Yara Mekawei is a multidisciplinary artist who mainly works with the materiality and immateriality of sound, exploring how sound informs and transforms visual and sculptural artistic practices. For Mekawei, sound becomes a material source and a physical embodiment of knowledge(s) that animates most of her works, while exploring how sonorousness is a transducer and point of convergence of time-space relations, as expressed and experienced in African and Arabic philosophies.
For the past seven years, Mekawei has been exploring a system of translation of sounds heard behind Sufi texts. By reading works of Sufi poets, philosophers, and scholars, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Mansur Al-Hallaj, she created a methodology that codes and decodes Arabic letters into numerals to become a score for her musical and sonic compositions. This translation process is a metamorphosis of mythology and Sufi prophets’ stories into new sonic readings of Sufi philosophies and histories.
Recently, Mekawei has published her first book in her mother tongue, Arabic. There Are Sounds of the Moving Images is a body of work resulting from years of working with, researching, and practicing within the sonic arts domain. The publication examines what she refers to as “ear vision.” Mekawei traverses conceptual questions on music and history, its interconnection to modern technologies, and digital and visual art concepts concerning the philosophy of the ear and listening practices.
In 2018, Mekawei founded Radio Submarine / راديو الغواصة. As a storyteller, she traverses African cities through the dimension of their sonority and music. Water is one of the central connections between the different radio features. It becomes a space of transmission of African sensibility across the continent and beyond, as water travels past the geolocality of Africa as a fixed space, engaging with those who travelled (historically and today) while carrying with them their sounds and music. For Mekawei, Radio Submarine is a connection to history and represents the multiplicity of sounds and music created across various African cities. Her work repudiates colonialist cartographies that have structured and limited the movement and relationships of people across the African continent.
Mekawei’s investigation into the urban architectures, social histories, and migration of humans and more than humans can be read through Henri Lefebvre’s notion of rhythm analysis as a means of engaging with cities through their sounds, and by listening to how cities shift socially, culturally, politically with music.
Mekawei has performed and shown her work internationally at SAVVY Contemporary (Berlin, 2021), SHUBBAK Festival (London, 2021), Rote Fabrik (Zürich, 2019), MEMPHIS Gallery (Linz, 2019), Halle14 (Leipzig, 2019), Dakar Biennial (Dakar, 2018), Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival (Johannesburg, 2018), Cairotronica festival (2018), Lagos Biennial (Lagos, 2017), and Biennale méditerranéenne dʼart contemporain dʼOran (Oran, 2014) among others.
Text: Kamila Metwaly