Y. Matzkel

The Whole and All Its Parts

The sculptures created by artist Sana Farah-Bishara are imbued with a power inherent to the tradition of classical sculpture. Upon close examination, however, what appears at first as a dialoguewith the centuries-old tradition of figurative sculpture gives way to reveal a different and unique treatment of the material, and an artistic vocabulary that complicates the interpretation of these three-dimensional works of art.

A committed artist, Sana is above all preoccupied with the figure of the modern woman, and her worldview is deeply ingrained in her work. She expresses the constant struggle of contemporary women, who strive towards wholeness while being limited in their practical ability to achieve their ambitions. This reality is the result of the many obligations imposed on women – functions that are both demanding and oppressive. These obligations involve a constant struggle among many roles – a struggle that Sana herself experiences daily as an artist, a career woman, a mother, an educator, a wife, a sister and a socially active, opinionated and engaged woman. According to Sana, the struggle between the longing for wholeness and the demands imposed by reality inevitably produces mistakes and deviations from the norm: “There is a conflict between the many roles imposed on a woman and society’s expectations of her. These roles often clash with her desire and ambition to create a better future for herself, her children and her family.” Through her sculptures, this artist invites the viewers to try and identify with the complex world of women.

Sana Farah-Bishara herself radiates power and womanly beauty, qualities that are inherent in her sculptures.The female figures represented in all of Sana’s sculptures are symbolic representations of a universal female figure. The faces of these women are always camouflaged, hidden or covered. They have no features, and are defined by generalized female characteristics. They are neither sad nor happy. They neither weep nor laugh. We do not know if these women are young or elderly.

Any attempt to imbue these female faces with an expressive quality has been renounced in advance, while their bodies seem to be spiraling upwards.Farah-Bishara’s creative process begins with the material, the clay: “I really love the material. Its warmth influences me. It is not only its color, the color of earth, which embraces one and imparts a sense of belonging, of being connected to the source of life. For me, earth is related to fertility and motherhood. These associations are accompanied by the sense of warmth that emanates from it, and which makes me feel totally connected to it and identified with it.”

The next stage, which includes the processing of the material and its casting in bronze, creates the tension sought by the artist. Sana “plays” with the material, imbuing it with an additional dimension that creates an external tension. She distinguishes between differently textured surfaces, while devoting the same attention to rough areas and to polished areas emblematic of feminine softness. Silken smoothness is thus contrasted with the texture of scarred tissue. Fragility is contrasted with power. In both her art and her life, Sana’s perspective on the status of modern women is shaped by a gaze that discerns a dichotomy between the woman who functions within the domestic sphere and the one who functions in the world outside the home. This dichotomy is expressed through the manner in which Sana works with the material, and through the tensions that pervade both the sculptures’ substance and their form.

The conflict between internal and external forces finds expression in the creation of entities composed of fragmented parts, which bespeak the struggle between the sensations and the inner experiences of the universal woman created by Sana and between her exterior appearance. Sana seeks to endow her sculptures with a nearly perfect formal appearance, capable of truly expressing a woman’s inner world. A metaphysical quest. “In my sculptures of women, I express the tension between a woman’s delicacy and her spiritual and personal power,” she says.“This tension is what generates the modularity of my sculptures.”

Sana’s most recent sculptures all share three artistic elements: they revolve around a central axis in a manner that creates an upward-moving spiral; they are characterized by a sense of movement and flow; and they are impregnated with a sensual quality that seems to physically draw the woman’s body upwards.This sense of flow is particularly noticeable in the sculptures concerned with dance, such at Flamenco, Dance or Tango. “When I work in the studio I listen to music, which both affects my mood and sweeps me along with its rhythm.”

The flow and vitality of the upwardly moving body are powerfully expressed in the upper part of the female figure – the neck. The neck in these sculptures appears as a vital and central part of the body, and receives considerable attention. It is privileged as the passageway for air, the locus of sound production, and an area in which the process of swallowing begins. The artist also emphasizes the motion of the neck, which also hints upwards. It is important to Sana that the movement of each sculpture compel the viewer to circle around while examining the figure embedded within the material: “It is important to me that the viewer experience the movement and flow contained within the sculpture.”

An additional characteristic shared by these sculptures is the process of fragmentation that sustains the whole. This element similarly hints at the various masks that a woman must wear in her attempts to assimilate and move between different parts of herself, and the demands made upon her by both internal and external forces. The artist firmly maintains that her female figures are the result of a preoccupation with the concept of womanhood, rather than a reflection of reality. The ruptured and fragmented elements in her artworks and sculptures constitute an expression of the ruptures that characterize contemporary society. There is no utopian wholeness in these images of women, just as there is no such wholeness in the artist’s own life. Reality is always distinct from the dream. And yet this dream continues to exist, and one cannot ignore the constant desire to unite the fragments and to achieve total integration and complete fulfillment. The formal metamorphosis of the figures, and their changing appearance – which depends on the angle from which they are viewed – endow them with a modular quality. This quality enables the artist to constantly search for – and find – the view that is compatible with her mood at any given moment. Disassembly and assemblage constantly exist alongside one another. The dialogue that Sana entertains with the history of art, and the artistic language she has developed, thus relate in particular to late Cubism.

The gaping spaces in the material and the flow of air between its parts are another central element in Farah-Bishara’s work. These qualities characterize most of this artist’s sculptures, and constitute an allegory for the universal woman’s will and for her openness to the world. We live today in a global society characterized by the effortless flow of information, in which everything is far more accessible than ever before. Our increased mobility similarly contributes to our perception of the world. The status of the space surrounding the various components of these sculptures, and of the air flowing among them, thus acquires an importance equal to that of matter and form. Space becomes an essential aspect of these sculptures, and may be perceived as a force that constantly pulls women towards internal, spiritual, or even metaphysical realms.

Sana describes herself as a person who constantly contemplates the world around her, and her work translates what she sees and experiences: “I am not a political person. My approach to art has nothing to do with national identity, color, religion or borders. As I see it, art should represent the way in which I perceive the world –  the perception of a sensitive person.”