From Shahmaran, Queen of Snakes, to Star Trek: First Contact: the London-based artist explains her favourite images
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Throughout the Alien films we witness the slow synthesis of Ellen Ripley and the alien body, both emotionally and physically. This begins with the empathy Ripley occasionally shows the Alien Queen (despite attempting to eliminate her) and carries through to Alien: Resurrection, when Alien DNA is mixed with a clone of Ripley, telepathically linking the two.
In this scene, Ripley encounters previous failed clones of herself. When the only surviving clone begs Ripley to kill her, our protagonist torches the entire room. There is something terrifying and violating about being confronted with versions of yourself; your physical matter having been at the disposal of others, treated as plastic and malleable without your consent.
This image depicts the Kurdish mythological creature Shahmaran, Queen of Snakes, with the head and torso of a woman and the poisonous tail of a snake. The love story of Shahmaran and explorer Chemshab is one of generosity, exploitation and colonization. The story closes with Shahmaran’s final attempt to secure Chemshab's love, which involves her allowing herself to be dismembered and consumed to heal him and save his life. The story is one of a body offering itself in a profoundly generous way at the expense of her own life, and doing so in the knowledge that her love would remain unrequited; an invitation to self-sacrifice.
In the meat market in Erbil, a use is found for almost every part of an animal's body. In turn, every organ demands that it is handled in a specific way, despite no longer belonging to a sentient being. It’s not just the crass violence of slaughter, but also a rigorous tenderness that sees every entrail searched for and separated. A breadth of textures, forms and surfaces, all born within a single skin, are burst open and laid bare on the cold steel and stone tiling.
Jonathan Frakes, Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Star Trek, and sci-fi in general, has always been a useful place to observe the body extending beyond itself, becoming larger than the physical space that it occupies. In this scene from Star Trek: First Contact, we witness a sexual encounter between the Borg Queen and Data. The Borg Queen is the central entity within the Borg race, a non-hierarchical collective operating in unison, striving for perfection, amalgams of organic and artificial life. Data is an android who, despite being fully anatomically functional, continually struggles to become more 'human'; to feel and understand emotion. At this moment, the Borg Queen turns on Data's emotion chip, grafts organic skin to his positronic body, and blows gently.
When violence is so readily committed against bodies and it remains a struggle to maintain autonomy over one's own, this image always reminds me of the intimacy, humour and even joy that can spill out from being torn apart, especially when you initiate your own undoing.
Alina Szapocznikow was a holocaust survivor who suffered from tuberculosis and died from cancer in 1973, aged 46. Her work continues to convey the messiness of the human body: a site of trauma, vulnerability and sensuality. Making work that unashamedly faces this can be a form of self-preservation.
Asia & Latif
This picture of my parents is very close to my heart. When they emigrated from Kurdistan in 1985, they spent six months in a refugee camp in Jahrom, Iran, and this picture of my dad washing my mum's hair with a tin can was taken there. For me, it captures a moment of respite, even romance, during a time when their lives were at stake. This image has become an incredibly important accompaniment to my thinking about fragmentation and the feeling of the body, specifically of persecuted, diasporic bodies in the face of censorship.
Jala Wahid (b.1988) is an artist based in London, UK, and is co-founder of SALT. magazine. Previous group exhibitions include 'Basic Instinct', Seventeen, London; 'CONDO', The Sunday Painter, London; and 'Promise Me', Jupiter Woods, London. On 16 September, Wahid will be taking part in the Park Nights series at Serpentine Galleries, London.