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New Installation of Work by Contemporary Artist Alinah Azadeh at the National Portrait Gallery
Portraits of the Unseen (Installation detail). Alinah Azadeh and the Chasing Mirrors Collective. © Photograph: National Portrait Gallery, London.

LONDON.- Chasing Mirrors: Portraits of the Unseen is a new installation of work by contemporary artist Alinah Azadeh and a collective of young people from Brent, Barnet and Ealing who share an Islamic heritage. Opening on 15 October 2010, the installation will explore the ‘unseen' inner self through non-figurative portraiture.

British-Iranian artist, Azadeh, has worked extensively with textiles, objects and texts to communicate individual narratives within her large-scale installation work. This new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery will use objects wrapped in cloth, texts written or spoken by the collective, colour and mirroring as a means of portraying aspects of the inner self. The exhibition is the second of a three-year project at the Gallery made possible through funding from John Lyon's Charity.

The project takes its starting point from the absence of figurative depictions of the human form within religious contexts in Islam and some other religions. This has led to the development of alternative visual forms, including complex calligraphic quotations, geometry and the symbolic use of mirrors. Multilingual texts inscribed onto surfaces, reflected and multiplied will feature in the exhibition, echoing mirroring systems found in some mosques and palaces in the Middle East.

Personal objects belonging to the collective, representing an aspect of their personality or a meaningful experience, have been wrapped in cloth with the artist through a process of ritual and shared reflection. These objects will be suspended in the gallery and mirrored from above and below to create a series of three sculptures. Moving away from the concept of a portrait depicting personality through physical appearance, the exploration of language and the use of personal objects will create a collective portrait of these young people.

Chasing Mirrors: Portraits of the Unseen is the culmination of a collaboration between the artist and three community organisations. The organisations are: An-Nisa, a women-managed organisation established in 1985 to promote a British Muslim identity; Paiwand, an Afghan Community Organisation established to unite and improve the quality of life of the Afghan refugee community in the UK along with their partners Barnet Refugee Service and Barnet Youth and Connexions; and Tallo, a community centre on the South Acton Estate which works with the Somali Community including asylum seekers and refugees mainly from Somalia with the Somali Community including asylum seekers and refugees mainly from Somalia.

Each year, as part of this three-year project made possible with support from John Lyon's Charity, a new lead artist will collaborate with participants on a series of workshops and each autumn an exhibition of their work will take place in the Gallery. The project will vary each year according to the artist's practice, medium and their perspective and response to the National Portrait Gallery's Collection which they will explore with the participants.

This year's lead artist is Alinah Azadeh, a British-Iranian contemporary artist who uses a wide range of media. Azadeh created The Gifts, an installation commission for Bristol Museum and Art Gallery through The Shape of Things national programme, as well as The Bibliomancer's Dream and Dream On at the Southbank Centre with sculptor Willow Winston. The previous year they developed ‘Crafting Space', the first ever interactive commission by the Crafts Council for Origin at Somerset House.

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