After winning acclaim at the last Lyon Biennale, Mohammad AlFaraj (born in 1993 in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia) presents himself as a storyteller for his first solo exhibition in France, at Mennour gallery.
In his film The Date Fruit of Knowledge, which lends its title to the exhibition, AlFaraj draws on the oral tradition of his native country to tell the story — in Arabic then English, his two spoken languages — of the initiatory journey of a young bird thirsty for knowledge: the story of a bulbul — whose body is sculpted from a date — that hears of a legend by the extinct Arabian leopard which says that every palm tree bears a single fruit containing all the knowledge in the world. Insatiable, the bird sets out to strip each tree of its dates, whether green or overripe, forbidding fellow birds to indulge in this gargantuan feast. As his growing bulimia brings him to the brink of death, he ingests one last odd-looking fruit. “Suddenly,” says AlFaraj, “his eyes turn white, his mind lights up and all knowledge comes to him like a revelation.”
How to identify, name, locate, recite, calculate… Nothing is unknown to him. He is aware of everything that was, everything that is, everything that will be. Yet despite his immense power, he experiences extreme solitude: he is completely disconnected from all the other species, who take pleasure in learning by making mistakes. Everything that is beautiful and exciting becomes known to him, and therefore dull, while in the face of everything that is horrible and painful, he stands aware and powerless. Devastated, the bulbul decides to end it all. But his old friends recommend him to turn to fire, the master of oblivion. And so, throughout the night, the bird gives all his knowledge up to the flames. At dawn, he has forgotten everything. From that moment on, he begins to savour life and knowledge to the full, date by date, day by day, in communion with his peers.
Created in 2022 in the context of an artist residency in AlUla (1) The Date Fruit of Knowledge marks the artist’s first use of stop motion animation. Employing very few material elements, AlFaraj invites us into an immersive video device, halfway between a live performance and its archive. To establish a mise en abyme, the artist superimposes Saudi soil — taken from his open-air studio — on a bed of fine sand placed on the projection surface in the vault of Mennour gallery. Recalling the techniques of haptic cinema through which “the eyes function as organs of touch”, (2) AlFaraj seeks to create the conditions for sharing the present moment. Hic et nunc.
An approach that can also be found in the film Glimpses of Now, begun in 2015. Conceived as a mosaic or hybrid database, the work proposes a series of everyday scenes filmed with his telephone. Placed end-to-end to compose a mobile architecture, the sequences are assembled, intertwined, and added together. In perpetual evolution, the poetic scenario is reshaped on a day-
to-day basis, the shots segmented, lengthened, trimmed, or else discarded, abandoned, deleted: “I’m looking for that third meaning that emerges when you put two images one after the other.” (3) AlFaraj takes part in a visual and narrative production that documents changes and tensions between urban and natural environments, fractures between tradition and progress, generational gaps, social claims, issues raised by the need for environmental preservation. The palm and its fruit are recurring in his pictorial, photographic and sculptural practice. The possibilities of coexistence between living species and nature are a constant source of inspiration.
His works are like a series of sensitive areas, bearing witness to the complexity of the relationships that make up a global landscape in constant mutation. In a post-Anthropocene era, the bird feeds on what it is made of, and human domination is no more. Echoing the writings of Jean-Luc Nancy, AlFaraj celebrates the still fertile interdependence of species. Just as the migrating bird repeats and shares his song from flight to flight, the artist scatters the legends he invents, and thereby enriches a collective imaginary with a universal calling.
— Megan Macnaughton
1. The AlUla Artist Residency Programme was founded in 2021 as a collaboration between the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) and the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula).
2. Marks, L. U., The Skin of Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses, Durham, Duke University Press, 2000, p. 162.
3. Mohammad AlFaraj, written correspondence, 2023.
Curatorial essay from Mennour