Tate Modern: The Representation of Home and Intimate Spaces in Art

Tate Modern
Siah Armajani, Seven Rooms of Hospitality 2017 © reserved. Tate.


What comes to mind when you think of a gallery?

Perhaps you think of white spaces stiffened by silence, or abstract artworks that fail to evoke emotion. Or, do you imagine a space filled with art that makes you feel something — anger, nostalgia, sadness, love, hate?

Tate Modern falls into the second category. Each room in the sprawling gallery is a universe of its own, with the capacity to draw a viewer in and take them someplace new – much further than the cavernous depths of the former Bankside Power Station. After a morning spent checking out Tate Modern, the works we kept circling back to were about the home. The familiarity of domesticity drew us in; the presence of tables, chairs and other home comforts untangling big, complex subjects that would otherwise feel too far from individual experience to wrap your head around. Or maybe it’s the voyeur within all of us that can’t look away from private spaces that aren’t meant for public eyes. The idea of home and the physical representation of it offers an intimate insight into cultures around the world that can’t be found elsewhere. Turns out, the next most revealing thing to actually being in someone's home is to experience their perception of ‘home’, in art form. Art is therefore the vehicle through which we can look behind closed doors and observe different cultures around the world; it allows us to transport ourselves to different places without necessitating physical travel.

Can’t travel right now? Below, we zoom in on four contemporary artists who offer insight into various locations, cultures and the private spaces outside of Tate Modern.


Farah Al Qasimi

Farah Al Qasimi
Farah Al Qasimi, Living Room Vape 2016 © Farah Al Qasimi. Tate.

Peering into someone’s private space (almost) always tells you something new about them. In this case, photographer Al Qasimi offers a rare and intimate insight into a culture that’s cloaked in mystery, often reduced to high rises, shopping malls and flashy hotels. Al Qasimi offers a glimpse into the homes and workplaces of friends and family — the series is shot between her native Abu Dhabi and New York City, but it’s never clear what images are shot where. Al Qasimi takes photographs that you’ll want to spend time with. Her images are arresting: there’s a vivid quality to the private scenes she captures that makes it difficult to look away.

In one photo, Living Room Vape (2016), a man wearing a traditional Emirati kandura sits on a sofa that might belong in a 17th century palazzo, underneath a painting of quaint English scenes framed in gilded gold, his face covered by a plume of smoke. Like her wider body of work, this piece explores the impact of British and Portuguese colonial influence on personal taste and how that projects onto the home.


Siah Armajani

Siah Armajani
Siah Armajani, Seven Rooms of Hospitality 2017 © reserved. Tate.

Armajani grew up in pre-revolutionary Tehran.  In the face of a CIA and MI-6-backed coup he joined the National Front resistance movement, before eventually being exiled for his pro-democracy activity in the 60s. After settling in the United States, he made a commitment to becoming a political artist, using art as a means to talk about migration: the most urgent socio-political issue of our time. In response to the migrant crisis (and the us-versus-them rhetoric that followed) Armajani created a series of sculptural installations back in 2017, Seven Rooms of Hospitality, dedicated to marginalised groups who were becoming increasingly unwelcome in the United States. You can find one of them at Tate Modern, Room For Deportees (2017), a large-scale installation that forces you to think about the spaces which refugees, exiles and deportees are forced to navigate, in the absence of home.


Deana Lawson

Though most of Deana Lawson’s photographs are shot documentary-style in domestic settings, her portraits are often a more complex, fictionalised version of reality. Lawson casts most of her subjects on the streets of New York (sometimes the subway), and works closely with them to create a story within an image; directing their dress, movement, the set design and lighting. Lawson’s careful choreography presents a facade of domesticity, reframing the Black experience and urging you to question the stereotypes you bring to the image. The embracing lovers and other family dynamics pictured are often strangers, their fictionalised bond immortalised by Lawson’s camera.

Performances are rooted in reality by familiar household objects, but look closer and you’ll notice Lawson’s artistic intervention; in Seagulls in Kitchen (2017), the polish on her subject’s toes matches the tiles on the wall, and the rubber bands on his wrists colour match her earrings. In Lawson’s world, the home is a set for capturing a memory.


Mari Katayama

Mari Katayama
Mari Katayama, I'm wearing little high heels, I have child's feet 2011, printed 2018. © Mari Katayama. Tate.

I’m wearing little high heels, I have child’s feet (2018) is a self portrait of Japanese artist Mari Katayama pictured in her room with heels fixed to her prosthetic legs, surrounded by objects. What you see is a woman in her bedroom, but this image tells a bigger story of the artist’s private exploration of disability. Born with a developmental condition, Katayama had both of her legs amputated at the age of nine; as she grew older she turned to photography as a means of questioning society’s simplistic labelling. After showing this piece as part of her graduate show, Katayama developed her own distinct style, photographing herself in private, domestic spaces wearing lingerie. The collection of photographs give a new context to Katayama’s physical vulnerabilities and make space for conversation about our own body image anxieties.

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