations are removed and new ones produced. By severing these ties, the artworks can no longer be read only through the artists’ biographies and instead inspire a variety of other, playful ways of understanding.

Contrary to the usual hierarchies and preconceptions I, the Artwork invites the viewer to engage in a playful thought process with alternate meanings and new connections. For Iman Issa, this process allows “saving the works from appropriation by making the appropriation very transparent”.

Iman Issa about her work

Thinking about the artworks in the Solidarity Collection at MoCA Skopje that I have seen, and what they might mean today, and how they can and do relate to concerns I have and works I make, has left me with a combination of words that, over the past months, I have been trying to make sense of. I have been doing that through further reading, writing, and making of work, but mainly through the planning of the constellation of elements I will present at the Kunsthalle Wien in the context of this exhibition. These words, triggered by the collection, came to me in the first-person, encompassed by the phrase I, the Artwork.

It is common to think of artworks as victims to their environments, needing to be rescued by the obsessive artist or conscientious curator or dedicated institution who can furnish them with the right context. Yet, rare as it is, one has also encountered and knows of a different kind of artwork: an artwork which is interested neither in being viewed as a victim to its context nor in following the intentions of its maker.

An artwork which hides or reveals itself at will, frequently changing its date and place of conception. An artwork which, when relegated to history, brings that whole history into doubt and, when attributed to the identity, likes, or dislikes of its maker, decides to attribute itself to a different maker, one which may have been invented by itself or who lived in a different time more suited to its current outlook. An artwork which may even take it upon itself to keep its maker’s name but reshape their identity, linking it to other views and attributes more suited to itself – a self situated in a particular time and place but which reserves the right to change along with the change of that time and/or space. An artwork which attributes itself to a lawyer, historian, craftsman, or any such figure, knowing full well that it is and can only ever be made by an artist. An artwork which reshapes the institution into which it is housed: one day exonerating it, standing proudly behind its mission statement, another day embarrassing it out of its wits, loudly disavowing it, making it impossible for it to follow what it had previously been engaged in. An artwork which reserves the right to occasionally participate in ongoing current debates, affirming a curator’s line of thought, at other times remaining mute despite all efforts directed at making it speak. An artwork which, when called an artwork, eschews the name in favor of something else, insisting on being called a document, an artifact, an object, a film, a story, or a news item. An artwork which can exist in any kind of venue, be it an ethnographic, city, folk, modern, or contemporary art museum, or something else entirely. An artwork which can assume any look, sound, feel, material, or immaterial presence and which only upon eclipsing every condition of its display, interpretation, classification, and reception can, proudly and without hesitation, proclaim itself an “artwork.” A proclamation which the artwork’s discerning maker may now sense an urgent need to adopt for themselves as well, and may indeed choose to do so, warily seizing the name I, the Artwork, pausing shortly before adding an artist showing (myself) sometime in the year 2023.