Helena Tahir


The Last Sector


20/03 — 11/05/2024


The exhibition The Last Sector by Helena Tahir poses a profound and critical question that resonates within the vast realm of art: How does an artist's deeply personal experience, seamlessly incorporated into their artwork, transcend the boundaries of subjectivity to reach a state of a more objective relevance and relatability for a broader audience? Or, one might rephrase this question to inquire why we, as viewers, find ourselves inherently drawn to artworks that delve into the intimate aspects of artists' lives and see them as powerful.

The exhibition unfolds as a moving exploration of Helena's Iraqi heritage, deeply rooted in the stormy history of her father's life. Drawing directly from her family's past, it showcases various artistic expressions intricately entangled with Helena's transformative journey to Iraq in January 2023. Initiated by a heartfelt summons from her father's family, communicated through a poignant video message after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, Helena embarks on a quest to connect with her family roots and unravel the enigmatic elements of her father's hidden past. Whether presenting the Iraqi family tapes, subtly modified found paperwork from her journey, carbon tracing drawing transfers on tiles, or employing her well-known drawing method, Tahir masterfully weaves intimate narratives and histories that may initially feel distant to most. However, transcending the confines of the personal narrative publicly, she illuminates the capacities of art's transformative power. In doing so, Helena emphasizes the profound ability of artistic expression to initiate changes, underlining its role as a catalyst of feelings and triggering shifts in the audience's consciousness through intimately originated works, resembling a confession.

Starting from the exhibition's title, we are introduced to the concepts of confession and intimacy. Such an enigmatic title leaves us with perplexing associations, leading us to think that Helena allows us to enter a hidden realm. Essentially, The Last Sector, as named by the locals, refers to the 38th sector of Sadr City district in Baghdad, where Helena's father's family resides. However, beyond this original meaning, the name through this exhibition also carries a symbolic meaning, portraying the area as a storehouse of personal truths, a concealed realm waiting to be discovered and unveiled, or something profoundly hidden that pains to be verbalized. This idea aligns with Michel Foucault's exploration of truth residing within ourselves, seeking expression and liberation through confession. The failure of truth to surface is attributed to a constraining force, a power that suppresses it, and its articulation becomes possible only through a form of liberation consisting of the process of confession. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize that truth shares a fundamental connection with freedom. In this context, the story Helena tells us is connected with the search for freedom. For this search, Helena travels through her father's homeland, Iraq, entering the Last Sector and meeting her Iraqi family, which was kept in silence under personal and political circumstances for many, many years. Then, her decision to transform this experience into works of art and then into an exhibition became, on one side, an apparent liberation by itself, but on the other, the place where the narrative becomes objective and relevant to us all since the essence of the matter lies in the direct materiality of the story. Through the act of the artist's confession, which simultaneously serves as a subtle and ambivalent state of vulnerability and resistance, we also become both fragile and rebellious, encouraging us that liberating the truth is equal to fighting for freedom, a risk worth taking.

This concept is revealed through Helena Tahir's distinctive working process, especially in her drawings. Once she has stated that drawing is a process of becoming one with the work. By this, Helena is observing the creation as a therapeutic process, where through the short and fast movements of the colored pencils and the sound they produce, the work absorbs the whole presence of the artist, their thoughts, and feelings. Through the exhibited works, she drives us around that process by carefully dissecting her creative approach. She juxtaposes family archival tapes, photographs, and images of personal meaning with the drawings made through a meditative and detailed process that resembles the rhythmic undulations of Persian carpets, which mirrors Helena's personalization of her creations through lived experiences and truths. It becomes evident that Helena operates within fragmentary logic, skillfully amalgamating diverse visual information into a cohesive whole with the help of tracing, frottaging, and compiling techniques. This amalgamation, akin to constructing an image from many existing ones, threads narratives drawn from multiple, coexisting stories. Here, the observer is invited to delve into the elaborateness of Helena's creative process. The result is an emotional walk through the layers of Helena's artistry and state of the soul, where each detail contributes to the broader narrative of the interconnected stories, cultivating a deep and vibrant visual experience.


Ilija Prokopiev, curator



Helena Tahir






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