Her work minutely scrutinizes how visual information is processed, by means of a unique photographic and interrogative method that disassembles and reassembles previously unexamined elements. Through a prism of knowledge production and the imagination, Azoulay changes how the world is perceived. Within the context of the Biennale Arte 2022, she addresses intersectional questions of cultural appropriation, shared histories, and the sovereignty of art. Azoulay’s project, Queendom, comprises large-scale panoramic photomontages, a sound installation produced in collaboration with a light-language channeller, and architectural interventions. The Queendom is governed by art, and its story is one of female and cultural empowerment. It is compiled from data that arises from a comprehensive system crash, following a malfunction of existing power structures, and pours out of the digital realm into the physical realm of the Giardini della Biennale. Beneath an ultramarine canopy, the pavilion is transformed into the Queendom’s palace, shifting from of its decadeslong national and patriarchal programming into a trans-regional and re-gendered space. Azoulay also reconfgures its architectural orientation from West to East—away from a male-centered gaze to female empowerment, and from Eurocentric modernity to Middle Eastern contemporaneity. Azoulay habitually composes images based equally on information gleaned from oral histories and storytelling, and rigorous research and investigation. Her point of departure for the current project is a nearly forgotten archive of obsessively photographed medieval metal vessels from the Islamic world, compiled by the Austro-Jewish-British art historian David Storm Rice (1913–1962) and bequeathed to the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. These are precious objects that were produced in the Middle East, traded in the Levant, brought to Europe via Venice, and are now mostly held in Western museums. Azoulay engages with these archival photographs by scanning, cropping, and changing them onto new data carriers, and the photomontaged images are then digitally “welded” onto scanned metal plates. She uses digital craftwork to visualize the afterlife of the images and their transformations, accentuating histories of appropriation and missing links in their geographies of knowledge. The resulting panoramic photomontages function as pathways to the imaginary expanse of the Queendom, from whence a universal language of healing projects out to the visitors and extends throughout the pavilion’s premises. Within the terra artis of Queendom, the migration of visual data can be explored. What do images that are twice removed from their source remember—and in a digitally connected world, can these be recontextualized? Is it possible for art to transition from its assigned identity? What at frst appears to be an innocent foray into a realm of fantasy is, in fact, a call to take responsibility for one’s imagination.
Queendom (2022) is curated by Dr. Shelley Harten, Curator for Contemporary and Modern Art and History, Jewish Museum Berlin.