We use cookies to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and for our marketing efforts. By accepting, you consent to our Privacy Policy You may change your settings at any time by clicking "Cookie Consent" at the bottom of every page.


These technologies are required to activate the essential functions of our range of services.


These cookies collect information about the use of the website so that its content and functionality can be improved in order to increase the attractiveness of the website. These cookies may be set by third party providers whose services our website uses. These cookies are only set and used with your express prior consent.


These cookies are set by our advertising partners on our website and can be used to create a profile of your interests and show you relevant advertising on other websites (across websites).

In NUDE and beyond: Laila Majid brings the body into focus

A close up shot of human's skin.

Laila Majid’s 2019 work Rosie is on show in the group exhibition NUDE at Fotografiska Berlin. Read our interview with the artist in which we discuss the erotic, the relation between bodies and objects and how Majid’s feels about the variety of contexts her work is presented in.

Laila Majid is an artist of observation. She thinks about the world around us and then mines its details in her photographs and sculptures – considering why artificial objects hold certain meanings, for example, or the emotional currents lying behind seemingly empty processes. Often, she uses photography to reveal the erotic associations of everyday objects, from leather chairs to bathroom mirrors, seeking emotive potential in human and non-human forms.

Majid was born in Abu Dhabi and studied art at Central Saint Martins and Chelsea College of Art. She then took a Master’s degree in fine art from the Slade, and another, in film aesthetics, from Oxford. She has worked across moving-image, video, soundscape and photography from early in her career. Her 2022 collaboration with Louis Blue Newby, not yet, used manipulated images and animation to explore the world of swamp creatures, while her recent photographs and sculptures look again at rock climbing molds and gym equipment.

Majid’s 2019 work Rosie is on show in NUDE. The photograph is of a trainer imprint left on a friend’s calf, which Majid then digitally reconfigured to examine the skin’s texture more closely. She has since held London solo exhibitions at Sherbet Green & Harlesden High Street and Rose Easton, where her work has become increasingly sculptural, playing with installation, light and photographic scale. Majid is currently researching for new work from her East London studio – and looking ahead to the lessons to be learned from NUDE’s third international iteration.

How has your practice developed since Rosie?

I took the original photograph on my iPhone. I was interested in how the different objects we use – and the things we interact with – find a way of leaving themselves on the surface of the body. The specific duotone technique was inspired by large-scale adverts, magazine shoots, and pictures on the sides of buses. It became a way of reconfiguring the surface of the image on a large scale – thinking about how a mass produced object has left its mark on the body’s surface.

Rosie was one of the first things I showed in my MA at the Slade. I feel like I’ve had a bit of distance from it since then; my life has moved on. I’ve realized that what I’m actually interested in is thinking about how objects and inanimate things have a way of holding traces of bodies or different bodily activities – so I’ve inverted what I’m interested in.

Can you explain that inversion for us? The shift from focusing on bodies to thinking about the objects themselves.

With Rosie, there was a sense of everything being on the surface. Recently I’ve tried to think more about how the implicitness of gestures is more interesting. The subtlety of a gesture can leave more room to tease other things out – these moments of engagement and speculation through viewing. The shift from explicit to implicit has been gradual over the past few years.

My works depicting the shower, or armrest in a car are fragments of the everyday. They open up this way of thinking about desire which is tied to ordinary experiences, using random objects or spaces that we’re all familiar with. The more you look at those things, the less familiar they become. They have the potential to be pornographic, or to be imbued with sensuality or desire. It felt important to be able to take photographs of things that were very normal or banal. That ordinary aspect is needed for the work to shift towards this more sensual and erotic language.

What role do materials play in that evocation of the erotic? You’ve worked with latex, soap and leather, for example.

The latex is important because of its role in clothing and fetish wear. It’s all about this artificial skin that sits against your actual skin. Using materials that play with that erotic implication is more interesting to me than the actual thing. That’s a significant change since Rosie, which was all about the pure skin. Latex, silicon, car seats, bathroom mirrors: they all have this direct relation to the body and skin, but there’s a slight separation and synthetic quality too.

A series of three photos featuring a feet and random objects.
Things to Come,2023, Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Sherbet Green, London Photo: Damian Griffiths.

And how have these ideas influenced the development of your sculptural work?

I like working in a way that is part-image making, part-sculpture. My sculptures are perhaps more abstracted than my photographs, but they’re always in relationship. When you’re looking at an image of a car armrest, you’re in a very real environment. To bring that in conversation with the more subjective form of sculpture is quite interesting. Touch is really important. It can happen in many different ways: the surface or an image or a sculpture. The idea of contact informs the different materials that I use.

In my show Things to Come at Sherbet Green, the sculptures were casts of rock climbing holds. I bought them because I was thinking about objects with ergonomic and functional qualities. Indoor climbing sets up a specific dynamic: whether you’re on the mat looking at somebody else, or climbing yourself. I was interested in these moments of viewing, and the communal spirit that comes out in those spaces. Climbing also has this erotic edge to it – as do gyms.

I cast the sculptures in soap, which undoes their functionality but opens up something else. The original form has a direct relationship with the body, but the soap is sticky – something that will melt but is also designed to be used by the body. The colors are inspired by the pastel colors of Imperial Leather soap. These colors are very of the body: piss and reddening skin, for example.

The large curved sculptures in Things to Come were slightly larger than my body. I’m now thinking about how I can push the scale of my sculptural works larger, perhaps in terms of building an environment within a space. I’ve also been working a lot with light recently, so I’d like to make more light-based works.

How do these ideas of scale relate to your photographic works?

During the making of Rosie, I was thinking about the scale of advertising and large-scale display. When pictures are on that scale, it forces you to move really close to them – and then take a step back. I was interested in that intimacy of having to be really close to something. That image also became distorted through its scale.

But with the works in Wipe Clean or Things to Come, I wanted the images to feel closer to the size of the body. The smaller, subtle size makes the engagement a lot more intimate. I like the idea of being really close to something quite pornographic. Images of desire – like pornography – are always scaled to the size of the body, because they’re in magazines.

A monochrome image of a black fabric, showcasing its texture and contrast.
bodyline 01,2022. Inkjet print on canson photo lustre, kappa mount board, chrome aluminium and obeche frame. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London. Photo: Theo Christelis.

How does that relate to NUDE – and being put alongside more ‘traditional’ images of the body?

I’ve never shown in a photo-specific show, so it’s an interesting thing to do. I care a lot about the different contexts around how the work is situated – how it’s read in relation to what’s happening around it, particularly alongside works by Alix Marie, Evelyn Bencicova and Momo Okabe. Interesting things happen when you have these different bodily depictions – these visual languages rubbing up against each other.

Ravi Ghosh is a writer and critic in London. He is the deputy editor of the British Journal of Photography.