In the combined age of computer-generated images, and concepts which sound more like selling points than reasons to make something, Ebecho Muslimova’s illustrated character Fatebe is a pre-eminent advocate for the missing humanity we crave in contemporary art. She is naked, hyper-sexualised, and vulgar. She is fat, scatological and almost incessantly joyful. But most importantly, she’s only on display in Muslimova’s latest show “Fatebe Digest” at David Zwirner, London, until December 23rd; which is a shame, because the work is really something you have to see up close.
In short, Fatebe spends her life trying to fit into things, and fit things into her. Be it colourful skeletons, coat stands, or a rather uncomfortable-looking set of door handles, our cartoonish heroine’s faith in her orifices is bold at the very least. Some would say ambitious. In one of the more humorous pieces, she even eyes a narrow letterbox before inevitably jumping in, just to test the boundaries of what she can do with her body. Sex in Muslimova’s work can be described playful in this way; often grotesque and impossible, but rarely without a sense of fun. It’s a point of experimentation, a surreal and uncanny aspiration of what can be done with human figures, even when the figures themselves begin to lose what makes them human. There’s some self-reference to this too, as in one illustration Fatebe pants exhaustedly beneath her own skin, tired out by the mutability of her flesh. The usual Byronic, post-Freudian, Bataille-influenced slew of interpretations will no doubt abound the gallery floor this winter, as visitors give in to the temptation to intellectualise Muslimova’s work to death, but before they do I hope they pay attention to the brushwork first.
In the same room as the exhibition’s wall-spanning mural, another exposed Fatebe is busy imbibing a skeleton via both ends in one of a diptych of paintings: “Fatebe BTS Mechane, 2021”. The aforementioned skeleton is lime-green, and looks from a distance to have been computer-generated, like a graphic from a video-game made in 2004. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the entire scene has been painted by hand, and in extravagant detail. What appears artificial at first, is an exquisite creation by delicate hands. This is the appeal of Muslimova’s work in its purest essence. A gifted illustrator and artist, she has conjured a widely marketable, visually striking cartoon, and through fine attention shaped Fatebe into a humanist expression of sexuality.
Muslimova says that the art represents her own anxieties around the subject, and I believe her. Anyone who spends the hours it must have taken, not only to develop the dexterity to so deftly flick Fatebe into her latest form, but to personally craft the detailed scenes found on these canvases, has invested enough time and talent to be taken seriously. It shows too. Whilst I was there, a guest remarked that her painting ‘felt silent’. She was referencing the lack of present story to the piece, immediately bypassing the trite ‘sex and death’ interpretation and cutting straight to the sensation that the work provoked. The art isn’t going to be found in how many people read into it, or build academic links beyond the personal addendums that Muslimova herself might make. Intellectual brown-nosing has no place here, and the work and maybe even the world is better for it. That being said, during my visit I did watch a man in his mid-thirties move alarmingly close to the mural to examine Fatebe’s rear end …
Ebecho Muslimova Fatebe Digest —December 23, 2021 at David Zwirner davidzwirner.com
About the artist
Born in 1984 in Makhachkala, Dagestan, Russia, Ebecho Muslimova received her BFA from Cooper Union, New York, in 2010. The artist lives and works in New York. Since her first solo exhibition at Room East, New York, in 2015, Muslimova has shown work at galleries and institutions worldwide. Galerie Maria Bernheim, Zurich, presented a two-person exhibition with her and Bailey Scieszka’s work in 2017 and a solo show of Muslimova’s work in 2020. Magenta Plains, New York, organised solo exhibitions of Muslimova’s work in 2018 and 2019. In the spring of 2021, The Drawing Center, New York, presented the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, Ebecho Muslimova: Scenes in the Sublevel, a site-specific installation of ten large-scale mixed-media works.
Her work was featured in the 2021 Belgrade Biennale and is part of the fall 2021 group exhibition Smashing into My Heart at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. Work by the artist is represented in major museum collections, including the Dallas Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Institute of Contemporary Art Miami; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO), Geneva; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.