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Posted 14.12.16

Provocative performance in Claire Hooper’s exhibition ‘She Bit Her Lip, She Slapped Her Thigh’

By Phillip Buchan

Asifa Lahore performing in The Gallery.

As part of our Moving Image season, The Gallery hosted a new installation by Claire Hooper, an artist that works with moving image, painting, performance and sculptural installations, drawing on ancient mythology to produce contemporary layered narratives in her work.

Claire’s solo exhibition was a response to the gallery space, as part of an ongoing project concerning the ancient Sumerian myth, The Descent of Inanna to the Underworld.

The ambitious installation explored recurring themes in her practice, creating spaces through carefully manipulated fabric constructions, objects and projection.

The gallery became a complex mixture of ancient and modern cultural references, suspending space as an altarpiece, as obscure reliquary, and as a stage for performative action.

Claire Hooper said, “On a personal level for me the project began when I had a baby and this engendered a transformation in me.

“As part of my wider interest in classical mythology my focus moved to the Sumerian myth of the descent of Inanna to the underworld, which is widely interpreted as a chthonic/seasonal myth relating to fertility and rebirth.

“The journey that Inanna takes really appealed to me, particularly the way Claire envisaged making a very sexualised, hyper expressive narration of the legend together." — Asifa Lahore

“I was struck by the violence and the objectively humiliating parts of the myth, as part of Inanna’s journey of rebirth, as well as the relationship between the two women, Inanna and Ereshkigal, Sumerian goddess of the underworld.

“The myth of Inanna is like the script for a ritual, and my new installation elaborated on a specific aspect of the myth and its ritual - the presented femininity of Inanna and the internal femininity of Ereshkigal, and the transformation from one part of womanhood to another. It is an internal space, the place from which decisions are made and carried out.”

Claire’s installation in The Gallery included a short film starring Asifa Lahore, 'Britain's First Out Muslim Drag Queen', who played the main character Inanna from the myth.

Together with the installation, this new body of work looked at the significance of the female body in male to female drag in relation to female identity and reproductive labour. It aimed to provoke a discussion of contemporary gender politics.

"We are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Claire, to present her most ambitious work so far." — Zoe Li

On Thursday 17 November The Gallery hosted a one-off live performance by Asifa Lahore, playing the role of Inanna in a contemplative performance derived from the Sumerian myth, along with a guided talk by Claire Hooper.

Asifa Lahore, who appeared last year in Channel Four’s documentary Muslim Drag Queens and has been performing publicly for the past five years, said: “I first met Claire when I was giving a TED talk at the Southbank Centre in London and she approached me with the idea of creating something together based on the descent of Inanna to the underworld.

“The journey that Inanna takes really appealed to me, particularly the way Claire envisaged making a very sexualised, hyper expressive narration of the legend together.

“This idea of Inanna wearing a wig, of shedding layers as she gets deeper into the underworld, these are the kind of themes that Claire and I felt would be particularly suited to a drag artist.”

Claire Hooper has participated in numerous exhibitions and screenings internationally, including Taipei, Basel, Berlin, Dubai, New York and Copenhagen. She is the 2010 winner of The Baloise Art Prize 2010, and was shortlisted for the Jarman Award in 2011 and for the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2013.

Claire presented her video Nyx (2010) at Art Statements at Art Basel in 2010, subsequently showing the film at Mumok Museum, Vienna, in 2011/12. This film was the first of a trilogy of award-winning and influential film works by Claire interweaving characters and concepts from Greek Mythology: Nyx (2010), Eris (2011) produced by Picture This, Bristol, and Aoide (2011) commissioned by Lothringer 13 Munich.

Zoe Li, Exhibitions Manager (Maternity Cover) for The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, said: "We are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Claire, to present her most ambitious work so far.

“This exhibition concludes her year-long experimentation in working with different mediums and practices, accumulating elements from previous shows in London and Berwicks as well as her building on personal journey combining motherhood and working artist.

“We also worked closely with a number BA (Hons) Costume Production and Associated Crafts students from the college to help with the exhibition, and their tremendous support helped to make it all possible.”

Photos by Claire Hooper.