Iman Issa is known for her politically inflected and civically engaged conceptual sculpture. Issa was first a student of political science and philosophy in Cairo before switching to painting. The Egyptian artist uses non-physical material in her work, relying on fiction while exacerbating the tension between objects and the words, names and adjectives used to describe them.
Issa uses conventional museological displays such as vitrines, plinths, captions, labels and vinyl text to create frameworks for her objects and narratives that exist outside of a particular time or place. In her work, history becomes an exercise in an ahistorical storytelling that can concern us all.
Her series Heritage Studies begun in 2015. The title of this new body of sculptures comes from the interdisciplinary field of academic inquiry and applied knowledge that relates to the understanding and use of history. In this project, Issa explores historical artifacts that she feels resonate with the current moment. Paying careful attention to scale and material, her sculptures are reinterpretations of the historic artifacts alluded to in the labels: a formal means of exploring the implications of the original objects and their reverberations across time.
Heritage Studies project emerged from all of the artist’s questions and concerns which let her to revisit the elements and forms from the past in case they would have something relevant to say to the present. Unlike history -whose study might appear self-evidently constructive-, heritage studies seemed to be framed with a practical relevance to the contemporaneity. As a field it is presented as serving a function, and in many cases that function is clearly articulated. In a way, Issa preferred the essentialist claims of a clearly instrumental field to other ones that might have less apparent agendas when revisiting the past.
While Issa’s forms are not replicas by any means, they seek to conjure a shared ethos or communicative potential with their initial reference points; they invite the question: How can an object serve or evade an agenda?
The series Heritage Studies has been on display at MACBA in Barcelona, the MoMa in New York, Pérez Art Museum en Miami, among other important venues.
Iman Issa lives and works between Cairo and New York. Her recent solo and group exhibitions include the 8th Berlin Biennial, MuHKA (Antwerp), Tensta Konsthall (Spånga), New Museum (New York), KW Institute of Contemporary Art (Berlin), Sculpture Center (New York) and Contemporary Image Collective (Cairo). She teaches at Cooper Union School of Art, New York.