VITRINE presents the first London solo exhibition of Leeds-based British-Iraqi artist Emii Alrai, which takes the form of a new installation of sculptures echoing ancient tombs and their spiritual presence. 

Alrai is a first generation British-Iraqi artist whose practice is informed by inherited nostalgia, historical identity and post-colonial museum practices. Through sculpture and installation, Alrai weaves together narrative from oral histories and ancient mythologies of the Middle East by forging artefacts and visualising residues of cultural collisions. 

Alrai’s sensibility towards shared histories enables her to carefully construct meaning around the work she produces using common materials such as cardboard, clay, plaster, sand and metal. Her heavy processes of patination and oxidisation makes her work look worn and aged, replicating wall textures seen in Middle East. 

For ‘Tutelaries’, Alrai draws from the concept of a tutelary as a protector or guardian, which expresses the concept of safety usually associated with a sacred location. The conflicting settings of an ancient space, a contemporary art gallery and public square furthers Alrai’s research into the displacement of stolen artefacts and their display in western museums. 

The art objects displayed become tutelary relics, however, in their reconfiguring they are replicas or false tutelary objects appropriated for western display. The notion of protector is pertinent to historic relics, which today remain housed in museums or collections re-moved from their original placement and out of danger, and Alrai assigns her contemporary objects to such protection, creating fictional artefacts and cultural residue. 

The installation transforms VITRINE’s unique space by lining the walls with painted cardboard to echo that of a tomb, housing the series of wall and floor based sculptures. Mostly made from clay, which is burnished with tar paint as well as copper leaf or powder, the floor based works are displayed on armatures, furthering the shows engagement with the physical structure of western museums and their display methods. By re-staging the inherent identity of objects, both personal or geographic, Alrai explores the histories and heritage of their attached narratives. 

Vitrine, Bermondsey Square, SE1 from 10th July – 15th September. Times: Daily 24/7