Mohammed Khalid’s 'Let me tell you something' recreates esoteric experiences

The Dubai-based artist’s first solo show looks at reclaiming lost luggage, staging of a silhouette, letters to a stranger, and clocked-in time that is constantly accounted for.

by Sukanya DebPublished on : Dec 23, 2022

In his first solo exhibition Let me tell you something at 421 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Mohamed Khalid is presenting a new body of works that span across mediums but speak in the same register, through gestures that attempt to reclaim forms of intimacy within systems of communication mishaps. The title of the exhibition beckons the viewer to become a listener, a friend, a confidant, as the artist goes on to tell stories of missed and chance occurrences.

Regarding his practice, the visual artist tells STIR, “I don’t describe my practice as working with subjects or themes. I often say that my practice consists of walking, cycling, running, and driving. It’s because that systematics allow me to go through a city or space, and that process is how I encounter works. So, my practice is a balance between systematically figuring out how to have these encounters, and having these encounters otherwise.”

During work hours, 2022, Cyanotype treated textiles, transparent film, office computer, office printer, sun, Mohamed Khalid | Let me tell you something | Mohamed Khalid | STIRworld
During work hours, 2022, Cyanotype treated textiles, transparent film, office computer, office printer, sun Image: Courtesy of 421

With a brief academic background in architecture, Khalid went on to work within art institutions, where he was hired as an artist assistant. He speaks about starting to build on a set of ideas, conceptual tools, and mediums, through which he started articulating his practice. Through this exhibition of works, Khalid grapples with a set of themes, ranging from thinking around imitation and craft, labour and time, to translations and the built nature of language, objects and value. While these themes appear larger-than-life, the narratives emerge from every day, personal experiences that the contemporary artist disentangles and attempts to recreate through manual recreations of receipts, his own handwriting, a silhouette that could have been him, and repetition of text.

Portrait of artist Mohamed Khalid | Let me tell you something | Mohamed Khalid | STIRworld
Artist Mohamed Khalid Image: Aqib Anwar; Courtesy of 421

Khalid is quick to dismiss the presence of a theme or subject when asked. In a sense, his works remain subject-less, but for the artist himself. He speaks of his works as being a sort of self-portrait, as he traces encounters in daily life.

“My work falls into a diaristic manner, because most of the time I am talking about my experiences, from the mundane to something very specific. And I see all these factors as work. I guess the beautiful thing about that is there are nuances that can be pulled at. Rather than working with a subject, the mundane or the very humane has a draw into a larger subject. Making that loose connection is what I am excited about, rather than taking on the larger subject,” he says.

During work hours is a series of text pieces on cyanotype-treated prints on cloth, which were created at the artist’s current job. Between having a solo exhibition and working five days a week, Khalid decided to make time through these works. The pensive, self-reflexive text encounters take inspiration from American artist David Horvitz’ series Proposals for a clock, and uses a similar format of repeated statements. Khalid ponders on the balance between being an artist and an employee, contradictory visions of time within a capitalist framework. During work hours as a phrase that ends each of these statements, leaves the setting bare of any other signifiers.

Installation view of ‘Let me tell you something’ at 421, 2022 | Let me tell you something | Mohamed Khalid | STIRworld
Installation view of Let me tell you something at 421, 2022 Image: Courtesy of 421

These fleeting statements oscillate between the banal and the thought provoking: “Words sit at the tip of my tongue during work hours.”; “I am financially burdened during work hours.” These statements evoke the immediacy of documentation that only social media and personal journals can produce. In conversation with STIR, Khalid speaks about how the work was made, almost ritualistic in practice (like a work day itself), where he clocks in at his workplace, gets the text ready, and during his lunch break he would expose the pre-treated cyanotype to the sun, without “disrupting workflow”. The shades of blue vary, denoting the amount of time the print was screened, an indication of how much time the artist had that day for a break, usually between five and fifteen minutes.

Installation view | Let me tell you something | Mohamed Khalid | STIRworld
Installation view Image: Courtesy of 421

Another one of his works in the exhibition recreates a bus stand in Genoa in Italy, with the screenshot of a translated message from English to Italian, where an advertisement would generally have been. On the other side of the screen there is a picturesque photograph that the artist had taken in the South of France that could be mistaken for a generated wallpaper, by its “picture perfect” framing and colours. This work tells the story of Khalid’s trip to Europe, where he travelled from Italy to the South of France to meet a friend. To make this trip, he takes a cheap European bus Flixbus that is “relentlessly known for losing luggage”, as the artist says.

As the story goes, he did end up losing his luggage, or rather the bus lost him, though he was never able to retrieve his luggage, but eventually (precisely two years and nine months later) found a sweat stained Flixbus work shirt in a thrift shop in Dubai. For Khalid, this was a moment of coming full circle. A postcard tucked into the shirt pocket tells this story. Another component of this work is the suitcase that he was never able to retrieve, but in a gesture of replication he went on to purchase the same items that were lost. He asks himself, “Since I have the money now to produce work, I can reproduce all these objects that I have lost, but do I regain those possessions? Is it the same feeling?” There are hints that one can pick up on from the work, such as value and circulation, imitation culture in postcolonial settings, desire and the picturesque, and so on. Still, one must be careful not to pull too hard at these derived meanings. 

Flixbus, 2022, Mixed media installation in three parts, Mohamed Khalid | Let me tell you something | Mohamed Khalid | STIRworld
Flixbus, 2022, Mixed media installation in three parts Image: Courtesy of 421

Other works part of the exhibition include handwritten letters with his left hand to his teacher from second-grade, who pressured him into writing with the culturally dominant right hand; a note exchange with an unidentified stranger who asks him to park his car elsewhere; studies of stray cats; photo prints of restaging a silhouette that could have been the artist. Khalid develops his interest in language and communication, closeness and proximity, and extraction of value, through these works besides many other themes that can be talked about. The replica suitcase emulates the chrome green of a green screen, as Khalid points out in conversation, revealing a chasm between what is and what can be.

Suitcase, 2022, Re-bought muji suitcase, Mohamed Khalid | Let me tell you something | STIRworld
Suitcase, 2022, Re-bought muji suitcase Image: Courtesy of 421
Studio Visits with Mohamed Khalid Video: Courtesy of 421

Mohamed Khalid: Let Me Tell You Something is on view at WAREHOUSE421 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, until December 25, 2022.

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