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Art in the first person: Understudies at KW

When was the last time you challenged your perspective? A new group show at the KW aims to do just that.

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KW’s new exhibition Understudies: I, Myself Will Exhibit Nothing is the brainchild of Egyptian-born multidisciplinary artist Iman Issa. Courtesy Museum Rietberg Zürich, Photo: Iman Issa

This year, the KW is inviting artists to curate their own group show in dialogue with the gallery’s ongoing programme. From October 23, it’s the turn of Iman Issa, an Egyptian-born multidisciplinary artist who’s putting together Understudies: I, Myself Will Exhibit Nothing, an exhibition that moves away from thematic curation and groups together artworks that “deal with the ‘I’”.

Featuring an array of artists from around the world, including US-Lebanese media artist Walid Raad and US-Brazilian sculptor Valeska Soares, as well as Germany’s own Olaf Nicolai, the exhibition will include works that invite you to consider your own perspective. How they all tie together is “not so easy to explain”, Issa laughs. “They’re grouped around a very complex ‘I’, one that shifts and cannot be completely located.” Issa has never curated an exhibition before. For her, Understudies: I, Myself Will Exhibit Nothing was a real chance to engage in “a deeper manner with other artists’ practices, and to find real or imagined connections between the works in the space”.

Contrary to the title of the show, Issa will in fact be exhibiting work of her own, including a photograph she took in 2018 of a peculiar display of Japanese noh masks with contrasting facial expressions. One of the masks was captioned “beautiful young woman”, the other – which bore a facial expression described by the artist as somewhere between horror and confusion – was captioned, “the spirit of a middle-aged woman”. The elusive symmetry of these two faces had an unsettling effect on Issa: it was her inability to find words to articulate those feelings that formed the starting point for the exhibition.

The show aims to “strike a chord with visitors who might have similar doubts, feelings, questions or concerns”. With self-portraits, illustrations, audio books and films, this won’t be a show you can run through quickly – and that’s fine by Issa. “I find exhibition spaces great places to sit down and read a book,” she says, “and there will be set-ups just for reading and taking in the whole exhibition.”

Understudies Oct 23 – Jan 9 KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Mitte

Want more art? Check out nine exhibitions to see this month