Deep within Eastside Projects Emii Alrai is creating a world where medieval hunting traps meet museological dioramas.
Emii’s largest solo show to date folds together an intricate web of references including the legend of Gilgamesh, the capture and coveting of giant artefacts from Iraq such as the Lamassu by the British Museum, the theatricality of medieval hunting arenas, the etymology and history of courting, ancient gravesite constructions, arrows and how wounds have been romanticised by the Pre-Raphaelites, and their obsession with melancholia.
A large maze-like structure is taking over the main gallery, a lure of corridors and dead ends punctuated by giant wounded sculptures held captive on metal armatures. Traditional willow weaving techniques reimagined in cardboard and plaster walls create an immersive environment ready to entrap and ensnare. Steel arrows pierce walls and sculptures alike, quarrels and quivers anchoring limb like objects in space, conjuring images of fallen knights, hunted animals, the coveted bodies hit by Cupid, and referring to the romanticised violence of the museum – reminding us that the processes of longing, hunting, capture and collecting are underpinned by long bloody histories of conflict and colonisation.
Emii Alrai’s practice is informed by inherited nostalgia, geographical identity and post-colonial museum practices of collecting and displaying objects. Focusing on the ancient mythologies from the Middle East alongside personal oral histories of Iraq, the artist weaves together narratives by forging artefacts and visualising residues of cultural collision. Often working at large scale she creates sculptural installations that recall museological displays and dioramas.
Emii Alrai is an artist based in Leeds and Wakefield, and has been an EOP member since 2019. The Courtship of Giants has developed from Emii’s proposal to our EOP Open Call in 2019. Recent exhibitions include: Deposition Layer, Threshold Projects, Leeds (2021), Stories We Tell Ourselves, Foreman Gallery, Quebec (2021); Ecdysis, Assembly Point, London (2021); Jerwood Solo Presentations, Jerwood Arts, London (2021); The High Dam, The Tetley, Leeds (2020); Tutelaries, VITRINE, London (2019); House of Teeming Cattle, Two Queens, Leicester (2019); An Ancient Quiver, GLOAM, Sheffield (2018). In 2021, Emii was selected for Triangle Astérides residency programme in Marseille, In-Ruins residency in Calabria and partook in a Creative Fellowship at the University of Leicester. In 2022 she will be exhibiting at the Visual Arts Centre Clarington, Canada and presenting new work at The Hepworth Wakefield as part of the Future Collect programme.
Emii Alrai: The Courtship of Giants is supported by Henry Moore Foundation and Arts Council England.