Romer Young Gallery is pleased to present its second solo exhibition with Oakland artist Bessma Khalaf, Ritual.

Khalaf presents a new series of sculptures, mixed media photographs and video, that explore notions of origin and our connection to nature through ritual. There will be an opening reception for the artist on Saturday, April 22, from 5 to 8pm.

With a touch of mysticism, humor and absurdity, Khalaf’s work honors nature while simultaneously examining our modern (estranged and absurd) relationship to it. Nature has evolved with fire as an essential force in the vitality and renewal of habitats. Fire reinvigorates the soil and offers a kind of rebirth in the growth of vibrant new life. Using fire as her natural, metamorphic element, Khalaf’s work extends beyond annihilation into the generative and transformative possibilities offered by fire. Together, the works emerge and exist as the genesis after the burn.

Born and raised in Iraq until the age of 12, Khalaf shares history with the ancient Chaldeans who were thought to be the guardians of sacred science: astrological knowledge and divination mixed with spirituality and magic.

Drawing upon history, mythology and ancient Chaldean oracles and writings, Khalaf uses ritual to blend (herself) back into nature and gather greater understanding of our relationship with the past, the present, and the natural world. Ancient like trees, candles have been used for millennia - from illumination to rituals. Black candles, in particular, are believed to hold protective powers and the ability to banish negative, stagnant energy. The artist has long held a relationship with candles and has ritually burned them.

In Ritual, candles are burned ceremonially to honor nature’s giants - trees - the steadfast guardians and silent companions that have permeated most of our enduring history, never ceasing to inspire. Khalaf performs a kind of divination by gathering charred stumps from local forests that burned in recent years, and reviving them. By repeatedly placing candles on top of the burned bases, and slowly, meditatively melting them, Khalaf encases the remains of the trees in layers upon layers of wax, creating organic and intricate spires. Grouped, the spires are reminiscent of ancient stone sites and places of ceremony, worship and healing. These tree altars, the recovered descendants of the forest, stand like enduring relics or solemn monuments dedicated to the trees that once were.

Khalaf also communes with the plants and animals in her garden as yet another form of ritual. Immersing herself in the foliage of her plants and trees, she camouflages herself so as to merge with the surroundings and invites a connection with the birds and the plants. From these simple, small acts, she creates mystic, black and white photographs. Through a similarly purposeful and meditative process, she protects these re-imagined places, enveloping them with beeswax and resin in a protective and dreamy veil.

Bessma Khalaf emigrated to San Diego, California from Iraq in 1990, just before the first Gulf War. She earned her Bachelor degree from San Diego State University in 2002 and a Masters of Fine Arts in photography from the California College of Art in 2007. Her work has been exhibited locally and nationally. She currently lives and works in Oakland, California.