Gasworks presents the first solo exhibition in London by Belfast-based artist Bassam Al-Sabah. His work embraces the shape-shifting potential of computer-animated worlds, creating fantasy dreamscapes in which personal mythology, historical trauma and queer possibility intersect.
In previous works, Al-Sabah, whose family was exiled from Baghdad after the Iraq War, reflected on geographical dislocation through reference to Japanese anime cartoons broadcast throughout the Middle East during his childhood. Packed with imagery of warfare, anime cartoons and video game culture take on a heightened political significance within Al-Sabah’s practice.
The exhibition at Gasworks explores the construction of masculinity in action-adventure video games. Presented in an immersive cinematic environment, Al-Sabah’s new CGI films confront the armouring of the male body in gaming culture by queering its military ethos from within.
The centrepiece is a 30-minute-long animation projected on to a large curved screen. It features a collection of cinematic sequences from an imaginary game in which the hero’s body is constantly in flux, undergoing metamorphoses as a result of his encounter with other lifeforms, whose physical touch makes him vulnerable to change, threatening his identity and selfhood.
Combining fantasy erotica and body horror, Al-Sabah’s films celebrate the hero’s growth and transformation in all its literalness, as his body sprouts and blends into its surroundings, among writhing flowers and tentacular creatures. The tactile, hyperrealistic quality of the footage contrasts with the immersive architecture of the film installation, which engulfs the viewer to induce a sense of disembodiment.
The show is punctuated by digitally sculpted objects that explore the materiality of organic decay, extending the eerie atmosphere of Al-Sabah’s animations into the gallery space.
Bassam Al-Sabah lives and works in Belfast and Dublin. He graduated from IADT Dún Laoghaire in 2016, and was awarded the RHA Graduate Studio Award (2016-2017) and the Temple Bar Gallery Residency Award (2018-2019). Recent exhibitions include RTÉ Illuminations (2020); Solstice Arts Centre, Navan (2019); The LAB, Dublin (2018); and Eight Gallery, Dublin (2017).
Al-Sabah is the fifth artist to take part in the Freelands Gasworks Partnership, a programme for emerging UK artists based outside of London. Made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Freelands Foundation, the programme combines a three-month residency with a solo exhibition, commissioned by Gasworks in partnership with De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, where a second instalment of the show will be presented in 2022. Previous participants were Jamie Crewe, Rachal Bradley, Libita Sibungu and Lauren Gault.
Gasworks commissions are supported by Catherine Petitgas and Gasworks Exhibitions Supporters.
Watch a video introduction to the exhibition:
This video is available with Spanish subtitles here - just click on the settings button, select subtitles and then select Spanish.
We have health and safety measures in place to safeguard the welfare of both staff and visitors - read about them in more detail here. We strongly encourage all visitors to wear masks during their visit to Gasworks for their safety, that of our staff and those with underlying health conditions.
Exhibition Guides and Tours
The exhibition guide accompanying the exhibition are available as a PDF in the Resources section at the bottom of this page. The text is also available as an audio guide, and in large print at the gallery.
Please ask our friendly front of house team for an introduction to the exhibition. We are also pleased to offer free exhibition tours in Portuguese on Wednesday 25 August, 5pm, and Spanish on Friday 3 September, 5pm. No booking required. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to arrange a group visit with an exhibition introduction.