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Sarah Benslimane: New Works 2023

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Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Lollipop Geometry

Moving from its eponymous neighbourhood to the more upscale area of Estrela, Madragoa Gallery has found a new space adorned with high ceilings and stone arched-windows for an updated all-grown-up look. Despite this transition, the gallery remains committed to showcasing artistic practices with a side of the mischievous, and in particular the work of young artists. In line with this last point, their inaugural exhibition features New Works 2023, a series of sculptural paintings by Sarah Benslimane, a French-Algerian-Swiss artist based in Geneva and born in 1997, whose art pays homage to—yet departs from—the conventions of geometrical abstraction through several large three-dimensional pop-coloured canvases.

One of the standout pieces in this exhibition, titled Jurassic Stars (all works 2023), is a heavily-textured rectangular painting made of wood, acrylic, glass, beads, screws, small stones, fake grass, glycero lacquer, and plastic. The artwork's whitish surface erupts with vibrant pink matter that can be mistaken for the aftermath of a confetti shower from a distance. Three large star-shaped cut-outs further enhance its visual impact, framed by a striking yellow border finish.

It’s bold and captivating, and it sets the tone for the entire show by delivering the message that an artist can create weighty, confident, and finely executed paintings while embracing a playful spirit. Even by incorporating some cheap/low-quality materials, although those are so out of context that they become overtly loud. Indeed, Benslimane weaves glitter and representational knick-knacks such as plastic bracelets, or cheap decor such as plastic ivy, into otherwise meticulously structured works of geometrical abstraction. So one can ponder: is it really for their own artistic value that those plastic knick-knacks find their way onto a fine work of art, or is it because our world is so flooded with cheap plastic that it is inescapable, along with the decline in quality of the materials we use to live and play? 

Some further signs of this ambivalent stance are offered nearby, in Endless. Here Benslimane employs wood, mirrors, scotch tape, adhesive paper, ribbon, screws, sparkles, fake grass, and phosphorescent ‘stars’ dust. The piece features two pink ribbons holding a checkered adhesive paper—just like bows on a gift box—over a grid of seemingly untouched mirrors. On closer examination, the mirrors reveal multiple cracks over the entire surface of the work. So the party isn’t over, but it’s just as well that ribbons hold it together.

Not far, Wedding Vibes, the smaller work of the lot, showcases a rectangular shape, roughly reminiscent of a key, perhaps a digital one, with a white surface adorned with sparkles and leaves. We are reminded of a wedding banquet tablecloth, one that would happen in the summer, next to a freshly mown grass, probably with children running (there is a lot of very-young-people energy in Benslimane’s work), and remnants of party favours’ packaging.


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Yet among the frivolous there is also structure. Throughout this series, Benslimane delves into the significant role that grids play in geometrical abstraction. On the one hand, they provide a structured system for orderly geometric arrangements and rhythmic patterns, and on the other, by offering stability and balance, they allow bold compositions to proliferate. Furthermore, as a conceptual tool, grids symbolise the rational and mathematical foundations of our physical reality, representing systems and structures found in both nature and human-made creations. And so the frivolous details and variations could also be seen as part of the general forward movement of life, always growing, even through breaks, like a continuous stream.

Then it is this strong foundation that allows Benslimane to subvert the predictability of grids and to introduce variations, disruptions, and irregularities. This can be seen in Before Last Sunset, where a grid made of tiles and mirror glass mosaics presents itself as a whole—with blueish cross patterns over a whitish background—but also showcases idiosyncratic variations on every tile. On some the artist planted extra nails; on others she painted a number (are we playing Bingo or planning the wedding table placements?); somewhere else she attached plastic ivy leaves or pink eruptions. By doing so, the artist injects dynamism, tension, and a personal touch, inviting deeper engagement from viewers.

The artist’s generous use of whimsy and playfulness infuses the artworks with giddy warmth, inviting viewers to embrace them like a comforting hug—as if an artwork could be a refuge, which is a wonderful idea by itself. Furthermore, Benslimane’s innovative approach showcases a harmonious fusion of geometry and abstraction with craft techniques. It is somehow irreverent in a fresh way that resonates with a generation that grew up immersed in the internet, social networks, and anime, where the boundaries between physical and online images and relationships blur, but also where claiming novel and diverse readings and interpretations of art history is a natural and rightful gesture. Her art bridges various realms, navigating the worlds of fine art, furniture design, and gift wrapping, even including some elements of comics, yet speaks to an established lineage of painterly abstraction. It invites the inclusion of representational elements and exuberant celebrations, yet keeps one foot grounded in the tradition and research on geometric forms and patterns—a multidimensional language that pushes the traditional confines of the genre further.

Benslimane's artistic exploration of geometrical abstraction thus goes beyond traditional boundaries, infusing it with elements of celebration, craftsmanship, and personal connections. Through her use of grids, she navigates between structure and deviation, stability and dynamism, rationality and personal expression. Benslimane's innovative approach opens new doors in the digital era, where personal connections exist and grids are no longer anonymous, inviting viewers to engage with her vibrant and multidimensional artworks that captivate by their meticulous execution, playful spirit, and the fusion of diverse high and low art references. It speaks to a universal language and creates a vibrant space where geometrical abstraction coexists with personal connections and becomes inviting and fuzzy.


Sarah Benslimane

Galeria Madragoa | NEW SPACE: Rua dos Navegantes 53A | 1200-730 Lisboa


Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva is an author with experience in international relations and strategy. She lived 15 years in Asia. She was co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong-based art magazine Pipeline (printing 2011-2016). She regularly contributes to various publications in Asia, Europe and the US, such as Artforum, Frieze and Hyperallergic.


Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro.


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Sarah Benslimane: New Works 2023. Exhibition views at Madragoa gallery, Lisbon 2023. Photos: courtesy of the artist and Madragoa Gallery.

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