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Focus On Safia Hijos

Safia Hijos recounts for us the big and small stories of our societies through the use of ceramic where the technical use is greatly expanded to the emergence of powerful conceptual installations that remain in our memory.

This is particularly the case with Un endroit où aller (A place to go), a vast composition of portraits of missing persons, transferred to rectangles of moulded porcelain. The fragile memory of the photographed subject which is destined to disappear because of the fragility of paper over time, is here solidly captured in the white clay in the form of a headstone, composing before our eyes a resemblance of a cemetery mounted on the wall, or becoming a noble version of a panel displaying the portraits of missing persons.

Safia’s work develops a full correlation between the importance of memory, the imprint and time, with the context in which these subjects are recorded. The complexity of her body of work is nonetheless marked by significant lightness. Many of her subjects are handled with a humorous touch, creating a perfect connection between this ancestral artisanal practice and the very topical subjects which are the source for her work.

Born in France in 1975, Safia discovered sculpture in her adolescence. And despite the academic style of her work at the time, which consisted more of reproducing busts in the manner of Donatello, the passion was awoken. However, once she had completed high school, she refused the idea of fine arts, “because of fear,” she tells us. “I preferred to opt for so-called serious studies and which I liked, moreover. It was very interesting. In fact, I have a very academic side. I like to study.”

After studying law and several years in legal practice, she left that world in order to return to her first passion. “The professional world, and more specifically the corporate world did not please me.”

It was first with evening classes in Paris that she returned to hands-on practice, before continuing in Belgium, at the renowned La Cambre school. A change of career is of course not at all easy:

I was in my thirties and I told myself I was too old. But that is what I like in the Belgian spirit: openness! This is absolutely not possible in France. The fine arts are finished if you are 26 years old... While, here, you can continue to study at any age without being judged. This is an extremely positive side of this country. Really! (she laughs)

A successful conversion. After enjoying herself for five years at La Cambre, she didn’t entirely leave the school since she has been serving there for a year as an assistant, sharing her passion with great pleasure:

In the studio, I am all alone. In this way I can meet people, share and contribute...

The choice of ceramics came naturally, essentially because of the possibilities that this medium offers concerning the way of working the material and the colour, but also and primarily because of the long history of this art connected with useful applications. The plasticity of the material quickly allowed Safia to address numerous subjects, based on ideas and projects that came from her numerous readings and research, or even borrowed from situations and contexts that provide a source for the works themselves.

Let’s take for example Etant donné une sale histoire (Considering a nasty story). The artist was provided with 100m² and she would fill this space by proposing a group of pieces that created a dialogue between themselves. The total became greater than the sum of its parts, making a vast installation from this grouping that explored the theme of voyeurism.

The multiplying symbol of tiling (Cubicle) reminding us of our Western commodities, a closed and intimate space but also reminds us of taboo, hygiene and disgust. We also find this same topic addressed in Frise (Frieze), which uses the procedure of photographic printing, multiplied by a demonstrative choice of a classical mural.

As a veritable extension, and with a highly significant title, the book La perspective du trou (The perspective of the hole) takes up this same imagery, but goes further in the use of this same image. Here, the conceptual dimension is drawn to this play of view: is it the toilette holes that are looking at their environment? This question is then amplified with the in situ installation Cru (Raw). A gigantic block composed of 700 kg of raw soil crowns the room. This imperfect rectangle allows the viewer to see the manual activity involved in creating it. On the floor is a small mound of balls of earth, removed from the gigantic block itself, leaving a gaping hole in the very centre of one of its sides.

This orifice that we see appears to contemplate us in turn. An allusion to the story of Georges Bataille, or even Marcel Duchamp? The work of Safia Hijos establishes a dialogue with the viewer, the first to appreciate the borrowed images of the artist that are then transformed in her works. 

The social or sacred icons are here diverted from their initial contexts, then confronted with their very representation as a symbol of a vacillating world, always slightly on the edge of collapse.

Then comes the questioning of the very existence of the image, its metaphor and its juxtaposition, in a spectrum that is often ironic, with the grave lightness of these subjects that are addressed in a detached manner.

“The interplay and the placement of the figures in perspective betray their vulnerability and the crises. The pieces borrow, cite and juxtapose both classical and popular objects and references both in their form and by their décor that perverts their meaning with irreverence. In a process that is very much affected by semiology, the objective is thus to create meaningful and narrative sculptures.” writes the artist.

Using all of the techniques of applied arts in the service of a symbolic statement, these works weave a story where ceramics is constantly confronted with its history and is diverted from its normal uses. The subjects chosen often present a banal or even gritty character, but their plastic handling plays with nuance and even arrives at a certain softness.

Whether this is by using firearms (Something’s gonna happen) or simple household products (Sigillaire de – de 50 ans (Signet of – of 50 years)), the artist dances on the tightrope of her medium, bringing together the Gallo-Roman tradition with the tools and subjects of her time. This “global consciousness” of Marshall McLuhan recounts the stories of our time, influenced by cultures of here and from far away, including popular culture tinged with Japanese references, like the figure of Astroboy which we find depicted in various works (Les Lutteurs (The Wrestlers), Le Gardien (The Caretaker), Le Résistant (The Resistant) or Les Gisants (The Reclining Ones).

Faced with the work of Safia Hijos, we become aware of our place as a spectator of the time in which we live, in the richness, the seriousness as well as the lightness of her work. Is this not one of the shared functions of Art and the porcelain objects that we have come into contact with throughout our existence?

Photos : Miles Fischler