Youssra Manlaykhaf is a multi-disciplinary visual artist who experiments with a film, performance, installation and a text-based practice. With a strong focus on gender theory, feminism, immigration, activism, socio-political discourse and linguistics she often uses socio-political discourse as a means to explore methods that unpick, subvert and question our mode of thinking and communicating. With opportunities to exhibit both in the UK and internationally, her work often is adapted to address cultural disparities and similarities and celebrates the universal role her practice often takes. Operating with a mixed heritage background that exists in a Western sphere, her work investigates identity politics surrounding race relations within the context of her body of work.
Youssra opts for film and video as a material “as it feels like a tool that directly translates the human condition. When I draw and paint and reproduce reality, it’s incredibly subjective and I find it can either limit the way I address my research or alter it in ways that take on a life of their own. When I paint it’s an indulgence. When I make video work and document with photography it feels necessary to the questions I need to ask, and it is instead informed by other areas of my practice rather than the other way around. My investigations and experiments with performance also trickles into this to inform the way I find I what I need to say or to be said. I think my overarching interest in the range of ways people use language has the most significance across my body of work and is probably the most apparent structure that gives it all a sense of cohesion.
I find that once I capture what feels necessary with documenting language, I’m able to indulge with sound and imagery and it feels like I am able to knit together the absolutes with the parts that are still a maybe. I like to use thematic imagery so that at any language that is used can also amalgamate with selected texts and with the materials of choice. For example, my use of milk in my most recent three-part documentary A Mother’s Milk remains extremely critical to the imagery of the overall film as it consistently remains an exclusively feminine product despite any efforts to tamper with this concept and carries the conversations I have with these women across their bodies. I like to play with colour and light to alter mood and to influence the reception of the language the viewer is about to receive. This language is meant to be divisive and so must the imagery. Although I’d say my practice is still in its formative years, I’ve definitely become more accustomed to how my work tends to flow with these modes of production, materials and media.
My early influences with my sound and performance mainly stemmed from my experience participating in Tino Sehgal’s Turbine Hall commission These Associations in the Tate Modern at the age of 17. There was an intensity to how cathartic it was walking into that vast space every day and saying anything I wanted to complete strangers with absolutely no social filters. It led to more questions than answers and a need to address certain elements of this sort of medium. I began to experiment with my own methods, manipulating language to steer conclusions in conversations with my own set of participants. Psychologically, it was extremely taxing when I chose to delve into dark subject areas. But once I began talking with a variety of participants, it was extremely addictive, and I believe this led me to move out of my early sound work and into video work. I wanted an audience to experience the reactions I was privy to with my participants. I began to diversify my reading and gained influences from the likes of Barbara Creed, Helene Cixious, Suzanna Lacy, Ben Okri etc.
I realise I took a lot of visual influence from the likes of Pipilotti Rist and Rachel Mcclean who constructed their own versions of reality. I needed to construct visual spaces so that I could accommodate my experiments with language and with the human condition. My awareness of how much I operate through a Western lens began to influence my work too. I quickly became frustrated with the binaries this produced and sought to chip away at them so as to better represent my experience as a queer, mixed-race artist and to effectively represent the people I engaged with along the way. Once you break down the education and miseducation you absorb it is a case of deconstructing how we learn to perform our identities”.