South African contemporary artist Alexandra Karakashian uses unconventional media such as oil and salt to explore tragedies of the past, present, and future—from historical exodus to contemporary displacement, and the continual degradation of the environment.Read More
Karakashian was born in 1988 in Johannesburg. She relocated to Cape Town to study at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she completed both her BFA (2011) and MFA (2015). She continues to live and work in Cape Town.
Alexandra Karakashian's artwork is grounded in her family history. In 1915, her great-grandparents fled the Armenian Genocide, migrating to Romania and Egypt before eventually moving to Johannesburg. The enduring loss and tragedy of this period has influenced the artist's work, which is characterised by restrained palettes and immersive abstraction.
Karakashian's black and white paintings engulf the viewer to bring attention to a variety of issues and ideas relating to her personal and familial histories, or wider historical issues in South Africa. These include themes of exile, migration, and displacement, as well as emotions tied to the loss of land and home.
Karakashian explores themes chiefly through materiality and process in non-representational works that expand upon concerns of abstract expressionism. In addition to traditional painting mediums including oil paint and pigments, Karakashian incorporates motor oil and salt in her work to comment on environmental issues and the exploitation of natural resources across Africa. The use of oil might evoke memories of disastrous oil spills, or the fraught exploitation of oil-rich lands for capitalist gain. In this respect, the artist's practice engages with the problematic relationships between the west and the Global South.
Several of Karakashian's works go beyond the confines of the canvas, such as Black Sea (2019), in which a long white sheet of canvas is suspended in a tub of oil. In Collapse (2016), oil drips from a canvas into a large slab of salt. Sourced from local mechanics, the motor oil creates a multisensory experience, with its smell permeating the space. The historic value and material qualities of salt bring forward ideas of land and earth.
Alexandra Karakashian's work is included in numerous collections, including The Royal Portfolio Collection, Cape Town; Capo d'Arte, Gagliano del Capo; University of Cape Town Works of Art Collection; Imago Mundi Collection, Treviso; Spier Art Collection, Cape Town; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Knights Bridge International, Los Angeles; and the Hans Porer Collection, Cape Town.
Karakashian has been the recipient of various awards, including the National Research Foundation Innovation Scholarship for Masters Study, South Africa (2014); MacIver Scholarship, Cape Town (2014, 2013); and the Jules Kramer Music & Fine Arts Scholarship, Cape Town (2014, 2013).
She has also participated in numerous residencies at institutions including Capo d'Arte, Gagliano Del Capo (2016) and the Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens (2014).
Alexandra Karakashian has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.
Select solo exhibitions include Against the Sun, Sabrina Amrani, Madrid (2022); Consolations, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town (2021); Alexandra Karakashian, Villa Medici, Gagliano del Capo (2016); and Shifting Grounds, Michaelis Galleries, University of Cape Town (2015).
Select group exhibitions include Material Insanity, Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Marrakech (2019); Home Affairs, Cape Town Art Week, Cape Town (2019); Satellites, Satellites Project Space, Cape Town (2019); Filling in the Gaps, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2019).
Alexandra Karakashian's Instagram can be found here.
Rachel Kubrick | Ocula | 2022