If Walls Could Dance

Amy Stephens 

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Amy Stephens returns to Cross gallery with ‘If walls could dance’, a collection of new photographic works by the London based and born artist.  The show will run from 7 February to March 1, 2014.

In December 2013, Amy Stephens was awarded the Triangle Network Fellowship to Oman in association with Gasworks Gallery offering her a rare insight into Omani culture. The work in this exhibition is a direct response from her time spent in Muscat.

The title of the exhibition 'If walls could dance' refers to a traditional sword dance performed by local Omanis at the Nizwa Fort dating back to the 12th century. Once a center of trade, religion and art, Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in Oman and has always been an important meeting point at the base of the Western Hajar Mountains. Surrounded by men in full traditional attire, the artist captures a small Omani boy caught up in the dance. (In the image of the same name, surrounded by men in full traditional attire the artist captures a small Omani boy caught up in the dance.) Vulnerable yet alluring, the boy appears to be completely mesmerized by the ritual taking place around him.

In contrast is the image Daylight has no answers, depicting the remote ancient village of Misfat al Abreyeen perched on top of the mountains on the outskirts of Nizwa. By day and by night, the village remains peaceful. The odd tourist car makes its way along the single track road, or a donkey is visible as it carries crops from one of the many farms back home. The success of the village is based on the irrigation system known as a falaj, which runs through the centre. Surrounded by lush green date palms, this unspoilt village is full of hidden mountain doors bursting with secrets.

Amy Stephens has created a play on word from the phrase "If these walls could talk", referring to something said or done behind closed doors. Instead the artist refers to the solid walls of the Fort and how these can continue to divide a city and its people. Within the title, she also refers to the notion of ceremony and how this can be misunderstood between cultures. A pair of painterly images, Imperfect Triangles refer to the many festivals that take place throughout Oman during the year. By discarding colour from the photographs, the triangular patterns loose their true national identity yet retain the unmistakable symbol that we continue to be use for celebrations.

In An Architect’s Paradise, mini portals allow the viewer to see from the artist’s studio in Muscat, through a derelict building and across the city onto the plutonic rocks that constitute the hills and mountains of Muscat. The building that acts as this window, is about to be knocked down and rebuilt offering the new tenant a rich source of natural materials and an unobstructed view of the landscape.

At the heart of Stephens’ work is the symbiotic relationship between nature and human agency and minimalist precision. It is a practice that considers the tenuous interrelationship of both found and crafted objects to photographic works that are both beautiful and threatening. Installing work and designing space are essential to the way in which the audience encounters her work; emotionally and architecturally. From the artist’s studio in Muscat to the celebratory images at Nizwa, there is a quiet purpose in every aspect of her work.

Amy Stephens received her MA from Chelsea College of Art and Design, London in 2008. Selected solo exhibitions include A Light Less Ordinary, Aldeburgh, UK (2013); Catching the Big Fish, Minibar Artist Space, Stockholm, Sweden (2013); Collide, Poppy Sebire Gallery, London, UK (2012); Restless Nature, Oonagh Young Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (2011); This Urban Silence, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (2011); The Rise of the Wapiti, Other Gallery, Banff Centre, Banff, Canada (2010).

The artist has work in several private and public collections, including the Zabludowicz Collection, London, UK and the OPW State Collection, Ireland. The artist works at Studio Voltaire, London.