Nour Jaouda: Where, if not faraway, is my place? | Union Pacific

The objects in this exhibition highlight the damaging effects of the sun, and time, on the city. Quite appropriate to see it, then, on the hottest day of the year, with the gallery’s air conditioning fighting a losing battle with the relentless sun battering through the windows.

Nour Jaouda, the artist on show, grew up in Cairo to a Libyan family, and now lives in London. It’s Cairo’s streets that inspire her work, which features shredded and inexpertly dyed cotton fabric, rusty metal and cracked concrete. She buys the cotton (pure Egyptian, naturally), in local markets, cuts and layers it on and around canvas, which is itself stretched onto that rusty metal. Surrounding these evocative installations are small wall-mounted pieces of concrete, inlaid with patterns.

Nour Jaouda, ‘Where, if not Faraway, is my Place?’ (installation view)

It’s not clear from the show’s excellent notes, written by Louise Benson, whether the artist sourced the metal from scrap or shaped and treated it herself. But either way it’s meant to evoke Cairo’s colonial-era apartment buildings, some of which are better-maintained than others; fancy patterns apeing European styles, cracked and faded now. With the extra layer of irony that the fancy curlicues of these balconies and balustrades were originally inspired, back in Europe, by faraway places. Arabesque.

Speaking of layers, Jaouda’s evocative objects should be taken together, not as individual works, in my view. They’re a palimpsest, a blend. Or, as Benson more articulately puts it: “There is a constant sensation when encountering Jaouda’s installations of a work in progress, of the unravelling (or rebuilding) or a project that is just midway through and still active.”

Just like Cairo - or London - or any city!

Nour Jaouda: Where, if not faraway, is my place? is at Union Pacific (London). 31 May - 08 July 2023