Navine G. Khan-Dossos’ prevailing preoccupation with ephemeral site-specific mural painting has previously limited the ability of her work to travel to new contexts. While mural painting is still Khan-Dossos’ first love, the forensic ruler motif allows for the murals to become a series that takes on new significance in new contexts. Referencing Philip K. Dick’s notion of the pre-criminal space expressed in his short story Minority Report, the forensic ruler introduces a fatalistic and preventative measure of a potential crime that has not yet happened. Last year, the artist used it in her resurfacing of the 150-year history of the SALT Beyoğlu site in Istanbul, also making it a witness to how histories are covered up in the work Scenes From A Pre-Crime. At Z33, the ruler warns of the potential of violence against women, but also plays witness to the history of the site, originally a home of Beguines –women who in the 13-16th centuries lived and worked financially independently and in resistance to patriarchy.

Most striking however, is her work’s departure from a preoccupation with media representations of women who join terrorist organisations, which first developed during her residency at the Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht from 2014-2015. ‘I've understood something quite fundamental in the past couple of years,’ says the artist, reflecting on the most recent of this series of work, the dramatic Echo Chamber that occupied the Het Oog alcove of the Van Abbemuseum for most of 2017. The theme of women as targets, victims and resistors that had coursed in the metatext of the terror-related work, thus now becomes the topic, the prevailing social and institutional pattern itself. A change in her patterns then also emerges.

The artist’s use of patterns goes back to her early training in Islamic art in London at the beginning of the noughties. ‘Islamic art was always seen as part of the decorative arts, which are always considered to be feminine in some sense or to have a different standing to Western art,’ and Khan-Dossos says that she has sought to challenge this in contemporary art. ‘Islamic art is very linked to the algorithmic and digital worlds, and how pattern, its formation and mess of geometry, is heavily linked to how information travels around the world.’ While her interest in pattern continues, over the past few years she has increasingly moved away from using Islamic art as a basis. ‘I'm working more with logos, branding, diagrams and patterns that I find through research, and then make those into repetitive surfaces.’ The effect might evoke Islamic art, but this is the nature of the information and its conceptual framework, rather than a cultural reference. In Shoot the Women First, she uses the body silhouettes and geometrics of the shooting range, with The School of Earthquake Diplomacy (Istanbul Design Biennial, 2018) she drew from scientific and public information symbols, with the Pool Paintings Part One (Swimming Pool project space, Sofia, 2018) she drew on swimming pool shapes.

Often the amount of research that goes into the forms and colours is not immediately accessible to the audience. Sometimes gallery information will reveal that the colours used in Echo Chamber are taken by the media coverage of a 33-year-old British woman who supposedly joined Al-Shabaab. The pink used in Shoot the Women First is the colour used to demarcate brothels doorways in Athens – the work is inspired by an incident in 2012 when police arrests of HIV-positive drug users stigmatised sex workers. Polychromy Plays (The Showroom, London, 2018), is a colour palette of healing resulting from six months of workshops, speaking to patients and workers in the paediatric department at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London. Only in speaking to the artist, is the depth of the research methodology entirely revealed.

But opacity is a strategy of resistance, and core to the meditative and performative aspects of Khan-Dossos’ work. The mural painting is endurance-based physical labour. At Van Abbemuseum she painted outdoors through rain and sunshine, and at SALT Beyoğlu she covered 200 sq metres in three weeks. ‘You can't really cover that kind of area, that kind of repetitive form ad infinitum unless you're in some kind of state,’ says Khan-Dossos, explaining that she draws on the physical meditation skills she learnt while part of a whirling dervish school in London over a decade ago. Of course, she confesses to sometimes be listening to music or podcasts, but ‘…mostly while working I’m in a state of really thinking about the subject matter, really being present with the same thing that the work is about and focusing on the meaning of the work.’ It is a witnessing and re-embodying of the patterns of institutional violence with care.

Care is also what makes it so important for Khan-Dossos that her work goes beyond meditation to mediation through collaborative projects. Not only does she open up her working methodology and the importance of quietude by inviting people to participate in the installation of her murals, but she also instigates cross-community collaborations that produce co-authored works, such as The School of Earthquake Diplomacy, which took place in both Athens and Istanbul. The quilt for Shoot the Women First involves the Greek Transgender Support Association in Athens, which through workshops made watercolours that Khan-Dossos developed into a quilt design, and was printed and then embroidered by MIA-H in Hasselt.

The quilt as a mediated collaboration between gendered communities and histories in Athens and Hasselt, the care-imbuing performative mural of the forensic ruler that evokes the eternal present of institutional violence, and the series of shooting targets painted in multiple meditations, together speak of individual and collective struggle and transcendence. Says Khan-Dossos: ‘If they're on their own, they don't really tell a story. In the multitude we have the possibility of complexity but also resistance.’ 

Navine G. Khan-Dossos – Shoot the Women First, Z33, Hasselt, Belgium, until 26 May, 

This article originally appeared in DAMNº71. 

DAMNº71: A Woman’s Work / Saskia de Brauw & Vincent van de Wijngaard / Wendy Andreu / Broken Nature / Cyber-urbanism / ecoLogicStudio / Geo-Design / Alexandre Humbert / Navine G. Khan-Dossos / Leonard Koren / Movie interiors / Radical Cut-Up / Miko Revereza / Klaas Rommelaere / SAVVY Contemporary / Shapereader / Thonik / Andrew Waugh

This article appeared in DAM71. Order your personal copy.