Ebecho Muslimova - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • Making her first major auction debut, the Russian, New York-based artist, Ebecho Muslimova achieved recent acclaim after her solo exhibition with David Zwirner in London and her first institutional show at The Drawing Center in New York in 2021. Born in Dagestan, Russia, Muslimova received her BFA at Cooper Union in 2010.


    During her time as an undergraduate, the artist created Fatebe (Fat + Ebe [her nickname])—initially conceived as a caricature of herself to reflect the artist’s state of mind and the world around her. In her current practice, Fatebe has matured beyond a simple self-portrait. The artist explains: ‘She began as a carnivalesque caricature of myself at a moment in my life. The tension at the time inspired a spill-over into this larger-than life character. She is of me, but her essence is an amplified version of my own character and personality. At times she is both an aspiration and a fear—like I am equally wishing to be able to confront life like her, and simultaneously horrified at this urge and possibility. She is a type of self-portrait, just not of me.’ i


    Placed in absurd, and at times, abject situations and environments, Fatebe is the artist’s sexually and bodily liberated alter-ego, touching upon anxieties, sexuality, femininity and vulnerability. The present work was first exhibited in May 2020 for her solo exhibition with Galerie Maria Bernheim: FATEBE: EBECHO MUSLIMOVA. The show was centered around the idea of the danse macabre: ‘FATEBE interacts with skeletons and churches, stripping and playing in compositions that continue to defy received societal ideas of taste and decorum.’  i


    Painted in 2020, FATEBE SINKHOLE, is a sardonic display of the female nude. Contorting forms and figure, Mulimova's treatment of her character is nothing short of generous: the figure’s legs stretch around the table—seemingly both pulling it apart and holding it together—while she hides the rest of herself beneath it. She clasps her hands around her mouth, looking directly up at the viewer, in horror, in secrecy, in fear—as if we’ve witnessed a moment, straddled between being caught and hidden. The scene is further distorted with a pattern of vertical stripes over the image, acting as a veil or curtain between the subject and viewer.


     “Throughout the history of figuration the veiled female subject has signified … the impression of something behind the veil—that there is a secret pleasure hidden, a forbidden truth.… In contrast, Fatebe occupies an overabundant, visible, spectacular, and maximal body. In ‘lifting’ this veil, she embodies a pure plentitude of unbridled presence.”
    — Marie Heilich, Unrealism: New Figurative Painting



    A Nod to Op Art


    The rise of the Op art movement in the 1960’s was championed by artists like Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, and Josef Albers. Its beginnings can be traced back to the Renaissance, when artists were experimenting with perspective and thus gave birth to the use of trompe l’oeil within art. Much like trompe l’oeil paintings, the Op art movement was driven by investigating various perceptual effects and optical illusions using light, color, and form.



    Bridget Riley, Achaian, 1981
    Collection of the Tate, London
    Artwork: © Bridget Riley


    Both Op art and trompe l’oeil paintings were concerned with manipulation of sight—also much like Muslimova’s use of these technical and formal devices to emphasize a latent psychological illusion at play. The illusion within FATEBE SINKHOLE are twofold: to conceal and to reveal. The vertical stripes along the work function as screen-like veils that simultaneously distort and emphasize—have the blinds been drawn on us or have we drawn the blinds on the scene presented?


      “What is seen of the screen is so manifestly shown...the extreme contrast between the darkness in the auditorium (which also isolates the spectators from one another) and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation. Although the film is really being shown, is there to be seen, conditions of screening and narrative conventions give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a private world.”
    — Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'


    The Naked and the Nude


    While exploring themes of sexuality and gender through her practice—for Muslimova, Fatebe’s brazen display of the body seems to be the most modest aspect of the work. In this case, it is not Fatebe’s nudity that delivers a sense of humor or discomfort, but it is rather in the act of being caught within the figure’s nakedness, in which viewer’s gaze is held. In ‘Ways of Seeing’, John Berger makes a distinction between nakedness and nudity: ‘A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display...To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own skin, the hairs of one’s own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.’ iii

  • In the slightest of moments, Muslimova has so wonderfully captured the tension, the vulnerability, the fear, the horror, the humor, the joy, and the fantasies of being a woman on display. And whilst we decode the scene before us, Muslimova furtively presents a far more complex reversal of roles—a subversion of Berger’s nude.


     “hus the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look, always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified...”
    — Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’



    i Ebecho Muslimova, quoted in Sam Gaskin, ‘Ebecho Muslimova, Outré Artist Backed by Zwirner, Wins Borlem Prize’Ocula Magazine, 13 September 2022, online

    • Provenance

      Galerie Maria Bernheim, Zurich
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Zurich, Galerie Maria Bernheim, FATEBE: Ebecho Muslimova, 12 March - 30 May 2020



acrylic and oil on canvas
152.4 x 243.8 cm. (60 x 95 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$250,000 - 450,000 

Sold for HK$889,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023