Meditating on Notions of Home and Belonging

With her previous book, Laura El-Tantawy had transitioned emotionally and aesthetically from facts towards abstraction, using colours and textures as words describing what is hard to talk about. In her latest book, she unravels the power of such a visual language.

© Laura El-Tantawy, from the book, Beyond here is nothing

I remember Laura asking on Facebook for the Welsh word she could not remember; one that had no English equivalent and expressed the feeling of longing, home, and belonging. Reading her post, I knew that she was on to something once more utterly poetic and personal. The answer to her question came in the form of a quote from Sally Mann, “hiraeth […], this is a word about the pain of loving a place.” The answer to mine came a few months later in the form of an unconventional book, El-Tantawy’s latest, Beyond here is nothing.

What makes it particularly atypical is its structure. The cover opens as a broken box to give room to three superposed quires unfolding in opposite directions - one towards the top, one to the left, and the last one to the right. The format prevents the viewer from flipping through the pages all at once but allows for various visual juxtapositions - it’s a demonstration of the many meanings images can incarnate depending on a sequence, an association or, even more so, a mood. And that’s the gift Laura gives to the viewer.

© Laura El-Tantawy, from the book, Beyond here is nothing

“It takes the viewer on a journey. Once you reach the end, you are not sure how to put it back together and the book becomes your own. You can decide to put the images the way you want. That’s an object that evolves with time”, she comments.

The journey is first hers, introduced with her embarrassed words, “I am lonely sounds like the most sinful confession to make.” This loneliness though, seems to be one of the most shared experiences - navigating an unknown place, understanding it and feeling you are part of it until you suddenly reach a spot where you don’t understand it anymore. The narrative unravels in similar waves, by colour temperature, images that are at times identifiable, at other times indiscernible.

“It guides you a little but then you are lost. It’s about this meditative idea, and how an image can go through these layers of emotions that are hard to express and talk about. The book drives you between the real and the imaginary and at the end you think about possibilities. It’s a place of possibility”, she explains.

© Laura El-Tantawy, from the book, Beyond here is nothing

A possibility that she gives us a glimpse of in her final text: “I draw open the curtains. From this window onto the pale blue sea. Once cheerless skies in ostensible hiding. They are smiling. A glimpse of sunshine. A magpie perched on a Laurel tree. I surrender. My worries cease. I want to hold on. Remember how it feels. To know, for certain, this is where I belong. Here. Where my spirit can venture free. Headstrong. A constant song.

Beyond Here Is Nothing.”


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Beyond here is nothing by Laura El-Tantawy

Design and book concept: SYB // Self published edition of 500 // 190 pages, 180 images, 10 text pages // Price: €125

BUY HERE

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Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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