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Hajra Waheed

The Cyphers

29 January – 5 June 2016

The Cyphers was Waheed's first solo exhibition in a UK institution and expanded upon Still Against the Sky, a presentation at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. The exhibition continued Waheed's ongoing research into current aerial occupations, highlighting the ever-increasing militarisation of the sky where the circulation of military drones and surveillance technology extends over everyday life, often with lethal consequences.

Against this backdrop of borderless spatial power games, Waheed’s drawings, collages, videos and photo-based works emerge in the form of archives, fragments and field notes. The collected materials are used to construct new stories about marginalised histories.

Born in Canada and raised within the gated community of Saudi ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, home to a quarter of the world's oil exports, Waheed grew up under strict regulations including the prohibition of photographic and video documentation by civilians. In conditions of secrecy and isolation, Waheed developed a childhood obsession with identifying aircraft, tracking flight routes and keeping logs of her observations in her own secret visual language. Through news accounts and extensive research, Waheed develops narratives and follows characters in ongoing bodies of work that constitute a growing personal archive.

The mixed media installation KH-21 2014 follows on from Waheed’s earlier Architectural Studies 2011 – a series of drawings in which cut-out details of spy planes accompany floor plans of historical mosques – and continues through the new work Article 000 2016. Bringing together a sound sculpture and a number of works on paper, KH-21 makes reference to the recently declassified HEXAGON Program of the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office which launched 20 highly classified intelligence gathering satellites between 1971-86. Collected data gains new relevance as Waheed's works navigate across geographic and geopolitical distance, personal history and collective memory. Underpinning her practice is an interest in the codes and operations of security, surveillance, profiling, and wartime de-humanisation.

The Cyphers brought together 18 new works on paper, a collection of ongoing video works, a composition of found objects and The Scrapbook Project 1/3 2010-11.