2 Cursed Objects Web

Meriem Bennani

Art Basel Unlimited

Meriem Bennani’s multifaceted output engages with themes such as cultural hybridity, gender politics, censorship, globalised media and community with the vernacular of her native Morocco’s culture. Over the past few years, the New York-based artist has established herself as one of the foremost voices of her generation through the use of digital animations and a sculptural practice that idiosyncratically blends loud, lo-fi aesthetics with humour and storytelling.

First conceived in 2022 as part of Bennani’s Cursed Objects series, Umbrella Twist combines video, kinetic sculpture and immersive installation. Surrounded by walls pierced with a goggle-shaped spyhole, it is first partially glimpsed at by the approaching viewer before fully appearing, towering over 16 feet. Riffing off theme park aesthetics, Umbrella Twist resembles a hybrid between a parasol and a solitary cartoon palm tree, while Hollywood-style animatronics motors make the sculpture gyrate as if lashed by an invisible storm. At its base, placed at eye-level, Bennani has integrated a geometric monitor reminiscent of kitschy designs belonging to 90s arcades or fun fairs. On the screen, a 5-minute video featuring acidic colours, psychedelic characters and an intense operatic soundtrack (Gloria in Excelsis Deo) mashed up with rhythmic Singeli beats and comic effects plays in a loop.

The animation loosely depicts a female character performing the polemical Moroccan cultural phenomenon of ‘Routini Lyawmi’, in which everyday household scenes are shared on social media, with varying suggestive and erotic intent. As the narration progresses, we see the character’s possessions, including a Bialetti coffee machine, paper straw, and a flip flop, come to life and attack her following a 5G spell cast by an internet witch. Bennani also injects autobiographical elements reminding us of her childhood in Morocco, as well as hints to celebrities and memories of teleshopping channels that absurdly fetishize the most banal of objects.

Umbrella Twist tackles vastly divergent archetypes of femininity and highlights fast-paced changes to female identity and means of empowerment in the context of Morocco, where value systems are being upended by globalised consumerism and social media. While seemingly anodyne or harmless to a Western eye, the women who post the ‘Routini’ videos inspiring this work run the risk of imprisonment for upsetting traditions and morality legislations. Thus, all the while fusing cartoonish animations, online imagery, and whimsical kinetic sculpture, Bennani addresses stark offline realities.

Deftly employing not only sculptural prowess but also wry humour and symbolic mastery, this monumental work constitutes a deeply engaged and idiosyncratic way of dealing with identity politics all the while conserving an acute sense of distance and self-derision.

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