Maha Mustafa, Black Fountain, Wood and water fountain, 2009-10

Looking For Oxygen

Maha Mustafa and Ibrahim Rashid

A Space Main Gallery

May 14 – June 12, 2010

Essay by: Nayrouz Abu-Hatoum, Sarah Hamdi

Looking for Oxygen reminds us that violence is not a bounded event but an ongoing and lived experience that is continually expressed through our relationships to ordinary objects, bodies, nature, others and ourselves. In this sense, violence descends into the ordinary.

The centre pieces of the exhibition are Black Fountain and Looking for Oxygen. Installed in the middle of the gallery space, Black Fountain shoots up black liquid that collapses into a surrounding pool. Although polluted by war the fountain symbolizes the persistence of life in the face of destruction. It evokes a number of images from our collective memory; it is most obviously oil unexpectedly splashing from the ground and, simultaneously, a (non)decorative and dirty fountain. In both cases, the black liquid is threatening, dangerous, impure, and unnatural. Mustafa’s displacement and transformation of this seemingly ordinary object changes our sensory embracement of the piece; instead of instinctively congregating around it, we fear its proximity and its eruption in the gallery. Looking for Oxygen, on the other hand, is a 3 channel video installation representing the body in a liminal zone between life and death. Ibrahim Rashid covers his head while standing in a pool of water. Deprived of oxygen, he then experiences his body’s desperate search for this basic element of life. His body, not only represents a struggling land or landscape, but also becomes the landscape itself. 


Maha Mustafa and Ibrahim Rashid are Toronto based Iraqi professional artists. Born in Iraq, both of them lived and worked in Sweden for 20 years, moving to Canada in 2005 to continue to develop the international dimensions of their art practice. Maha Mustafa’s work explores environmental destruction and attempts at control and comfort with materiality, while Ibrahim Rashid’s art is concerned with issues of inhumanity, physical reality, chaotic landscapes, and violence. They have held many national and international exhibitions and art projects in museums and public art galleries throughout Canada, USA, Sweden, Denmark, around Europe, and the Middle East. They have a twenty year solo exhibition history at Darat al Funun in Jordan; Södertälje Konsthall in Sweden; Mösting Hus in Denmark; among many others. They have been commissioned to create a number of public artworks and have been awarded several prizes and grants, notably, in Sweden from the Arts Grant Committee, and in Canada from the Canada Council for the Arts. Their website is

Nayrouz Abu-Hatoum is a PhD student of Social Anthropology at York University. Her area of interest is drawn from her personal experiences with movement, fragmented belongings, bordered spaces, violence and conflict. Her current research explores the Israeli built ‘separation’ wall in Palestine through the visual life created around it.

Sarah Hamdi is an MA student of Development Studies at York University. She previously studied Art History and Development at McGill University, and is interested in visual theory, diaspora, exile, and other-ed bodies. Her current research focuses on techno-power and politics, and explores how Arabs appropriate cyberspace for their own needs.