List Projects 25: Azza El Siddique

Gallery view with grey walls and cement flooring featuring welded steel drawings on the left and right, a monitor in the center, a steel platform at rear glows red from heat lamps underneath, and a black steel architecture snakes along the periphery of the space.

In the place of annihilation, where all the past was present and returned transformed, 2022. Welded steel; two-channel HD video, silent; stainless steel; cast bukhoor; heat lamps. Installation view: List Projects 25: Azza El Siddique, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Helena Anrather, New York. Photo: Mel Taing. Courtesy MIT List Visual Arts Center

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Azza El Siddique
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The MIT List Visual Arts Center opens Azza El Siddique’s debut institutional solo exhibition on June 30. The exhibition marks the 25th iteration of the List Projects exhibition series and will present a newly commissioned installation by the artist.

Azza El Siddique (b. 1984; lives in New Haven, CT) is known for room-sized sculptural environments that take up the related themes of entropy, impermanence, and mortality. Her works engage multiple senses, and feature materials that are recast by time and elemental forces, like water, light, and heat. In past works, she has outfitted austere metal constructions with heat lamps that diffuse scents like sandalwood, and slow drip irrigation systems that erode sculptures in unfired clay. These aromas and materials evoke both Islamic mortuary rituals and the artist’s sensorial recollections of her adolescence in a Sudanese community in Canada. Recently, El Siddique has become drawn to the cultural and economic significance of scent in ancient Nubia and the neighboring Egyptian Empire, investigating the related histories and myths that endure in Sudanese culture.

For her first museum solo exhibition, El Siddique debuts In the place of annihilation, where all the past was present and returned transformed (2022), a site-specific installation that uncovers the personal, ancient, and colonial narratives of the fragrances used in bukhoor. Ubiquitous in Sudanese and diasporic Sudanese households, this incense is a blend of sandalwood chips, aromatic resins, and European perfumes made for export to North African markets, all bound together with sugar. In El Siddique’s installation, bukhoor incense cast into the form of waterlily blossoms is incrementally heated, permeating the gallery with scent and eventually melting until only a sticky residue remains. The installation’s steel architecture is based on the floorplan of a temple dedicated to the shape-and gender-shifting ancient Nubian god of incense, Dedwen, and houses drawings welded on steel panels as well as a two-channel video mapping the chemical compounds of bukhoor’s various ingredients. The video’s 3-D scans of eerily floating mounds of frankincense and other fragrant resins allude to the historical trade networks of these aromatics, and their use in religious ceremonies that doubled as displays of political power.

El Siddique likens the slowly unfolding events in her works to the subjective and unstable production of historical narratives and personal recollections. The work’s atmospheric evocations of the long, multilayered histories of ancient sites, precious resins, and traditions highlight how, in the artist’s words, “lineage and inheritance keep moving through systems” that are re-formed with the passage of time.

List Projects 25: Azza El Siddique is organized by Selby Nimrod, Assistant Curator.

Azza El Siddique (b. 1984 Khartoum, Sudan) lives and works in New Haven, CT. Previous solo exhibitions include Begin in smoke, end in ashes, Helena Anrather, New York; let me hear you sweat, Cooper Cole, Toronto, ON; Concave Conflux Convex, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto; Lattice be Transparent, 8eleven, Toronto. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at MOCA Toronto; Gardiner Museum, Toronto; Oakville Galleries, Toronto; Shin Gallery, New York; Green Hall Gallery, New Haven; Towards, Miami; and Parisian Laundry, Miami. El Siddique received an MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2019 and a BFA from Ontario College of Art and Design University in 2014. She was a Skowhegan resident in 2019.


Exhibitions at the List Center are made possible with the support of Fotene & Tom Coté, Audrey & James Foster, Idee German Schoenheimer, Joyce Linde, Cynthia & John Reed, and Sara-Ann & Robert Sanders. Additional funding for List Projects 25: Azza El Siddique is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The artist wishes to thank the Canada Council for the Arts for their generous support.

General operating support is provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Council for the Arts at MIT; Philip S. Khoury, Associate Provost at MIT; the MIT School of Architecture + Planning; the Mass Cultural Council; and many generous individual donors. In-kind media sponsorship provided by 90.9 WBUR. The Advisory Committee Members of the List Visual Arts Center are gratefully acknowledged.