7 influential women artists from Asia-Pacific

For International Women’s Day, Art Radar profiles 7 influential women artists from Asia-Pacific.

On 8 March 2014, the world once again celebrated International Women’s Day. Here at Art Radar we took a closer look at 7 female artists from Asia-Pacific who are making an impact on the international art stage.

Bani Abidi, image from 'Proposal for a Man in the Sea', 2012, photographic installation, suite of 26 works.

Bani Abidi, image from ‘Proposal for a Man in the Sea’, 2012, photographic installation, suite of 26 works. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi

Bani Abidi was born in 1971 in Karachi, Pakistan. She now lives and works between Karachi and New Delhi. She received her BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan in 1994 and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), United States in 1999. For the past eight years, she has been working primarily in video. Her first encounter with the medium took place during her studies at the SAIC, where she started to incorporate video, photography and performance into her work.

The realistic nature of the work produced through these media has allowed the artist to create a critically potent oeuvre centred around issues of nationalism and conflict, their uneven representation in the mass media and their effect on individual everyday life.

The artist has been especially interested in addressing the problems surrounding the India-Pakistan conflict and the violent legacy of the 1947 Partition. She explores notions of power and the relationship between power and cultural production, investigating how the deliberate manipulation of political commemoration and historical depiction can have a strong influence on the fragile social fabric.

Bani Abidi, still from 'Death at a 30 Degree Angle', 2012, double channel video installation. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Bani Abidi, still from ‘Death at a 30 Degree Angle’, 2012, double channel video installation. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Among her most notable solo exhibitions are “Then It Was Moulded Anew” (2012-13) at Experimenter, Kolkata, “Bani Abidi” (2011) at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, and at Green Cardamom (2008 and 2010) in London. She has participated in important group exhibitions around the globe, including at the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (2005), “Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves”, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (2007), the Gwangju Biennial (2008), “Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan”, Asia Society, New York (2009), Lyon Biennial, France (2009), Whitechapel Art Gallery in London and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2010), and Documenta 13 (2012), among others.

Anida Yoeu Ali, "Sarong Roots", (Photo: 2012 / Dress: 2007), dress Installation and performance, sarong and saffron fabric, dimensions variable. The dress Ali created was stitched together from sarongs she collected from her family members in Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia during her travels from 2003-2007. Image courtesy Sam Jam.

Anida Yoeu Ali, “Sarong Roots”, (Photo: 2012 / Dress: 2007), dress Installation and performance, sarong and saffron fabric, dimensions variable. The dress Ali created was stitched together from sarongs she collected from her family members in Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia during her travels from 2003-2007. Image courtesy Sam Jam.

Anida Yoeu Ali

Anida Yoeu Ali fled Cambodia aged five, at the height of the Khmer Rouge era, and was raised in Chicago. After more than three decades living in the United States, she moved to Phnom Penh for her 2011 Fulbright Fellowship, following her graduation in 1996 with a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MFA in Studio Arts (Performance) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 2010.

Ali’s work is interdisciplinary in its approach. Weaving installation and performance, she creates work that investigates the artistic, spiritual and political collisions of a hybrid transnational and diasporic identity.

From the use of religious aesthetics to durational public performances, Ali’s works push the performative moment into a public sphere. With particular focus on issues of diasporic identity, her thematic interest in hybridity, transcendence and ‘otherness’ map new political and spiritual landscapes. Her interdisciplinary performances use Butoh dance influences to examine the poetic potential of the body and collective healing. Her performance work transforms loss into conversations about reconciliation.

Anida Yoeu Ali, 'Enter Without an Exit Plan (Street 98)', 2012
, digital C-print. Performing multiple personas of both sameness and difference, the artist stumbles upon an old abandoned colonial mansion. These scenes are meant to be surreal moments set in everyday environments. This print is part of the “The Space Between Inside/Outside” series, a solo exhibition first presented at JavaArts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image courtesy the artist.

Anida Yoeu Ali, ‘Enter Without an Exit Plan (Street 98)’, 2012
, digital C-print. Performing multiple personas of both sameness and difference, the artist stumbles upon an old abandoned colonial mansion. These scenes are meant to be surreal moments set in everyday environments. This print is part of the “The Space Between Inside/Outside” series, a solo exhibition first presented at JavaArts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image courtesy the artist.

Her pioneering performance work with the critically acclaimed spoken word ensemble “I was born with Two Tongues” (1998-2003) is now archived with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. She is also co-founder of the women’s performance collective Mango Tribe (Chicago and New York), the summer youth writing programme YAWP! Young Asians with Power (Chicago) and the Asian American Artists Collective (Chicago). In 2010, she co-founded Studio Revolt in Phnom Penh, a media arts lab that works primarily with local Cambodian youth and deported artists on narrative based projects in film, video and performance.

The artist has been the recipient of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts and Illinois Arts Council. She has participated in exhibitions worldwide and has been a visiting lecturer and keynote speaker in various institutions, including SAIC and NYU Tisch Asia in Singapore. Her work has appeared in various publications, including the recent anthology “Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora: Troubling Borders.

Bharti Kher, 'The skin speaks a language not its own', 2006, fibreglass, bindis, 142 x 456 x 195 cm. Image courtesy Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai.

Bharti Kher, ‘The skin speaks a language not its own’, 2006, fibreglass, bindis, 142 x 456 x 195 cm. Image courtesy Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai.

Bharti Kher

Bharti Kher was born in London in 1969 to Indian parents. She attended the Middlesex Polytechnic in London and went on to receive a BFA in Painting from New Castle Polytechnic in 1991. In 1993, she traveled to India, where she met her now husband, artist Subodh Gupta. She currently lives and works in New Delhi.

Kher is among the highest selling living Asian women artists, second only to Japanese Yayoi Kusama. Her work The skin speaks a language not its own (2006) sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in 2010 for USD1.5 million, making Kher the top-selling Indian woman artist of the time and surpassing her husband Subodh Gupta’s selling record.

Kher’s work is in a constant negotiation between tradition and modernity. The artist’s work departs from ideas and concepts such as the relationship between human and animal, and the resulting issues of hybridity, transmogrification and ethics, links between abstraction and figuration, the question of ‘otherness’, gender politics, globalisation and cosmopolitanism. The artist thrives in creating art that is about misinterpretation, misconceptions, conflict, multiplicity and contradiction.

Bharit Kher, 'Hybrid series: self portrait', 2007, digital C-print, 45.54 x 54.65 cm. Image courtesy Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai.

Bharit Kher, ‘Hybrid series: self portrait’, 2007, digital C-print, 45.54 x 54.65 cm. Image courtesy Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai.

Her painterly, sculptural, photographic and installation work juxtaposes a variety of materials, from the ready-made bindi, real animal fur and ceramic tea sets to fibreglass and mirrors. Her work plays on notions of the self as a multiple and taps into mythologies and culture’s openness to misinterpretation and diverse associations. Kher has described her artistic practice as “the hunt for a chimera”, the monster as a symbol of a hybrid identity, in constant mutation and in conflict with itself.

Kher works with galleries such as Hauser and Wirth (London), Galerie Perrotin (Paris), Jack Shainman Gallery (New York) and Nature Morte (New Delhi). She has exhibited at various museums and institutions around the world, including the Serpentine Gallery (London), MAXXI (Rome), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, The Saatchi Gallery (London), Queensland Art Gallery – Gallery of Modern Art (Brisbane) and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul), among others. In January 2014, the Rockbund Art Museum launched her retrospective “Bharti Kher: Misdemeanours”, the artist’s first major solo exhibition in Asia to date.

Lin Tianmiao, 'Blue Infrastructure', 2013, tree, threads, plastic figures and gold foils, approx. 170 x 130 x 165 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Lin Tianmiao, ‘Blue Infrastructure’, 2013, tree, threads, plastic figures and gold foils, approx. 170 x 130 x 165 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Lin Tianmiao

Lin Tianmiao, born in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, in 1961, was one of the first female artists from China to gain international recognition. She graduated from the Fine Art Department of the Capital Normal University in Beijing in 1984. In 1988, she moved to New York with her husband, video-artist Wang Gongxin. In 1995, they returned to China, and she now lives and works in Beijing.

In her early career, Lin was a textile designer. This skill later was incorporated in her visual art through thread-weaving, embroidery and sewing. She works in a variety of media, including photography, sculpture, painting, video and installation, among others. She is best known for her installation work, such as her early series The Proliferation of Thread Winding (1995). Her work has gained attention for her obsessive, perfectionist thread-weaving, covering everything from found to manufactured objects.

Much of her work explores women’s issues and has often been labelled as ‘feminist’, although the artist has many times insisted that feminism is a western concept. For Lin, her work is merely individual, and she, as a woman, happens to have a woman’s perspective (pdf download).

Lin Tianmiao (in collaboration with Wang Gongxin), 'Here or There?', 2002, mixed materials, video installation with 6 screens, sound, 150-300 square meters. Image courtesy the artist.

Lin Tianmiao (in collaboration with Wang Gongxin), ‘Here or There?’, 2002, mixed materials, video installation with 6 screens, sound, 150-300 square metres. Image courtesy the artist.

Balancing tradition and innovation, Lin links thread and the act of binding and weaving to the female experience and her Chinese background. The final result evokes a shared human experience for the viewer, regardless of gender, race or nationality. Conceptual and obsessed with the intricately handmade, her work references dichotomies such as the private versus public, personal versus cultural, male versus female, natural versus unnatural, remembered past versus lived present. Through the use of common materials and the transformation of quotidian objects, Lin evokes personal interpretations for each viewer while maintaining a universally recognised experience.

Her work has been widely exhibited worldwide, including her 2012 solo exhibition “Bound Unbound” at the Asia Society Museum in New York, solo shows at Galerie Lelong in New York and Paris (2012-2013), the National Art Museum of China (2010), OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Shanghai (2009), UCCA and Long March Space in Beijing, among others. Since the 1990s, she has been part of a major museum exhibitions on Chinese contemporary art worldwide, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts Bern.

Aida Mahmudova 'Recycled', 2012-2013, metal window grates, stainless steel, 310 x 270 cm. Image courtesy the artist and YAY Gallery, Baku.

Aida Mahmudova ‘Recycled’, 2012-2013, metal window grates, stainless steel, 310 x 270 cm. Image courtesy the artist and YAY Gallery, Baku.

Aida Mahmudova

Aida Mahmudova was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1982. She graduated from the American Intercontinental University with a BA Fashion Marketing in 2009. In 2006, she received her BFA from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London. In 2011, she co-founded YARAT, a non-profit organisation promoting Azeri contemporary art both on a national and international level, by supporting the creativity of young people and helping to foster cultural dialogue between Azerbaijan and other countries. Since 2012, she has been Director of the Museum of Modern Art in Baku. She now divides her time between Baku and London.

Her work ranges from painting and photography to video installation. Her artistic practice fundamentally revolves around the concept of memory. For the artist, personal experience is paramount in shaping our perception of the world around us and ourselves. “Reflecting on and questioning one’s memories and how those memories form our identity is one of life’s greatest challenges,” she says in her statement.

Memories are what surrounds us, both inside and outside. Memories can produce a feeling of sadness (nostalgia), loss and loneliness, resulting in a beautiful past and the awareness of an unstable present and an uncertain future. Memories can also form distorted recollections, with fiction weaved into reality. From this never-ending cycle of memories, the artist creates her investigative works that explore her inner self, her identity.

Aida Mahmudova, 'Recycled', 2013, installation view (detail) at "Love Me Love Me Not", 55th Venice Biennale. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Aida Mahmudova, ‘Recycled’, 2012-13, metal window grates, stainless steel. Installation view (detail) at “Love Me Love Me Not”, 55th Venice Biennale. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Mahmudova’s sources of inspiration are the forgotten, untouched and undeveloped locations in Azerbaijan. The present physical space is changing at a rapid pace and memories are often distorted and altered by the subconscious. Mahmudova plays with these notions, juxtaposing reality and fiction, memory and the present, the conscious and the subconscious. The artist uses Azerbaijan’s past relics – tangible, universal and specific – to give material form to her intangible memories that inform her art.

Her work has been exhibited worldwide, including at the Museum of Modern Art in Baku, MAXXI in Rome, the Multimedia Art Museum (MAMM) in Moscow and Phillips de Pury & Company in London. Her work was recently featured in “Love me Love me not”, at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

Watch “7 days in Delhi #5 – Pushpamala N” on vimeo

Pushpamala N

Pushpamala N was born in Bangalore, India in 1956. She graduated with a BA in Economics, English and Psychology from Bangalore University in 1977. In 1982, she received her BFA in Sculpture and in 1985 her MFA in Sculpture, both from the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda. She now lives and works in Bangalore and New Delhi.

The artist started her career as a sculptor. In her early work, she says, she was interested in using poor materials such as terracotta and papier mache and folk art references to create an indigenous language that was based on an essential idea of “Indianness”. It was in the early 1990s responding to the post-Ayodhya events that she started moving away from figurative sculpture and towards a more conceptual approach, as exemplified by her work Excavations, a series of installations made of objects created with discarded paper and cheap found materials, inspired by Walter Benjamin’s The Arcade Project about the modern city as an archaeological site.

Soon after, she shifted away from sculpture to work only with conceptual photography and video. In her work, she often incorporates popular culture. She has impersonated various popular personas and ironic roles in her works, to comment on issues of gender, place and history. Her oeuvre at times presents a comic aspect with a sharp edge that exposes cultural and gender stereotyping, while exploring the complexities that are inherent in India’s contemporary urban life.

Watch “Motherland” performance at KHOJ by Pushpamala N. on youtube.com

There is an emphasis on theatricality throughout her work, evident since the beginning of her conceptual practice, such as in her first conceptual photo-romance work Phantom Lady or Kismet, in which she played the main roles.

Pushpamala N. has exhibited extensively in worldwide institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the Manchester Art Gallery (MAG), the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa and Tate Modern in London. She has been the recipient of various awards, including the National Award in 1984 and the Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship for residency at the Central St. Martin’s School of Art, London (1992-93).

Angela Su, 'The Hartford Girl and Other Stories', 2012, C-print, 80 x 52 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Angela Su, ‘The Hartford Girl and Other Stories’, 2012, C-print, 80 x 52 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Angela Su

Angela Su currently lives and works in Hong Kong. She had a scientific training before she passed on to fine art. In 1990, she graduated in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto, Canada. In 1994, she received her BA in Visual Arts from the Ontario College of Art, Canada. It is this dual training that has influenced her work and given direction to her artistic practice. The artist references hybridity, transformation and metamorphosis, exploring the possibilities of change in humans, animals and insects. In her detailed drawings, she portrays various species with human physical components. At the same time, she juxtaposes human figures with mechanical devices.

Her works present a Renaissance inspired style of presentation, complete with technical Latin titles as if the artist was conducting scientific studies of specimens and experiments on a variety of subjects. Her meticulous drawings have a Leonardo Da Vinci quality that blur the boundaries between possibility and impossibility, between reality and fiction, between fantasy and science.

Angela Su, 'IN BERTY WE TRUST!', 2013, 3-channel video animation, 14 min 10 sec. Installation view at Gallery Exit, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist.

Angela Su, ‘IN BERTY WE TRUST!’, 2013, 3-channel video animation, 14 min 10 sec. Installation view at Gallery Exit, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist.

In an interview with TimeOut Hong Kong, the artist talks about how she has been studying biological drawings, especially from the German enlightenment period. She is interested in exploring the body and the possibilities of taking it apart and putting it together in different forms, thus challenging the way we see the body. In her latest exhibition “IN BERTY WE TRUST!” at Gallery Exit, Hong Kong, her work revolves around the theme of human body/machine relationship. The conceptual writings, drawings and video animations in the exhibition offer an inquiry into the dualism and dichotomy that link the body to the machine.

Su’s practice also uses performance. Her latest performative work The Hartford Girl and Other Stories (2013), the artist got tattoos of 39 prayer fragments without ink across her back, in a painful performance that was meant to resemble Christ’s whip lashes. Exhibited in “Hong Kong Eye” in 2013, the work was an exploration of practices of self-mutilation, from tattoos to body modification. When stripped of the aesthetic elements, such an enterprise becomes a focus on pain and on healing processes beyond the physical.

Her work has been exhibited extensively, including at Gallery Exit and Grotto Fine Art in Hong Kong, Goethe-Institut in Hong Kong, CAFA Art Museum Beijing, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Shanghai, Shenzhen Biennale, He Xiangning Art Museum in Shenzhen and the Saatchi Gallery in London.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related topics: Indian artists, Pakistani artists, Hong Kong artists, Chinese artists, Azeri artists, Cambodian artists

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Qatar announces new artist residence centre amid booming cultural infrastructure

A new artist-in-residence programme for Qatari and regional artists is the latest project in the country’s flourishing art scene.

The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) announced on 5 March 2014 that the former Civil Defence headquarters will soon re-open, housing a residence programme for artists and an exhibition centre. Christened “Fire Station: Artists in Residence”, the programme will provide learning and networking opportunities to regional artists.

Qatar Museum Authority tweets about the new artist in residence programme.

Qatar Museum Authority tweets about the new artist in residence programme. Image taken by Art Radar.

The redesigned and renovated fire station is due to open to the public in November 2014, and will consist of 24 studios as well as a 700-square-metre garage that will serve as a gallery space. A second phase of the project, which will include a café, restaurant, bookshop and cinema, will open in 2015.

Artists in residence

“Fire Station: Artists in Residence” is planned as a rolling nine-month long residence programme for Qatari and Gulf artists, as well as international artists based in Qatar. The Art Newspaper says that the artists will have access to special exhibitions, lectures and expert curators from abroad, and quotes QMA’s assistant curator Noor Abuissa as saying:

The gallery space will support local artists whether in residence or not. It will allow for cultural dialogue and exchange between artists living in Qatar and the rest of the world.

According to Doha News, approximately 20 art residencies will be available and there will also be a slot for a curatorial residency. The applicants will be selected through an independent jury. Initially, the programme is open to Qatari artists and residents of Qatar, and will later be expanded to invite artists from the Gulf region.

The selected artists’ work will be displayed in an exhibition each year in June. The artist-in-residence programme will be managed by QMA’s Head of Artists-in-Residence Programme, Hala al-Khalifa.

Re-purposing infrastructure

The venue for the artist residency programme is a former fire station, built in 1982 as a civil defence building and used by the fire brigade until late 2012, when it was passed on to the QMA for preservation. In accordance with Qatar’s emphasis on preserving old architecture, the building is being redesigned by renowned Qatari architect Ibrahim Al Jaidah and will retain most of its original structure. Hala al Khalifa was quoted in The Peninsula Qatar as saying:

The Doha Fire Station is a building of great importance to the community; it has served the community [for] the past 30 years and will continue to do so through the arts with a new identity as Fire Station: Artists in Residence. Our goal is to support artists living in Qatar and provide a platform for creative exchange.

In addition to the studios and Garage Gallery, the existing tower of the fire station will be covered in LED lighting in a stainless steel mesh and used as a rotating display of artworks, projections and installations.

Mathaf Museum, Qatar. Image courtesy the museum.

Mathaf Museum, Qatar. Image courtesy the museum.

Qatar’s flourishing artscape

The Gulf nation’s art scene has been thriving for several years. In 2011, Qatar was declared the world’s biggest spender on contemporary art by The Art Newspaper, and its cultural infrastructure is the focus of many renovation projects. Among these are the National Museum of Qatar, scheduled to re-open in 2014 and the QMA has planned several new museums under the Qatar National Vision 2030 project. According to Doha News, schools in Mushereib have agreed to close for renovation for art and heritage programmes similar to the Fire Station residency, also planned by the QMA.

Hala al Khalifa stressed that the Fire Station project is not another museum and that the building is important “beyond the art scene.” According to the Gulf Times,

Al-Khalifa said the building is undergoing a sort of “recycling” to continue serving the community through the Artists in Residence Programme, complementing existing projects and activities in the artistic arena in Qatar.

Speaking to Art Radar in 2013, Heather Alnuweiri of Al Markhiya Gallery said that the Qatari art scene was different from those of its Gulf neighbours due to its huge investment “in organic, locally developed institutions such as the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf.” She added that to further support Qatar’s artists,

a multinational “artists community” should be developed where there are low rent studios, exhibition spaces for rent, well-stocked art supply stores, and meeting places to facilitate the exchange of ideas, practices and cultural understanding.

“The Fire Station: Artists in Residence” programme seems to be a step in that direction.

Kriti Bajaj


Related Topics: art spaces, Qatari art and artists, residencies, venues in Qatar

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Woman of Steel: Miya Ando’s solo debut in Hong Kong – interview

Chemistry meets art as Miya Ando transforms metal surfaces into minimal watercolour landscapes.

Brooklyn-based artist Miya Ando shares the unusual combination of traditional Japanese techniques and individual innovations that went into creating her recent body of work, displayed in her first solo exhibition “Light Metal” in Hong Kong.

Miya Ando, 'Night Yoru Grid', 2013, hand-dyed anodized aluminium, 36 x 48in. Image courtesy the artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Night Yoru Grid’, 2013, hand-dyed anodised aluminium, 36 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Descended from Bizen sword makers, half Japanese and half American artist Miya Ando grew up bilingual with two distinct cultures influencing her unusual art practice. As a child, Ando lived in a Buddhist temple in Okayama, Japan, and was raised among swordsmiths-turned-Buddhist priests. This upbringing led her to undertake a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies at Berkeley University (California), as well as attending Yale University to study Buddhist iconography. The artist also apprenticed with the master metalsmith Hattori Studio in Japan.

Subsequently, this background inspired Miya Ando to develop an uncommon technique and apply it to an unconventional canvas: swordsmith skills onto steel. She works primarily with light and metal, combining traditional techniques of her ancestors along with a modern industrial technique known as anodising. This process involves electroplating sapphire crystals onto metal, allowing the artist to create minimalist landscapes and abstract metallic horizons. She has received several awards such as the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2012 and recently the Bronx Museum AIM Residency in 2013.

Ando has also produced public and private commissions in South Korea, New York, California and London, notably her two memorial sculptures marking the ten year anniversary of 9/11, created from 30-foot tall pieces of steel fallen from the World Trade Centre. In addition, her work has been exhibited worldwide, such as her recent exhibition curated by Nat Trotman at the Guggenheim Museum.

Her exhibition “Light Metal” at Sundaram Tagore Hong Kong will be on show from 13 February to 22 March 2014.

Art Radar interviewed Miya Ando to learn more about her combination of distinct art practices and her feelings about her Hong Kong debut.

Miya Ando, 'Ephemeral Pink', 2013, Dyed pigment lacquer, resin on aluminium plate, 36 x 36in. Image courtesy the  artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Ephemeral Pink’, 2013, dyed pigment lacquer, resin on aluminium plate, 36 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Bridging two distant cultures into one

Being of Japanese origin and a descendant of Bizen sword makers, could you explain what traditional practices you use or are influenced by in your work? 

I consider myself half Japanese, half American. My mother is Japanese and my father is Caucasian. My mother’s family made swords hundreds of years ago before they became Buddhist priests. I lived in a Buddhist temple with my mother’s family [with] my grandmother, my grandfather and my cousins. I was very influenced by the philosophy of living in a Buddhist temple; a lot of my ideas stem from being Buddhist and living in a Buddhist temple. It’s not a spiritual belief. These were the people who took care of me, so I have an emotional connection to that. I became very interested in swordsmithing and the techniques that were used by my family. Although I don’t make swords, I have been very inspired and interested by their materials: steel and metal. It really started as an emotional connection. It’s a way, I think now looking back, to connect with my family. As soon as I started to work with steel, it really resonated. So, I spent my adult life in the transformation of metal surfaces. This has been the underlying methodology for the paintings.

Miya Ando, 'Gold Kimono', 2013, hand-dyed anodized aluminium, 22 karat gold leaf, 52 x 40in. Image courtesy the artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Gold Kimono’, 2013, hand-dyed anodised aluminium, 22 karat gold leaf, 52 x 40 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Could you explain the combination of techniques in your artistic process?

The reason is twofold. It is something from my family and I feel connected to that. It’s also because the idea of the work, or the thesis of my work, is that everything is ephemeral. Everything is transitory: all things, all people. We share that. This is something that connects us. Everyone is having this experience and all things are having this experience. There is beauty in recognising this: the recognition that everything is ephemeral and transitory. So, I choose materials, which say “I am permanent, I’m very strong. I am a hard permanent material: I’m metal.” Then I evoke the idea of the transitory quality of light. The show is all about that: light that’s changing and getting dark, getting light, shifting. So the concept is expressed with the material and also with the picture.

I work with a layering process. I layer colour, lacquer and chemicals. The paintings have twenty to thirty layers of different types of painting techniques on them.  I also sand (and) I polish. The nature of metal is one that can be very reflective. It beautifully reflects light, it redirects light, and that’s part of the vocabulary of the work. If it were just on a canvas, it wouldn’t do that. So I do a lot of different types of hand-working to prepare the piece.

Miya Ando, 'Ephemeral Copper', 2013, dyed pigment lacquer, resin on aluminium plate, 36 x 36in. Image courtesy the artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Ephemeral Copper’, 2013, dyed pigment lacquer, resin on aluminium plate, 36 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

How did you come across the anodising process?

It was a discovery. Well, I had very bad fortune- I had a small accident, where a painting hurt my side. I was so injured I couldn’t pick up a piece of steel after that. Then I had the very good fortune, after the misfortune, of sitting next to an anodiser at a dinner party at Miami [Art] Basel. He said he had worked with steel [before changing to aluminium]. I love steel. I love the gray, it’s very elegant, it’s a very beautiful material and it’s the material of my family. Aluminium just wasn’t within my range of work. I had tunnel vision, focused on steel.

So I started to look very carefully at aluminium, because I could pick it up. Then I discovered there is a way to dye the material. So I embarked down the rabbit hole of dying, which I knew nothing about. I thought this was so fascinating, because with a bit of experimentation – since no one had actually used a dye to make a painting before – I thought: “this looks like a watercolour.” It then became another tool to create these transformations.

Miya Ando, 'Sui Getsu Ka 7', 2011, dyed aluminium, 24 x 24in. Image courtesy the artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Sui Getsu Ka 7’, 2011, dyed aluminium, 24 x 24 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Is there a spiritual element to your work and if so could you explain that?

I think you could probably say that. Some of the really core concepts of the work are inspired by my philosophical interests. I think noting or recognising that everything is impermanent to me is probably a more spiritual than non-spiritual thought, even if it’s not religious. It’s noticing something that is a truth of the world. It also happens to be one of the maxims of Buddhist thought, because as a little girl I lived with Buddhist priests and I am Buddhist myself. I think it comes into it.

So is your art didactic in any way?

I would say in no way is it didactic. I think the work is abstract. The paintings are abstract. The inspiration is from my philosophical beliefs. I don’t make the paintings in order to teach something philosophical.

Is Buddhist iconography important to your work and if so how?

In Buddhist temples you often see these deities and this imagery. There are sometimes very serene beings or sometimes more ferocious looking deities. There’s a pantheon of deities, imagery and religious iconography. When I was little, I could tell these peaceful and contemplative deities were saying something. So I became very interested as a young woman in studying how things are expressed visually. I became quite fascinated by imagery, which is communicating; in my case, Buddhist imagery. And so, as an artist, I am in a dialogue with the rest of the world via my paintings. My study of iconography, and in particular Buddhist iconography, has really enhanced that notion of communication that is non-verbal. I like religious iconography because I think religious iconography has this very pure intention. It is to communicate the beliefs of that paradigm of thinking which I find fascinating.


Miya Ando, ‘Sui Getsu Ka Black Red Triptych’, 2013, hand-dyed anodised aluminium, 24 x 72 in. Image courtesy the artist.

You shared in certain interviews that you play with the idea of contrast in your work, by placing impermanent elements onto permanent canvases such as steel and metal, mirroring the Ying Yang philosophy. Was this intended to reflect Buddhist ideas? Or do you have a deeper meaning by doing so?

I’m Eurasian. My experience has been in the East and the West. I have a distinctly Asian upbringing, but I also spent a lot of time living in the United States. So, I see now, that in my art practice I take very disparate things and I put them together, creating these very harmonious pictures. I take very permanent materials and I put very impermanent imagery on there. Now that’s paradoxical, but then again, I believe in trying to be truthful with oneself and who one is. There is that authenticity of transparency of “I am what I am,” and I make something that is a combination of my life’s experiences. I like this idea of bridges between things that wouldn’t necessarily be harmonious – I find that to be one of the pillars of what I do. I don’t think that has a lot to do with Buddhism.

But, I see in my art practice that I work with very ancient and very old ideas [such as] impermanence. This is something that is ages old, this idea that “everything is impermanent.” But the manner in which I make things is very unusual and contemporary. The materials used in anodised aluminium are very industrial, they have not really been used in visual art as a painting. Also the techniques are new. So my mind is also a mind that loves tradition and loves ancient things and loves the heritage. Also, maybe it’s because I’m also an American, I don’t believe in rules. I see plates of aluminium and I think “Oh, I’d really like to see that in faint, faint, faint, faint pink!” These ideas of no rules and the freedom of taking any material and working with that as a canvas are opposites to bring together, I would say.

Currently living in Brooklyn, New York, does the local art scene influence any processes in your art?

I live in Manhattan and my studio is in Brooklyn. I’ve had a studio in many different places and I seem to make very focused, similar work. I don’t know if my geographic location changes the work. I haven’t seen that… I think work comes from work. I think the painting that you have finished is a thought. Making art is a visual representation of a thought. I think I have a tunnel vision consciousness. I’ve had this same idea of permanence, and these materials have been in my work since the very beginning. It’s a constant refining of that idea as I get older in my practice.

I just did a whole series of all white paintings, and we’ve been under snow in New York, so maybe I am. Maybe I’m just not aware.

Having exhibited in the US, England and Japan, have you received different reactions to your work?

I think the context is very important. For example in Japan, they’ll say “Oh, it’s so zen!” But then in America they’ll sometimes say “It’s very minimal.” Then there’s also what the culture brings to it. The context changes the meaning and how the work is. But [the work] is what it is, I think.

Miya Ando, 'Ephemeral Vermillion Yellow', 2013, Dyed pigment lacquer, resin on aluminium plate, 36 x 36in. Image courtesy the artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Ephemeral Vermillion Yellow’, 2013, dyed pigment lacquer, resin on aluminium plate, 36 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist.

This is your first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, showing at Sundaram Tagore. Do you think your work will be received differently in Hong Kong?

I think so and the reason is because in Hong Kong, much like Japan really, there is much more of a history and a tradition of thought. So people are used to looking at imagery and things with a more philosophical nature, I think. My guess is that what people bring from their culture changes the way it looks. I hope it’s received well!

Your layering technique has now become something of a trademark. Are you planning to develop it in new directions? Do you have any plans for the future?

I will continue to develop it, because it’s really enjoyable and I’m very curious about what can happen. It’s so brand new! I’m a very curious person and I like experimenting. It’s play for me. There is that sense of what’s going to happen. I’m in my childhood self mixing chemicals.

Miya Ando, 'Blue Purple Diptych', 2013, hand-dyed anodized aluminium, 48 x 48in. Image courtesy the artist.

Miya Ando, ‘Blue Purple Diptych’, 2013, hand-dyed anodised aluminium, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Do you think the process is more important to you than the outcome through this essence of play in the work?

I don’t. I think the absolute most important [thing] is that your painting looks the way you planned. The king in this whole entire thing is that you’ve made something that is articulating or expressing a thought on its own. So I can have lots of playing time and developing, but this is all just in the name of developing a tool. So if I want to make a piece of steel turn from light, light pink to darker pink, I need to know how to do that. That’s very complex. If I have to invent that myself, I have to play with it and see how to do that. But all of these techniques are tools to make something. They are particular to the medium. I’m a very processed-oriented person.

Are you working on other projects now?

I am! I’m always working! I’m happily doing a number of commission pieces. I’m doing a museum show at the moment at the Queens Museum in New York and so I’ll be going back home and working on these different pieces.

Claire Bouchara


Related Topics: Japanese art and artists, events in Hong Kong, metal art, art and Buddhism 

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Posted in Buddhist art, Gallery shows, Japanese, Metal | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

6 of the best street art projects in Asia-Pacific right now

Art Radar brings you a list of engaging street art projects around Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

From the Asia-Pacific Region to the Middle East, late 2013 and early 2014 saw the realisation of some exciting street art projects that have engaged local communities, and fostered dialogue and understanding about street art. Art Radar collates a list our favourites.

Saleh Al Shukairi creating his artwork at the Al Quoz Street Night Art 2014. Image courtesy Al Quoz Project.

Saleh Al Shukairi creating his artwork at the Al Quoz Street Night Art 2014. Image courtesy Al Quoz Project.

Al Quoz Beautification Project, Dubai

Al Quoz Project is a nonprofit community project that aims to inspire those living in Dubai’s Al Quoz neighbourhood through public art. Founded by Juan Oliva, Maria Urrutia and Ramy S. Al-Awssy, the group seeks to promote integration in the local community through art. On 24 January 2014, the collective held Al Quoz Street Night Art, the first event of the Al Quoz Beautification Project.

Presented in collaboration with Arabtec and supported by the Dubai Shopping Festival, the night event took place from 6pm to midnight, and was set up as the largest open-air art gallery in Dubai.

 Watch URSMAG TV video of Al Quoz Street Night Art on youtube.com

More than 50 artists took to the streets, presenting a range of live painting and multidisciplinary performances. Held out along 4B Street in Al Quoz, the event created exchanges and encounters with artists and allowed the public to familiarise with art.

After the event, the artworks will be auctioned to raise money to create art workshops for the labourers living nearby and public spaces for the neighbourhood.

A poster at JNU Campus, New Delhi. Image from Wiki Commons.

A graffiti poster at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Campus, New Delhi. Image from Wiki Commons.

JNU Poster Art, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been one of the most vibrant campuses in India since its founding in the late 1960s, with a culture of open debates and intellectual discourse.

Named after India’s first Prime Minister, the university is known for its disciplined and highly politically aware student community, dominated by leftist ideology and left-leaning student groups that have managed to remain at the centre of the campus’ political life.

A graffiti poster on the Biotechnology Department building, JNU Campus, New Delhi. Image from Wiki Commons.

A graffiti poster on the Biotechnology Department building, Jawaharlal Nerhu University (JNU) Campus, New Delhi. Image from Wiki Commons.

The university campus is also the site of one of the oldest and finest traditions of graffiti in New Delhi. Painted by student members of the All India Students Association (AISA), the murals adorn department buildings and walls with slogans, graffiti and posters painted by students of various orientations.

The artworks comment on a wide range of issues, from inflation to gender rights, from national and international politics to corruption and terrorism. Political figureheads appear in the propaganda style murals, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or China’s Chairman Mao Tse Tung, resounding with their anti-imperialist rhetoric. After the December 2012 Delhi gang rape case and the many others that followed suit, artists have also created murals against sexual harassment. View more images on Al Jazeera.

One of Ernest Zacharevich's popular mural installations created during the George Town Festival 2012, Penang, Malaysia. Image by Etienne Girardet on flickr.com.

One of Ernest Zacharevich’s popular mural installations created during the George Town Festival 2012, Penang, Malaysia. Image by Etienne Girardet on flickr.com.

Art is Rubbish is Art, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevich has been active in Malaysia since 2012, when during the George Town Festival he created the now famous murals that adorn the walls of George Town in Penang. In December 2013, the artist returned to Penang to create more street art installations and small murals, in anticipation for his first ever solo exhibition at the Hin Company Bus Depot, titled “Art is Rubbish is Art” (17 January – 14 February 2014).

Zacharevic’s wall art typically integrates other people’s unwanted items (defined as ‘trash’) into his murals. His works can be viewed all over George Town and have become very popular. The island of Penang and Malaysia have been a source of inspiration for the artist for a long time, thus his decision to establish a consistent presence in the George Town.

 Watch a video of “Art is Rubbish is Art” by The Start Online on youtube.com

The location of his solo exhibition, the Hin Company Bus Depot, “has been abandoned for years and still holds layers of history within its walls and Zacharevich is keen to bring it back to life as a meeting point between new and old,” said his publicist and creative partner Gabija Grusaite in an interview with The Malay Mail Online. Zacharevich’s recent exhibition and his continued presence in the city have transformed the urban environment and connected the local community with street art.

Eko Nugroho, 2013, mural at RC Veteran tunnel, near JORR Veteran Gate, RC Veteran Raya Street, South Jakarta. Image courtesy Jakarta Biennale.

Eko Nugroho, 2013, mural at RC Veteran tunnel, near JORR Veteran Gate, RC Veteran Raya Street, South Jakarta. Image courtesy Jakarta Biennale.

The Mural Project, 15th Jakarta Biennale, Indonesia

The Mural Project was a new programme of the 15th Jakarta Biennale in 2013. In Asia, Indonesia has been at the forefront of promoting street art and engaging communities through public art projects. The Indonesian Street Art Database started building an online record of street art around the country in 2012, in an effort to create a greater awareness of the art form.

In this context, the Jakarta Biennale conceived the Mural Project, which featured the work of seven Indonesian mural artists scattered in different locations around the city. The project’s intention was to produce works of street art that consisted of stories about how citizens survive in one area. The artists responded to the struggle and tactics of people by identifying the site, environment, political issues and communities in the area. Each work had a strong relationship with the space.

Riyan Riyadi alias the Popo, 2013, mural at Pasar Pagi Asemka Overpass, West Jakarta. Photo: Agung ‘Abe’ Natanael. Image courtesy Jakarta Biennale.

Riyan Riyadi alias the Popo, 2013, mural at Pasar Pagi Asemka Overpass, West Jakarta. Photo: Agung ‘Abe’ Natanael. Image courtesy Jakarta Biennale.

The project proposed to offer knowledge about hidden narratives of a specific location to a broader public. Through various elements ranging from literature, history to urban legends, the artists involved found and collected ideas, stories and values ​​of the site for the community.

The artists who participated in the project included Danuri a.k.a Pak Nur (Jakarta), Eko Nugroho (Yogyakarta), Fintan Magee (Australia), Guntur Wibowo (Jakarta), Riyan Riyadi a.k.a The Popo (Jakarta), Rizky Aditya Nugroho a.k.a Bujangan Urban (Jakarta) and Ruli Bandhriyo a.k.a LoveHateLove (Yogyakarta).

Askew, 'Kristen', 2013, created during Rise Festival graffiti & street art jam, Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Askew One. Image courtesy the artist.

Askew, ‘Kristen’, 2013, created during Rise Festival graffiti & street art jam, Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Askew One. Image courtesy the artist.

Rise Street Art Festival, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Rise Street Art Festival was launched on 20 December 2013 and is running until 23 March 2014 in Christchurch. The festival is organised by Oi YOU!, a collection of street art that was started by British husband and wife George Shaw and Shannon Webster in 2010. After years of collecting street art, the duo set up Oi YOU! and started to organise street art events in New Zealand, where they relocated in 2009.

Rise is the first event in Christchurch and features a show of the Oi YOU! Collection at the Canterbury Museum, and murals by international and local artists in different locations around the city.

 Watch a video teaser of RISE Festival on youtube.com

The museum site hosts three main exhibitions: “On the Street”, a unique and interactive view of Kiwi street art; New York-based artist Kid Zoom; and the Oi YOU! Collection featuring, for the first time, all of its Banksy works and memorabilia.

In December 2013, international and local artists transformed many of the city’s walls into large, colourful murals. Among the artists participating were Askew (Auckland), Beastman (Sydney), BMD (Wellington), ENO (Raurimu), Ghstie, Anthony Lister (Brisbane), Roa (Belgium), Rone (Melbourne), Vans the Omega (Adelaide), and Wongi and Ikarus (Christchurch).

 Watch the street art workshop in Binghamton on youtube.com

Beautifying Binghamton, New Zealand

The Department of Public Works in Binghamton hosted a project in 2013 that aimed at the beautification of downtown Binghamton. International mural artist Bruge Greig was invited to hold a two-day airbrushing workshop with local artists at the parking garage on Water Street Sunday.

Greig, who worked alongside Hollywood director Peter Jackson in the realisation of The Hobbit, was deeply affected by the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. After the incident, he decided to dedicate more of his time to teaching others his graffiti skills.

During the workshops in Binghamton, artists decorated the grey walls and ramps of the parking garage. The organisers expressed their desire to eventually have more of these murals around the city.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related topics: street art, graffiti, Indonesian art, Indian art, New Zealand art, Australian art, Emirati art, events in Penang, events in New Zealand, events in Jakarta, events in Dubai, events in New Delhi

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Posted in Art and the community, Australian, Central Asian, Dubai, Emirati (UAE), Festivals, Graffiti, Indian, Indonesian, Indonesian, Jakarta, New Delhi, New Zealand, New Zealander, Open air, Overviews, Penang, Public art, Street art | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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Thank you for supporting Art Radar by taking our short online survey. We appreciate the loyalty and engagement you and all our 15000 monthly subscribers have shown us since we established the site in 2008. We have enjoyed every minute of it and now we want to check in with you to find out how you would like the site to evolve in the future

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Weekly jobs and opportunities | Whitney Museum Associate Curator, AIR Taipei 2015 Residency

Looking for new career options in the arts? Art Radar Opportunities is a convenient archive of openings in the visual art world.

Every week we add new positions suitable for a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience. Whether you’re an artist or an aspiring curator, a market analyst or a scholar, Art Radar Opportunities has listings that’ll pique your interest.


Reader offer! We’re offering free job listings to all of our readers. If you’d like to advertise your opportunity to 20,000 visitors a month, contact our page coordinator on stories.artradar@gmail.com with “codeopportunities” in the subject line.


New this week! 


JOB London | General Manager | Rivington Place – apply by 24 March 2014

Rivington Place a public gallery dedicated to contemporary art is looking for an experienced General Manager. MORE HERE


JOB London | Marketing Assistant | Battersea Arts Centre – apply by 24 March 2014

The Battersea Arts Centre in London is looking for a Marketing Assistant. MORE HERE


OPEN CALL New York | International Studio and Curatorial Program – apply by 1 April 2014

The International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn, New York and Edge of Arabia in partnership with Art Jameel announce an open call for artists currently living and working full time in the Middle East and North Africa. MORE HERE


JOB New York | Associate Curator | Whitney Museum of American Art –   apply by unspecified

The Whitney Museum of American Art is now accepting applicants for the newly created position of Associate Curator. MORE HERE


OPEN CALL Taipei | AIR Taipei 2015 – apply by 4 June 2014

AIR Taipei is now accepting proposals for their art residency programme in 2015. MORE HERE


Closing this week!


COURSE New York | Intensive Summer Art Programmes | Columbia University School of the Arts – apply by 15 March 2014

Each summer, Columbia University School of the Arts welcomes more than 300 students to work with internationally renowned artists and arts scholars on Columbia’s campus. Developed by their own graduate faculty in the School of the Arts Film, Theatre, Visual Arts and Writing MFA Programs, School of the Arts summer arts courses are designed to engage and appeal to individuals at all levels of artistic experience, from beginner to professional artists. MORE HERE

Did you know that Art Radar runs its very own online art writing course? Click here to find out more about Art Radar‘s Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.




Looking for more opportunities in the contemporary art world? For Art Radar’s complete list of jobs, internships, residencies, courses and open calls, click here.


This is just a sample of art world jobs we gather each week. If you’d like to see more, click here to sign up for more information on how to get full access and feeds of jobs, internships, open calls, courses and other opportunities for art professionals.

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Iranian artist Shirin Neshat on art, politics and changing the world – interview

Iran’s foremost female artist tells Art Radar how she uses art to explore fundamental human truths.

Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat and Christy MacLear, the Executive Director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, speak to Art Radar about the Foundation’s new One-to-One artist initiative, the current exhibition Our House is on Fire in New York City, and Neshat’s internationally acclaimed works on culture, gender and politics.

Shirin Neshat Portrait by Lina Bertucci. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat, portrait by Lina Bertucci. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

On 30 January 2014, New York visitors attended the opening of the exhibition Our House is on Firewhich showcased works by Shirin Neshat for the new One-to-One initiative. The project was created by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF) to “support contemporary artists as they create work in the service of advancing human rights, cultural understanding, and international peacekeeping.”

The foundation selected Neshat as their first artist for this initiative. Known for photography, video installations and films on Islamic culture, religion and politics Neshat chose to travel to Cairo and conceive a new series of photographs depicting “personal and national loss” by Egyptians after the failed revolution for the initiative. The exhibition runs until 1 March 2014.

Christy MacLear Portrait by Carsten Fleck. Courtesy of Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

Christy MacLear Portrait by Carsten Fleck. Courtesy of Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York.

Rauschenberg’s legacy and how art can change the world

Could you tell Art Radar about the history of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation? When was the Rauschenberg Project Space founded and for what purpose?

Christy MacLear [CM]: The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation was actually founded by Bob during his lifetime. The Foundation was one of many ways in which the artist was philanthropic – the others including grants he gave to artists in emergency needs, his advocacy for artist rights throughout his life, and his record of developing work to benefit causes such as the environment or social justice. After Bob’s death, the Foundation received the assets from his estate which expanded the role to now include: managing his artwork and legacy; fulfilling a larger philanthropic programme; and starting up a residency for artists of all disciplines on his estate in Captiva.

The Rauschenberg Project Space used to be a warehouse which stored artwork but sat largely under-utilised. We converted it from a warehouse into a project space in order to pilot a number of ideas, strategic directions, which the Foundation was considering as we were developing our programmatic plan for how to serve artists and our community best.

We wanted to test three things: what if we mounted exhibitions of other artists inspired by the values which exemplify Bob’s legacy? What if we used the project space to connect to our Residency in Captiva? And finally, what if we allowed space to be a benefit for our grantees? We have tested all of these ideas and some have worked well – others less well – but all telling in how to serve an understanding of Rauschenberg’s legacy and our community.

Shirin Neshat, 'Our House Is on Fire', 2013, photography series. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Our House Is on Fire’, 2013, photography series. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Could you tell us about the One-to-One initiative and how the foundation supports the selected artist?

[CM]: The One-to-One initiative is an outgrowth of our Artist as Activist Award. The Board chose Shirin Neshat to receive this award [because] her work has had a profound impact on our global cultural understanding.

We supported her travel to Egypt to develop a new body of work with the intent of providing a platform for her voice and having an edition for sale to benefit a nonprofit of her choice. The richness of this project was unexpected – her studio assistant’s loss defining the soul of the work; the turbulence of Egypt during this moment in time, hence elevating the conversation; and finally, the chance to show the works in our project space pulling this whole narrative together.

What prompted the foundation to create this initiative? Why now?

[CM]: This programme relates directly to our mission. It shows how ‘Art can change the world’ by virtue of creating understanding across cultures and elevating the platform for an artist to speak about issues which matter most to them. Bob also was an artist who expressly wanted to be surrounded by other artists – in dialogue with them – so using the values which define his legacy to showcase those who follow in similar footsteps is a powerful agent for us.

What was it like working with Shirin Neshat?

[CM]: Shirin is the most gracious person. I have often called her the “quiet lion” when we speak of this project in our halls. She is gentle and honourable to all viewpoints, she has a soft melodious voice and a generous way of being with other people. She also has a fire inside of her which helps point out global truths and issues with a clear beacon of light. When she speaks her words are chosen, heartfelt but have the power and poignancy with the energy a lion’s roar. She is fearless and clear – she is centred and through this personal, almost spiritual clarity alters a discussion which most fashionably avoid for fear of division of audience. I am proud to imagine she is my friend after this project – out of my respect for her work and the values she lives by.

Our House Is on Fire series 2013. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat, ‘Our House Is on Fire’, 2013, series. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat’s development as an artist

You grew up in Iran, and studied at University of California (UC), Berkeley. Could you describe your background and the development of your vision as an artist?

Shirin Neshat [SN]: Growing up in Iran, I was always interested in art, but I had no idea about it because where I lived, in a small Iranian town, I never had access to any form of classic or modern art. In fact, my family has never entered to this day an art museum. In general, in Iran the concept of visual art is still a very new concept. I had the inclination to be an artist, but it was childish and premature. When I came to UC Berkeley, I naturally wanted to study art and signed up for undergraduate and graduate school. It was then I quickly found that there was a naivete in my passion for art.

My education, my time in school, was not the most fruitful; I didn’t produce the best work mainly because I didn’t have the mental capacity to create great work. So, I went to school, but when I finished my education I abandoned art all together.

I went back to making art when I moved to New York, after years of gaining a certain level of maturity and intellectual capacity to have ideas that are worth expressing, and also discovering my own aesthetic. My upbringing and my interest as a young child in art and later my education in art have nothing to do with what I do today. Since I finished my education that I really started to put the dots together, and why I want to make art, and in what fashion I want to make it. The beginning for me was 1990s, I was already 32 or 33 years old, not before then.

Untitled, Women of Allah series, 1996. RC print and ink. Photo by Larry Barns. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat, Untitled, “Women of Allah” series, 1996, RC print and ink. Photo by Larry Barns. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

What made you begin to be an artist then? What triggered you to have that moment?

[SN]: I feel that to be an artist, you have to have ambition, have something really urgent and pressing, and I didn’t have that until then. But at the age of 32, I finally had a chance to visit my country, not having been there for good 12 years. That visit had a profound impact on me. Not only I hadn’t seen my family, I also did not have a sense of how it’s like to be in my country after the Islamic revolution.

It was the subject of Islamic revolution that really became compelling to me, as an Iranian who wasn’t there while it happened in 1979. My return to art then was [because] I was a mature person, and I had a subject matter that was very pressing for me and very interesting – the Islamic revolution – and the way in which the Islamic revolution transformed lives, but more specifically women’s lives. My first body of work started with the photography series, Women of Allah (1993-1997), about the Islamic revolution.

Shirin Neshat, 'Our House Is on Fire', 2013, photography series. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Our House Is on Fire’, 2013, photography series. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Our House Is on Fire? A visual poetry of personal and national loss

Could you talk about the works in this exhibition, Our House Is on Fire? How did you select the individuals in the photographs? How did the works for this exhibition come about?

[SN]: About a year and a half to two years ago I was approached by the Rauschenberg Foundation, who initiated a project where they would invite an artist once a year to come up with a concept. They would make a work of art that could be sold, but the profit could benefit a nonprofit organisation that the artist chooses. This is a real tribute to Rauschenberg’s legacy of donating and participating in humanitarian projects and causes. I really welcome the idea, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity.

Of course, I don’t produce work in this country [the United States], most of my work takes place in the Middle East, so I asked if I can develop an idea that takes place in Egypt because I happened to be travelling to Egypt a lot for another film project. They supported that idea and even the idea of donating the money to charitable organisations in Egypt especially since there’s a lot of need and a lot of poverty in Egypt.

Installation view, The Book of Kings, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery

Shirin Neshat, ‘The Book of Kings’, 2012, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery.

I went in October or November of 2012 with my collaborator, someone who always takes the photos for me, Larry Barnes. I went with an idea to try to focus on the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution in Cairo, the Arab Spring, because I already created a series of works called “The Book of Kings” (2012) which mainly captured the euphoric energy of the Arab Spring. Now with the sense of defeat and despair that followed the revolution, I thought it would be important to go into a series of photographs that show the aftermath.

Now having said that, at the same time Larry had a personal tragedy where his young 22 year old daughter died very suddenly, two months prior to our departure. So he was also grieving, and this absolutely shadowed our journey because he is my very close friend, his daughter grew up with my daughter, and we were both grieving.

So it was a very emotional time for us. When we arrived in Cairo and were trying to follow my first interest and pursue the aftermath of the revolution, I realised that the most significant topic in my mind was the subject of loss, whether it’s a personal loss of a family who lost a child in the revolution or national loss, the feeling of despair and depression felt in Cairo, in the community, not just on the individual level.

So this way, I could even connect Larry’s sorrow with the Egyptian sorrow, and the universality of this kind of sorrow that transcends our differences, our class, national background, our age.

I have also decided that since the earlier works were about young people, the youth who brought the revolution. I wanted to now photograph older people who were the family, who suffered a lot, who weren’t the activist themselves but [felt] the consequence of them. So we set up a studio in downtown Cairo, in a not-for-profit organisation, and I reached out to an elderly who worked there and who spoke English, and basically asked him to help me facilitate introduction to some of people who are quite poor and on the street level. I wanted to capture people who were not so privileged.

As I started, we brought these people who were mostly 65 and above, and extremely poor, and gave them a little bit of money and a very wonderful exchange between human to human happened, and we told them stories including Larry’s story and asked them if they could share some personal tragedies. It was almost like a documentary except the camera was running, and we didn’t ask them to really talk about it but rather show in their gaze the emotions.

Shirin Neshat, 'Our House Is on Fire', 2013, photography series. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Our House Is on Fire’, 2013, photography series. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Did you discuss your idea behind the project with your subjects?

[SN]: Yes, we discussed the ideas with them, but we didn’t want them to necessarily talk about it if they didn’t want to. Some people did anyway, and some people didn’t but regardless, every single one of them had some sort of a personal narrative of loss.

Could you tell me some of the personal stories behind the individuals in these portraits?

[SN]: Many of them lost children. And the ones that rang a bell to me the most, because we photographed women and men, the women were much more expressive in terms of crying really loud. Two of the women lost children in the revolution and the others lost young children at some point.

A lot of them, it was combined pressure of being extremely poor, barely having any access to medical health, and on top of it having these political issues on their back. So it was a really heavy burden on them from every dimension. Even if you look at the revolution, the majority of the people protesting were probably not the rich people. I’m sure there are some too, but like soldiers, majority of the people who fight, who are unafraid, don’t have much to protect or lose.

It was very painful to see that these people have been hit at from every dimension, and on top of it they were aged, so they really felt the passage of time so there was this existential pressure as well as emotional. It was really devastating. My friend who is the photographer is in his 70s, and he was also older and every time one of the people would come and cry, he would also cry, and I would cry so there was this intense humanity. I just have to say that we forgot about art and were in this experience that became above and beyond what we were working on.

Shirin Neshat, 'Our House Is on Fire', 2013, photography series. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Our House Is on Fire’, 2013, photography series. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Capturing emotion and moving audiences

In general, is it the emotional aspect that inspires you to create your works?

[SN]: I think in general, my works are emotional, and I think it communicates to the people in a way that it moves them. I’m not a documentary person so even if their story moves me, I would have been able to make a work that on its own didn’t move people. I had to, in the end, create artworks that transferred that experience from my subjects to the audience. It wasn’t something that I can write about, put their voices or make a film about, so I had to make sure that the way I photograph them, the way I talk to them, I was able to capture their pain, and it was going to be the tool to talk to the audience.

So yes, it had to be an artistic tool to get that out as a way of communicating. I think, to be very honest, in all of my work, there is that intention of making work that while it could have so many dimensions, political, moral, existential dimensions, it has to have an emotional dimension. I cannot make, it may be my cultural background, but I really like things that move me, and I like to move other people.

Our House Is on Fire series 2013. ©Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat, ‘Our House Is on Fire’, 2013, photography series. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

In this exhibition and in your photographic series there are powerful images of feet overlaid with Persian writing. What does this symbolise and what is the story behind this image?

[SN]: You are right in the sense that particularly in the “Women of Allah” series, which was the Islamic revolution, I reduced my use of the bodies to the hands, feet and the face really. In women under the veil those are the only things that can be exposed. I found tremendous possibilities through very few parts of the body, how you can be so expressive.

Through a simple gaze, hand or feet of a Muslim woman, so much can be told. We can often use body language in terms of movement, which can be very expressive. The bottom of the feet interested me particularly because it’s rather taboo in Islamic countries to show the bottom of your feet, which is the dirtiest part of the body. Yet, when people die, the images we see a lot even in Egypt, after a military attack, were rows of men who died, and rows of feet with just a tag between their toes. It was devastating to me that ultimately that’s what remained – they covered the body, and the tags became your identity.

Are the images of feet about execution and violent death?

[SN]: For me, the images of these feet became unforgettable, of young men who were revolutionary who were killed, and at the end their feet were in a tag that identified them. So in the context of this exhibition and context of why these people are crying, you have to have something that connects it to the political references, that this is partially outside of their own control.

Could you talk a bit about the Persian writing used in the images?

[SN]: It’s been my signature to use text over the body, mainly because I find this aesthetically very wonderful. Aesthetics is also a very big part of classical Islamic art, the way that text and image are often integrated in Islamic architecture, Persian miniature paintings, even crafts – in carpets, dishes, there’s this perpetual integration of text and image.

I guess somewhere in my past I was inspired, and yet within my themes when people are so introverted and so silent, the writing gives them kind of a voice and an intellectual strength. It’s a voice. Like in my videos, the music becomes the voice, here the poetry becomes the voice. But also in both cases, the poetry [or] the song adds an emotional dimension to the work that neutralises the political dimension of the work.

Of course, the theme of the poetry changes from series to series. For this series, I used a particular type of literature that’s revolutionary, people who described the chaos, poets in Iran who are describing similar images as it’s happening in Egypt. I translated one poem, “A Cry” by Mehdi Akhavan Sales, in the exhibition, just to give one example, to let the audience know the kind of literature that I’ve been using. The poems are by contemporary poets, some who have died recently but poets who are iconic in the Iranian community.

Shirin Neshat, 'Speechless', 1996. Gelatin silver print and ink. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat, ‘Speechless’, 1996, gelatin silver print and ink. Image courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Could you talk about the poetry, novels and literatures that have inspired your works?

[SN]: It’s interesting because I’m not the kind of person who is extremely well read, but from the beginning since I started making art, the thing that has inspired me the most, that has provoked my visual imagination has been literature. Either poems or novels that I’ve read and loved.

In the beginning with the “Women of Allah” it was poetry. Then when I got into movie and video making, it became novels, but all by Iranian women writers, some of whom I was not only fascinated by their literature but who they were as people. And their position as women, feminists, mothers, as intellectuals, I just found them fascinating, and as I went into movies, Women Without Men, which was based on a magic realist novel by Shahrnush Parsipur.

Now I’m working on a ballet piece with the Dutch National Ballet on the Shakespeare’s Tempest, which is an up and coming new work. Iranian people have a strong affinity with poetry, more than other countries that I know. Iranian people depend on reading poetry to transcend time. They had difficult periods in history and Iranian people express themselves in poetry, and also read a lot of poetry almost as a philosophical guidance, so I think it comes naturally for Iranians. This passion and desire for both reading and also expressing themselves with literature.

Some of the writers I’m interested in are very visual; for example, Women Without Men is a visual realist novel. It’s a very visual novel. One poet whom I am obsessed with, Forough Farokhzad, she is no longer alive, but her poetry is extremely visual. And she wrote in metaphors, like when she talks about the garden, she is talking about the woman. She has this way of describing things that are visually tangible, so often I think my photographs are an embodiment of her poetry.

Shirin Neshat, 'Rapture Series', 1999, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Rapture Series’, 1999, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

In your works Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Fervor (2000), you’ve explored women’s issues in Iran and Muslim cultures. What drew you to make these films?

[SN]: These three works you’ve mentioned create a trilogy. It was my fascination at the time because Turbulent was made in 1998, Rapture in 1999, and Fervor in 2000. They were made rather quickly. It was a very lyrical trilogy, it was not a documentary, and it was highly stylised, and fictional. It was essentially about how men and women are treated in a radically different way in the Islamic world, and more specifically, it was about the Iranian society, and how women, as opposed to men, are pressed up against the wall. The women are deprived of so many things that men are not deprived of, and because they are so pressed up against the wall it has made the women confrontational and strong. In every one of these themes, you see the man versus the woman. The men are doing conformist things, and it’s the women who are breaking the rules. Every single time, it’s the woman that does something radical. So for me, it was symbolically referring to reality in a sense about how incredibly rebellious and defiant Iranian women are despite what has happened to them in their country. And I think again, I love how through fiction, you can hint at reality. I think, it’s my belief that in the Iranian society, the women are up against the wall much more than men, but consequently, women are much stronger and tougher.

Zarin series from Women Without Men, 2005. c-print. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Women Without Men’, 2005, c-print. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Depicting lives of Iranian women in the 1950s through film

Your first feature film, Women Without Men (2009), based on a novel by Shahrnush Parsipur, is made up of stories of four women – Munis, Faezeh, Fakhri and Zarin – set in 1950s Iran. Could you tell us a little about why you chose to depict the lives of these four women?

[SN]: Originally, the project started out as a feature film, but I knew that because I am a visual artist that I was very interested in pursuing an art component to the film. I’m very interested in cinema, and I wanted to do a film purely for theatrical release, and had that kind of narrative development, language, and all the pacing that is necessary for the people to comprehend it for mass culture. But I also wanted to see if I could create a series of video installations, which was eventually created and exhibited in museums where the film was actually broken into characters.

Each character had their own video, [and] although the videos were short they conveyed the nature of the character, their conflicts, aspirations but all without language and editing and the way of telling was very different than the one created for cinema. It ended up being a feature length film and five videos about each character, and one of those characters was eliminated for the feature film, she was far too magical.

One of the reasons that I was interested in making the film about this book was the choice of characters. The writer, I think, did an amazing job of creating a narrative. Every woman came from a completely different socio-economic class, and with a different kind of a problem.

We had the character, Fakhri, who was very wealthy, very westernised, and her interests were completely narcissistic. Then you have the two women, Munis and Faezeh who came from middle-class, religious families, who were really inundated with all sorts of taboos and question of oppression by the family who were very religious. One of them wanted to be politically active, but her family didn’t want her to do that. The other character just wanted to get married, but she got raped and she was so religious that it destroyed her. And the fourth character was from the lower class: Zarin was a prostitute [and] had no choice but to become a prostitute because of her childhood, yet she was going mad from all the guilt and shame. So I love the fact that through different characters, you can travel through different socio-economic classes and show Iranian society at different facets during 1953. So, that was one of my attractions, and I tried to stay truthful as much as possible to the idea behind the original writer’s story.

Do you feel that the writer’s story truly depicts what was going on in Iran at the time?

[SN]: That book is about Iran in 1953 before I was born, and she wrote this novel in the 1990s. But yes, it was inspired by what she knew. She was born there, but she was very young. That is a very interesting period of Iran, before the revolution when we were a cosmopolitan society, and we also had the problem of British and American involvement, and politically it was also a very difficult time. Although the story is magical realism, the writer recognised that this is a very rare period in Iranian history that has not really been talked about very much whether through literature or film. My film became unique in a way that it tried to capture and depict that period.

How did you go about recreating the scenes? Was it through photography?

[SN]: That’s the thing about filmmaking, and I am doing that right now with the next film. It involves a tremendous amount of research, years and years of collecting archival footage and photographs. We had to research the architecture of the time to interior design, the women’s costumes for four different characters that came from different socio-economic class. We had to look at the music that was used at the time, and all of this had to be done in Morocco because we couldn’t shoot in Iran, so it was really a major undertaking.

Did you like this process of discovery?

[SN]: I love that process. I’m glad you asked because it’s almost unimaginable how much work it takes to make a movie, especially a period movie, especially with the small budget that we have. But it’s extremely satisfying because it’s a real process as opposed to an art process, studio work where you stand in front of a wall and do whatever that comes out of your stream of consciousness. This is a process that requires so much detail and information, even gathering that, it takes a lot of patience but it becomes very addictive, and I really love that process because you actually feel like you are learning, learning and learning. As hard as it was to make the film, I have to say that it was one of the most satisfying artistic experiences I’ve had.

Shirin Neshat, 'Women Without Men', 2009, feature film still. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Women Without Men’, 2009, feature film still. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Country as character

What would you like the audience to take away from viewing the film Women Without Men?

[SN]: I am an artist who is most interested in allegorical messages. I am not interested in making works that tell people what to think or how to feel, rather for them to be able to have an open interpretation. In this film, clearly, the way the film was created, visually, narratively, in the way we followed the woman, and their plights; equally, we followed the country and their plights. We tried to make the audience feel that the woman and the country were the same thing. They were all looking for an idea of freedom, and the country became the fifth character. I think it’s basically, as said in a beautiful voice over at the end, “all we wanted was an idea of change.” Now that change can be personal or national. I’m very interested in connecting the individual to the community, connecting the personal and social, and this has been my interest forever.

Underlying all of my work where I can tell a single individual’s pain, but it’s really about national pain. In the same way that we pursued every woman; what is their problem? What kind of solution are they looking for? What is their transformation? We did the same thing with the country of Iran. What is happening? What are their problems? What are they looking for? And what is the ending? And in the end, it was the same, both the woman and the country wanted independence, freedom and change. To me, that was the most poignant message of the film.

I’d like to go back to one question. When making your films, you’ve said in a previous interview that you look at a film scene as you would look at a photograph. Is this still a part of your process?

[SN]: I feel there are many artists that make movies, and I think different artists when they approach cinema make different decisions. Either they go so much towards the conventional narrative film that they forget that they are artists, or they make such artistic films that it can’t be treated as a theatrical release. So my idea is to bring my strength as a visual artist and yet open up to the idea of the cinematic language and meet cinema halfway. And in Women Without Men, we truly did that where every single frame of the picture was a photograph. I was really lucky to be able to work with a great cinematographer who was able to capture that.

Were you able to put the team together for the film yourself?

[SN]: No, the producers introduced me to the cinematographer who was Austrian. The Iranian cinematographer that we were hoping to work with couldn’t work with us because of how controversial I am. So it was a blessing because [the Austrian] was young, very eager, very experimental. Actually, I want to work with him again because he really understood what is like to make art with movie making. I think he said this is the most visual film that he’s made. I hope to work with him on my next film, The Voice of Egypt, on musician Oum Kulthoum.

Shirin Neshat, 'Women Without Men', 2009, feature film still. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Women Without Men’, 2009, feature film still. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Why do you think this film was seen as important enough to win the Silver Lion award for best director at the Venice Biennale?

[SN]: I think the film was a real original film. It’s not a masterpiece, it’s not a perfect film. It’s got a lot of flaws, but it’s not like any other film. It really stands out on its own, again, for the fact that I don’t come from cinema, and I have this naïve relationship. It has a kind of a fresh look to filmmaking. But perhaps it’s still too obscure for some people, but the award was given for the direction it took, and for the confidence it took to be what it is.

In the press release from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, it states “following her recent photographic series The Book of Kings (2012), which captured the spirit of activism across the Middle East during the Arab Spring, the Rauschenberg Foundation commissioned Neshat to create a new body of work. As a reflection on the aftermath of the failed revolution in Egypt, Neshat conceived a new series of photographs…” which culminated in the works for this current exhibition, Our House Is on Fire (2014). These two latest exhibitions in New York City brought you to the foreground in raising public awareness both on a “personal and national level” with works based on current political events in the Middle East. Will you continue to work on current events?

[SN]: Well, I go back and forth, and in the middle of making these photographs, I made a video with Natalie Portman which was totally outside of these parameters. In fact, you don’t even know where the source of this culture is. It’s all in nature and very psychological, so I think it’s interesting. Consistently in my work, I always seem to have a footing in deeply socio-political work as an Iranian and someone who responds to socio-political realities that affect me directly. I also seem to thrive on works that are totally existential and have nothing to do with race, culture and gender etc. I seem to go back and forth, and I must say that the Arab Spring movement had a profound effect on me and the Iranian community, so I did feel compelled to pay tribute to this patriotism. Also, it must be having made so many films, I was becoming nostalgic for studio work, when I can use my hands. Now, I’m becoming nostalgic for making films and video so I sort of go back and forth in switching mediums.

Shirin Neshat studio, 2014. Photo by Christine Lee

Shirin Neshat in her studio, 2014. Photo by Christine Lee

The phrase “artist in exile” has come to signify many different notions in the art community. Could you tell me what this phrase means to you? And do you consider yourself as an artist in exile?

[SN]: Well the thing is I was not forced to exile, and there’s a finality to that that I’m not comfortable with. It’s more of a self-imposed exile. I’m more comfortable with [that term], and there is truth in it. I haven’t been back since 1996, but it’s probably not a very good idea for me to go back. It’s more of a personal choice, yet there’s a reality that the realm of politics forced on us that we don’t have many choices in, and this is not unique to me. I wish that like many people I could go home, visit my family, visit where I came from, but that choice is absent so I have to deal with it. But it’s not like the government has me on a blacklist. So for me, I would say it’s a self-imposed exile but in a way, in reality, it’s also has had advantages. I’ve learned to work nomadically, I’ve learned to be very independent, I tend to be very global in thinking, I belong to the world. So I lost a sense of purity of belonging. I go to Egypt, I go to Morocco, I go to Mexico. I think that nomadic is a better word than exile. In fact, who knows, maybe I can go back tomorrow, but I will still continue to be nomadic. I am not able to be fixated in one place.

Photography and film have been your main medium to convey your ideas. Is there any other medium you would like to explore?

[SN]: It’s been very interesting as I am now in the middle of collaborating with a dance choreographer. It’s the Dutch National Ballet, doing The Tempest. I think every time you have a new beginning, it’s like the same feeling of being thrilled but also really scared because this is an audience you are not familiar with, a language you are not familiar with. So again, it’s how to break down a story, without using any language. So I’m working together with the choreographer and video.

The choreographer, who is originally Polish, is the chief choreographer in the Dutch National Ballet and also the Warsaw National Ballet, and he approached me to collaborate with him one day. At the time, I was like, “ballet?!” For years he kept pursuing [me], and we met in Europe and I said “why not?”

We started to choose the story; The Tempest is about exile, colonialism, and it’s a fantastic story about storms but also a psychological space of men who are kind of in a space of exile. It’s just a fantastic story that can have a Middle Eastern twist to it. So, with the dramaturgist, also my husband who is involved in it, we broke down the story, we tried to read it, tried to understand and visualise it, and slowly it became a reality.

Right now, it’s opening in June of 2014 in Amsterdam. I’m extremely nervous but super excited because it’s asking a completely different artistic attention from me. It’s very technical. It’s a two-hour programme, and I have to keep in mind the music, the dancers, the set, and all the different screens we have, so it’s a very tedious project, but I enjoy it a lot. The way we are approaching it is trying to picture a relationship between what is happening on stage versus what is happening on video. Dance is so abstract, it’s all body movements, but with a video we can complete the narratives in a way for the audience to give more hints on the development of the story. Although there wouldn’t be a language, what we are doing with the dancers is [discovering] how the two things are able to work together to tell a story and have an aesthetic power. It has to be visually engaging.

Are there any new projects you are working on?

[SN]: I am working on the film about Oum Kulthoum. It reminds me so much about the Women Without Men film and the challenges we had. The film is very epic, very ambitious. It’s a period film. Again it’s a story about the relationship between the country and a woman artist, in the way that we can tell the story of the country through this woman. There’s this connection between art and politics, and mysticism through her music which is so fantastic and the political turmoil in the country, the revolutions and war. There’s a softness to the film because it’s so lyrical and so wonderful, but it’s going to be hardcore and brutal because it’s on revolutions and war. It’s already been already four years working on this film, and I truly believe that we will shoot this film, if not late 2014 then some time in 2015.

Christy, are there current or upcoming programmes that you would like to talk about at Robert Rauschenberg Foundation?

[CM]: In the past month, we hosted ten artists at the residency representing the Middle East as well as the United States (as it relates to Shirin’s show). These artists are a part of the ten artists every four to six week cycles in Captiva. In the coming month, we will be announcing a programme where Rauschenberg works will be pulled into the holdings of some of our country’s greatest museums. This is a wonderful announcement as we ensure broad access to Bob’s work.

It is the spirit of Bob’s work and his generous nature which defined this wonderful programme which Shirin has graciously participated in. We are thankful for her voice and for opening our eyes.

Christine Lee


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