Slimen El Kamel: Underskin

Slimen El Kamel: Underskin

Underskin, the latest exhibition by Tunisian artist Slimen El Kamel at Sulger-Buel Lovell visually and viscerally exposes the relationship between the cultural, political and personal. In exquisite detail, unique subtle marks – each an expression of his bodily movements – reflect a reality that El Kamel experiences daily. His paintings are produced by means of a painstaking pointillist technique and speak of the narrative richness of his homeland.


According to the artist, “Underskin is a metaphorical expression that suggests the possibility of diving under the outer crust and under the surface. The canvas is a skin with holes to breathe. The structural act is simple and consists of tapping on the canvas by an acrylic pen in a manner similar to the acupuncturist: making points next to each other to merge and form the scene.

The point is the first nucleus and a smaller component which makes the scene fragmented and coherent at the same time. We feel its fragility and fragmentation despite the realism that characterizes and activates it.

Miniature movements are fraught with history, memories and events lived by the human body. All the bodily expressions we make are not newly born; even spontaneous movements arise from archives and accumulations of knowledge. Every movement is thus a summary of the human being, all at once: I am as I am now and here but a moment ago I was different; no other looks like me and a moment after I will be totally different. We have to pay more attention to the simplest body expressions: eating, wearing, walking, standing up, talking and sleeping amongst others. Most of all we need to pay more attention to the act of astonishment.

The simple mark brings us back to the beginnings: to the first sound uttered, the first step made, and the first morsel tasted. This is what makes the project Underskin, an archaeological excavation of the layers of physical memory. We proceed from here and now, a self-forming through a surrounding of images network.

The realization is based on the multiplicity of stories and their overlap in the form of a network narratively interconnected, taking the form of a maze in which we get lost. Weaving events that are not linear but that encompass all possible trajectories is my aim in this work.

Each painting is a reservoir of tales collected by the artist. This collection is where the old intersects with the new, dreams with reality, the cultural with the political. This combination of subjects and references is exemplified by the use of various methods in the same work; just as many languages speak at the same time and move smoothly between them. The work that results becomes a space for debate, contemplation and ultimately, it becomes a place for democracy.”

Image credit: Slimen El Kamel Get Up 2018, acrylic and embroidery on canvas, 200x200cm.

Slimen El Kamel: Underskin runs at Sulger-Buel Lovell until October 26, 2018.

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