Beyond the canvas: Guerresi’s M-Eating at Tate Modern

3 Mins read

Unveiling spiritual reflections in the social media era

Maïmouna Guerresi, the Italian-Senegalese artist whose artwork ‘M-Eating’ was displayed at the Tate Modern exhibition A World in Common, has an extensive curriculum of projects exhibited worldwide.

Guerresi offers a close examination of human spirituality in connection with mysticism, casting a fresh perspective on the concepts of community and the soul. 

In the spiritual section of the exhibition, you could encounter ‘M-Eating’, a captivating five-panel photograph. The artwork depicts an elderly man adorned in a tall black hat, reading Sufi scriptures to four young girls dressed in vibrant red.

Positioned around a table on black blocks, the girls seem to listen, however, their gaze is directed toward a shell case and a petrol can resting on the table that almost like decorative elements, play a significant role in this thought-provoking reflection on finding spiritual strength during difficult times.

Guerresi’s evocative artwork not only captures a timeless spiritual moment but also serves as a reflection on the contemporary human condition. In an era dominated by social media, where connection is often reduced to digital interactions, the image of the girls listening, however not looking directedly at the person reading, reminds us of the way individuals engage with their screens, absorbing information, while sitting together in isolation. 

“The spiritual message present in the work exhibited at Tate Modern reflects many social, environmental, and human facets. The goal is to achieve an aesthetic and inner balance that stimulates reflection. The sitters portrayed in ‘M-Eating’ are placed in a timeless realm.” 

Maïmouna Guerresi

For Guerresi, the feeling of community is important: “In my photographic works, I use objects, character poses and backdrops painted by me to narrate individual and social issues. At the same time, I try to create a sense of togetherness in isolation.” 

In a recent conversation with the artist, we discussed social media’s impact on spiritual practices. She identified a dichotomy within the digital realm.

On one hand, social media serves as a platform for religious communities to share experiences, fostering inclusivity and pluralism. Yet, on the other, the tendency to form online ‘echo chambers’ threatens to deepen divides and foster conflicts within these very communities.

“The web has given us the opportunity to exchange opinions and enrich ourselves culturally, but the difficulties of inner communication do not change,” she adds.

The challenge lies in overcoming communication barriers, as many individuals gravitate towards ideas mirroring their own, reinforcing barriers rather than dismantling them.

On a green wall, four vertical panels lined up next to each other form an image of four people (three wearing red and one wearing white) sitting around a long table with a yellow tablecloth.
Guerresi’s M-Eating artwork [Arianna Distefano]

Spiritual Connection in the Digital Age 

The question of whether one can truly achieve spiritual connection through social media practices remains at the forefront. 

“It is important to maintain a sense of discernment and criticism when dealing with spiritual information and teachings found on social media, as not everything shared may be accurate or authentic,” Guerresi says.

“Spiritual connection through social media can be affected by our ability to maintain a personal practice and authentic connection with ourselves, regardless of online presence.”

The key, it seems, lies in striking a delicate balance between utilising social media as a tool for connection while dedicating time offline for inner growth.

The conversation explored the attitudes of younger generations towards spirituality in online communities: “Younger generations seem to be more open and tolerant of different religious and spiritual practices than the previous ones. Access to online information and resources has contributed to a greater awareness and understanding of different spiritual traditions,” she reflects.

However, there is still a risk of preconceived notions and stereotypes when it comes to spirituality and religion: “It is important to promote interreligious education and open dialogue to foster greater understanding and mutual respect among different religious and spiritual practices.”

Words of Wisdom for the Youth

In a message directed at the younger audience, the artist called for compassion, and an open-minded exploration of religions as tools for knowledge and discovery.

“Explore the world and seek to understand different cultures, religions, and political ideologies. Come together and discuss in order to improve your inner selves and surroundings. Voice your needs, insecurities, and fears, and use social media and the internet to explore different opinions and overcome the static Western thinking,” Guerresi says.

Our discussion on whether social media enhances spiritual connectedness unveiled the dual nature of online platforms: while they offer opportunities for diverse voices and perspectives, they also create separation and conflict within religious communities.

Even in the digital landscape challenges persist, and efforts to promote interreligious education and open dialogue are crucial.

As we navigate this ever-evolving landscape, the exhibition invited us to question, connect, and ultimately find common ground in a world that, despite its digital potential, remains profoundly divided.

Featured image by Arianna Distefano.

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