Hajra Waheed: The Cyphers
This is Waheed's first solo exhibition in a UK institution and expands upon Still Against the Sky, a recent presentation at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. The exhibition continues Waheed's ongoing research into our current aerial occupation, highlighting the ever-increasing militarisation of the sky where the circulation of military drones and surveillance technology extends over everyday life often with lethal consequences. Against this backdrop of borderless spatial power games, Waheed’s drawings, collages, videos and photo-based works emerge in the form of archives, fragments and field notes. The collected materials are used to construct new stories about marginalised histories.
Born in Canada and raised within the gated community of Saudi ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, home to a quarter of the world's oil exports, Waheed grew up under strict regulations including the prohibition of photographic and video documentation by civilians. In conditions of secrecy and isolation, Waheed developed a childhood obsession with identifying aircraft, tracking flight routes and keeping logs of her observations in her own secret visual language. Through news accounts and extensive research, Waheed develops narratives and follows characters in ongoing bodies of work that constitute a growing personal archive.
The mixed-media installation KH-21 2014 grew out of her earlier Architectural Studies 2011, a series of drawings in which cut-out details of spy planes accompany floor plans of historical mosques. Bringing together a sound sculpture and a number of works on paper, KH-21 makes reference to the recently declassified HEXAGON Program of the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office which launched twenty highly classified intelligence gathering satellites between 1971-86. Collected data gains new relevance as Waheed's works navigate across geographic and geopolitical distance, personal history and collective memory. Underpinning her practice is an interest in the codes and operations of security, surveillance, profiling, and wartime de-humanisation.
The Cyphers brings together a number of new works on paper including KH-21 Notes 1-32 2014, a collection of ongoing video works and The Scrapbook Project 1/3 2010-11.