The longing in the strands: painted body thoughts — Salma Ahmad Caller

I speak ‘Ornament’. Do you? A language of embodied forms and lines that are substances, patterns that are pressures, weights, volumes, forces.

Image 1 Detail Tendril
Detail of Tendril – a physical thought/feeling inside my body? Your body? Watercolour on paper (indigo and white paint) 140cm x 75cm

I realised one day that what I see is invisible to others, or often or mostly or maybe even always. My work, my images, my words, all invisible. So I am invisible.

Image 2 Detail Tendril
Detail of Tendril – a physical thought/feeling inside my body? Your body? Watercolour on paper (indigo and white paint) 140cm x 75cm

My body isn’t something I look at from the outside only. I feel it, on the inside and on the outside: its pains, contortions, distortions, pressures, sensations, forces, weights, volumes, surfaces, textures.

Image 3 Detail Tendril
Detail of Tendril – a physical thought/feeling inside my body? Your body? Watercolour on paper (indigo and white paint) 140cm x 75cm

I never think of my paintings as images. These painted lines and residues, the smears and strokes, are thought-materials, feeling-stuffs. Language is all wrong, even the punctuation is in all the wrong places.

Image 4 Dark Thought Knot of Hair
Knot III – A Dark Thought Knot of Hair. Watercolour on paper (indigo paint) 66cm x 56cm

Because of what I feel, my body is never the same. We see. We feel. We touch. All of this. All at once. Touching and feeling through our eyes. When we see, we also feel, deep inside, a gut feeling.

Image 5 A Dark Thought
Knot I – A Dark Thought tied round my bones. Watercolour on paper (indigo and white paint) 66cm x 56cm

To know means to take apart and then put back in a new way. It means you have to destroy someone else’s frameworks so you can build new ones. Trauma leads to fantasy that carves and patterns us with its intricacies; its intensities.

Image 6 Detail Rapunzel Rudaba
Detail of Rapunzel/Rudaba. Watercolour on paper (indigo paint) 140cm x 75cm

A thought or an idea or a feeling is an object to me, it sits somewhere between my mind and my body. It’s a picture in my mind but it’s a thing inside my body too.

Image 7 Detail Nacreous Virgin II
Detail of Nacreous Virgin II. Watercolour on paper (indigo and white paint) 140cm x 75cm

I was brought up across two cultures, a strict Islamic one and a Western British colonial one – an Egyptian father, a British mother, a childhood in Nigeria, a Catholic Missionary school, teenage years wearing the veil in Saudi Arabia. As a hybrid of these cultures and faiths, and as a kind of aftermath of colonialism, my internal struggles to forge stable identities led me to seek out a personal body vocabulary. I am drawn to hybrid, ‘grotesque’ and ornamental forms.

I attempt to express the fractured and fantastical identity formation that I imagine and feel in the many margins of my colliding and opposing worlds. I imagine my body, a woman’s body, it crosses cultures, absorbs them, contests them: it is a conflicted territory of spaces, volumes, surfaces, skins, materials and substances. This metaphorical body, it’s interior spaces/exterior surfaces, is expressed through watercolour paint on paper, but the hand paints what the body feels in the mind. Images in paint are, for me, physical formations of sensations.


Salma Ahmad Caller can be reached at salmacaller@gmail.com.