Fairouz El Tom grew up in Sudan, India, Nepal, the US and Switzerland. This experience instilled in her a fascination with human and natural diversity, and with identity construction.
To explore these themes, she combines familiar imagery to create semi-abstract works that blur the line between the personal and the cultural, the familiar and the new.
Born to a Sudanese father and Swiss mother, Fairouz studied international development before turning to art. She holds an MA from Columbia University and is currently pursuing an MFA at The Glasgow School of Art.
Her development background took her from Baghdad where she worked for the UN, to New York and Geneva where she became involved with smaller organizations. Initially, she saw some value in the work she did, but then increasingly felt that the organisations for which she worked were reproducing the inequality and discrimination they claimed to address.
Preoccupied by how ideas of good impose themselves on our treatment and understanding of others, she gradually distanced herself from the content of her work and reconnected with her creativity. In late 2014, she decided to explore her preoccupations through photography and turned to the photographer Cedric Bregnard to mentor her. This creative journey lasted five years.
Today, although her practice is anchored in photography, she works experimentally across fields and incorporates other forms of mark making, objects and text into her work.
Much of her practice is anchored in research. Discourses around identity, fluidity and multiplicity, intercultural and cosmopolitan aesthetics, and ideas of ‘statehood’ form a central area of focus. Recurring themes include macro-micro, in-betweenness, ambiguity, complexity as well as boundaries and borders (both real, such as skin and topography, and constructed, such as race and nations).
Attention to aesthetics forms an important part of her creative practice, particularly in relation to ‘the sublime’, ideas of ‘beauty’ and perceptions of ‘ugliness’. She is especially interested in exploring how the 'beautiful' can be mobilized in relationship to the 'abject'.
She strives to create works that refuse an easy interpretation or to give an answer. Instead, she hopes they can invite the viewer to become involved and to engage in exploring their own thoughts and emotions.