The Artsy Vanguard 2019: Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Lawrence Abu Hamdan by Miro Kuzmanovic. Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London.
For Lawrence Abu Hamdan, sound is more than an art form, or even a fact of life. The self-described “private ear” uses various kinds of audio in installations, performances, and graphic works that interrogate the effects of sound on human rights—how voices are silenced, and how they can be heard and answered.
“When I meet a curator who tells me that she or he is interested in the ‘politics of listening,’” said Omar Kholeif, senior curator and director of collections at the Sharjah Art Foundation, “I smile and look inwards, knowing that person has in some way or another been influenced by the work of Lawrence Abu Hamdan.”
Abu Hamdan’s groundbreaking work has garnered him rabid institutional attention. In 2019, he had a solo show at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, and has had work on view in the 58th Venice Biennale. He’s now represented by Maureen Paley, Mor Charpentier, and Sfeir-Semler Gallery.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The recovered manifesto of Wissam [inaudible], 2017. © Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London, and mor charpentier, Paris.
“Earwitness Theatre,” his 2018 presentation at London’s Chisenhale Gallery, garnered Abu Hamdan a nomination for the prestigious Turner Prize this year. “Earwitness Theatre” built upon the artist’s audio investigations into the brutal Syrian prison of Saydnaya, where detainees are often blindfolded and left in the dark. His “earwitness testimony” translates witness descriptions of sound effects “like somebody dropping a rack of trays” to the ricochet of a gunshot. The work has political currency: Abu Hamdan developed the project with Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International for use in legal investigations and advocacy for humanitarian rights. “He has been able to shift the discourse around how we listen and interrogate why we listen,” Kholeif said.