Alexandra Karakashian


06.08.16 – 10.09.16

Cape Town

SMAC Gallery is proud to present GROUND, a solo exhibition by Alexandra Karakashian.

The exhibition opens on 6 August and runs until 9 September 2016.

The varied meanings of the termgroundweave themselves throughout this exhibition. Each different connotation of the word applies itself effortlessly to every facet of Karakashian’s paintings; from references to the traditional vocabulary of painting; to her literal use of natural elements, like oil and salt, that form part of the compound often referred to colloquially as ‘ground’ or ‘earth’.

In GROUND, Karakashian engages with concepts and materials that are regarded as contentious within the various fragile relationships between humans and land (or environment), and prompts a consideration of the shifting ways in which landscape can be perceived in the context of ongoing social, political and ecological discourses.

Karakashian’s practice is deeply intertwined with her choice of medium. Used engine- or sump-oil and salt, are elements that resonate significantly with her conceptual premise. Karakashian’s intense regard for current worldwide ecological crises is one such premise. She chooses to give exposure to the taboo subject of unmediated and unethical seizing of rapidly dwindling natural resources, particularly on the resource-rich African continent.

The artist’s on-going study of natural disasters and large-scale human-effected destruction precedes, and continually influences her work. Her use of sump-oil evokes a clear association to the widespread oil-spills of the last century. The congealed, sebaceous substance has many negative connotations related to pollution and destruction, however, the use of this natural resource is currently imperative to global industrial growth. It is for this reason, that this element could be considered both geographically and politically as one of the most influential natural resources on the planet.

Karakashian’s application of salt, in particular, finds references in the compound’s historical uses as currency, as well as its means for destruction. In Ancient Rome, enemy land was ‘salted’, devastating the chemical composition of the soil and laying waste to its crucial agricultural potential. In perfect keeping with the continual twofold implications that Karakashian seamlessly unveils in GROUND, her use of salt also addresses the compound’s disinfectant properties. Known for centuries to be a wound-cleaning agent, saline therefore facilitates the process of healing. These are all aspects that have been carefully considered by the artist in her making of this body of work. The resulting atmosphere of this exhibition is intriguing and evocative of the ‘calm after the storm’, where the beauty of decay and subtlety is at the forefront of viewers’ visual experience. In addition to this sense of quiet, one finds that chance also plays a vital role in allowing Karakashian’s process to unfold.

Furthermore, GROUND builds on Alexandra Karakashian’s continuous research into her personal and family history. Her unique background details her grandparent’s escape from the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The family spent the next five decades as immigrants, briefly in Romania and later throughout the African continent, finally settling in Johannesburg, South Africa. Karakashian’s aptitude for authentic engagement with her heritage, as well as her personal context regarding nationality, race and culture, further facilitates her artistic process of enquiry and discussion around broader current issues, in particular migration, identity, refugee-status as well as demographic and geographical devisions.

GROUND is Alexandra Karakashian’s first solo exhibition with SMAC Gallery.


Alexandra Karakashian was born in 1988 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She obtained her Master of Fine Arts Degree from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, in 2015. Notable awards include both the Judy Steinburg Painting Prize and the Simon Gerson Distinction Award in 2012 and the Jules Kramer Music & Fine Arts Scholarship and MacIver Scholarship in 2013. That same year, Karakashian was named as one of ten ‘Young African Artists of the Year’ by Business Day Wanted Magazine, and in 2014 she was invited to the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens for the Talent’s Archive Project.

In 2015, Karakashian presented a solo exhibition; Shifting Grounds at the Michaelis Galleries in Cape Town, and was a collaborator in the performance titled Land, for Infecting the City Public Arts Programme, in Cape Town. Since graduating, Karakashian has exhibited in numerous group shows, most notably; In the Night I Rememberat Stevenson in Johannesburg in 2013; Imago Mundi: The Art of Humanity in both Rome and Treviso, Italy in 2014; Sasol New Signatures Finalists 2014 in Pretoria, and Only Parts at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg also in 2014. Karakashian formed part of MAP OF THE NEW ART at Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, Italy; BACK TO THE FUTURE II. Abstract Art in South Africa: Past & Present and LUSH both at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch; Claim of the Land at the Association for Visual Arts in Cape Town and Defining the Narrative at Gallery MOMO in Cape Town, all in 2015. 2016 exhibitions include The Art of Humanity at The Pratt Institute in New York, USA, and most recently; Nothing Personal at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch.

Alexandra Karakashian lives and works between Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Later this year, Karakashian will present Passage, a special project selected for 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London.

View artist page: Alexandra Karakashian

Press / Reviews

Isabella Kuijers on Artthrob, 18 August 2016: A Dark Ascending Horizon: Alexandra Karakashian’s ‘Ground’PDF