Reflections on the horrors of one of Syria’s most famous prisons have driven Idris Khan to new forms of expression, including bronze sculptures and abstract painting. By Veronica Simpson
Idris Khan is not afraid of spending time in contemplation of difficult subjects. But his latest self-imposed assignment has clearly taken him to a very dark place: meditating on the testimonies of the few survivors to emerge from Syria’s notoriously brutal Saydnaya, a government-run prison, where Amnesty International estimatesbetween 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed without trial between 2011 and 2015.
That darkness is palpable as one enters the glossy, generous dimensions of the Victoria Miro Gallery II in Wharf Road, north London. A stack of tall, black pillars looms from the far end of the room: a 4-sq-metre composition of 15 thin, honeycomb and carbon-fibre columns, their crowded configuration and inky presence seems to suck the very light from the air around them – even from the vast window nearby. Cell (2017) alludes to first-hand accounts of prisoners who experienced solitary confinement in Saydnaya, where, in tiny rooms inhabited by up to 15 detainees, they must stand, blindfolded, forced into perpetual darkness.
Image: installation view, Idris Khan: Absorbing Light
Installation photography: Stephen White