b. 1988, Minneapolis
Lives and works in Saint Paul
Thoughts and Prayers by Essma Imday transports the viewer into a space to consider the problematics of “group think” that is perpetuated under totalitarian regimes, similar to Syria, where she grew up. Reflecting both the joy and energy of belonging and the shock and terror of being forced by the group, the viewer is prompted to seek others to join them by making an image whole and moving through rituals.
I have found through my artistic practice that one of the most powerful ways to process the momentous amount of meaninglessness in war and disaster—specifically in my former home, Syria—is to create. I make art that addresses the personal aspects of the political, problematizing the general political narratives and simplified clickbait of the politically saturated media platforms that surround our daily lives. My installations hold space for something other than clickbait empathy. I attempt to tell a story, while also drawing attention to the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we weave narrative to construct our realities and make sense of traumatic incidents.
I am an installation artist because this genre allows me to work with both physical and digital expressions, merging video with a multiplicity of material, which enables me to command a space where I can experiment with artistic methods. I am interested in using utilitarian equipment (such as CNC machines, projectors, and lasers) to carve intricate religious symbology, highlighting the effect modernization has had on tradition, especially Arab tradition and culture. Through my practice I attempt to ask questions about the limits of knowledge and the relation between seeing and knowing.
Political art tends to be seen as inherently instrumental or didactic, but although my work is political I have never sought out a singularity of message or opinion. At its best my art asks questions that have no simple answers; it whispers rather than screams and does not contain a specific call to action. My art plants seeds within viewers that remain present within them after they have departed my work, as they develop a deeper understanding.
The repetitive movements of our bodies become part of memory stored within our muscles, often referred to as muscle memory. In Thoughts and Prayers I am interested in the forces that create these “muscle memories” and how this conditioning relates to movement in religious rituals and political spectacles.
Thoughts and Prayers uses an interactive projection that responds to the viewers’ desecration of its boundaries (when they enter the projected image) by disintegrating. The projection lies at the entrance to a geodesic dome; within the dome are a video and necklaces. Instructions in the video tell the visitors that once they take a necklace, they must comply with its instructions; the video also encourages participants to remind others with necklaces to do the same.
The inspiration for this project draws on my own experience of muscle memory formed under a totalitarian regime and within conservative religious circles—and in the surveillance and exclusionary culture within them. Thoughts and Prayers aims to create an artistic experience for the viewer that relies on a heightened awareness of bodily movements and examines our reaction to authoritative messaging and our methods to signal belonging.