Rûh | Spirito | Roots of Spirituality

Text by Manuela De Leonardis

In Maïmouna Guerresi’s project for the 10th edition of KYOTOGRAPHIE, “Rûh,” the Arabic word for “Spirit,” The Italian-Senegalese artist explores mythical and religious symbols, traditions, and legends of the Western, African, and Arabic worlds through the intimate lenses of her “aesthetic syncretism.” Her research aims at overcoming cultural, social, linguistic, ethnic, and religious boundaries.


“Spirit,” the chance of transformation in one’s inner growth, is a key element of Islamic mysticism, according to which change is a fundamental aspect of our personal quest to reconnect the human with the divine. In Maïmouna Guerresi’s works, too, the need to testify to her inner metamorphosis becomes a coming together of inside and outside, also reflecting her personal discovery of the Muridiyya school of Sufism (founded by Bamba Mbacké in Touba, Senegal), which inspired her to convert to Islam. A deeply suggestive theme that flows through her painting, sculpture, performance, photography, and installations.

The exhibition Rûh | Spirito is conceived as a path, captivating visitors and luring them into a dimension of metaphysical suspension, constantly crossed by a unique tension, in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the extraordinary ordinary. A trip through inner worlds that allows both artist and visitors to take on a challenge, testing their limits and their fears in order to face, process, and perhaps even welcome them..


In the individual works of Rûh | Spirito, which range from single pieces to polyptychs, from photographs to videos, all realized between 2011 and 2020, the key narrative role is played by female figures, steadfast protagonists engaged in a dialogue with nature and an only partially unspoiled landscape. The journey begins with the huge, hieratic, mystic figures of the Giants series, in which the contrast between fullness and emptiness can be felt in the white line dividing their faces in half: a trace of light that brings together what is known with a menacing unknown, just like their hidden body – an empty blackness – engulfed in a cape. In the representation of other faces and bodies, too, such as in Red Balance, Swing, Blue Trampoline, or in Flow and Green Transition in the Beyond the Border series, we find the expression of inner qualities like dignity, temperance, majesty, resilience, and compassion.

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