Interview with the artist by
Ana Finel Honigman
Q: When did you discover that you were an artist?
A: I was born an artist. From the beginning, I expressed myself through imagery. I am very productive. In two decades, I have created more them 2,500 artworks and there are still two decades to be catalogued.
Q: How has your work evolved throughout your career?
A: I didn’t like feeling that I was living in ways that I already knew. I suspected myself of carrying on life in Brazil by doing the same things and producing the same kind of art. I was concerned about repeating myself. I always look for new challenges. In fact, the challenge of starting from the beginning again and again in different places made my life difficult, but it allowed me to experiment and research new and greater possibilities. I learned about new cultures, materials, and means of expression.
Q: How do your artistic aesthetic, intellectual concerns and creative practice represent your Brazilian roots?
A: I believe that we all carry our personal histories and cultures within ourselves. A big part of an artist’s creative universe develops during childhood, but a mature artist incorporates and articulates the new references accumulated in life.
Q: Expanding from your understanding of artistic maturity, what are the specific challenges and benefits of being a mature woman artist?
A: Being a woman artist has never bothered me and it has never been a reason for concern. The benefits of being a more mature artist are the same as being a mature person. As we mature, we become more self-aware. I’ve become even more comfortable about resisting trends and just being inspired by my own imagery. Our world values youth and newness. Experience isn’t valued. Instead of building an identity gradually, based on solid commitments, people follow their drive for quick fame and fortune. I’ve never looked for such quick solutions. I’m now able to look backwards upon my long journey as an artist and understand what was relevant and what was not. I can say, with confidence, that I’ve gained a feeling of fulfilment!
Q: Do you feel that you have a sufficiently supportive international network of peers?
A: I have been mostly alone in my journey. As in life, meeting our peers is a rare occurrence. I feel there is a lack of generosity and that most people lack genuinely open hearts. Finding true peers is hard work and requires a long commitment. I have moved too often to be able to build the necessary roots for finding a real peer group.
Q: Can you please describe the various ethnic influences in your work? Your art incorporates components of African, Middle-Eastern and classical Western traditions. How do these elements interplay in your art?
A: Everything in the universe is connected, and there is the collective unconsciousness. I therefore use images that influenced me in my past or the ones I have created. I sometimes see them as in a nonsensical dream, but I combine them, creating harmony.
Q: Can you tell me how Brazil incorporates different cultural heritages and influences into its regional artistic identity?
A: We had an important artistic movement in the1920s in Brazil called Semana de 22 or Semana de Arte Moderna. The movement stemmed from an event in São Paulo, held in February 1922, that celebrated modernism. The Manifesto Antropofagico, written by Oswald de Andrade, addressed the problem of Brazil’s lack of identity under European imperialism. Since then, we have absorbed even more foreign cultural influences. Take food, for example. We have adopted Arabic food, Japanese food, dishes originating with the African slaves, etc. Although Portuguese is a Greco-Roman language, we use words taken from African languages and borrow words from Arabic as well. If we like a name, it doesn’t matter what the origin is and we will call our children by that name, as happened with my own name, for instance. We celebrate Catholic rituals mixed with African rituals. Local thinkers might combine various philosophical thoughts, thereby creating integration. Our syncretism demonstrates a cultural acceptance of alien traditions and the freedom to be open to the new.
Q: What drew you to create a project working with Bedouin women for your Symphoniae series?
A: When I arrived in the U.A.E at the end of 2014, I asked myself, ‘what kind of a place is this?’ I then started my research, going to local libraries to satiate my curiosity. There, I found literature about the Gulf Region and examined ancient books, including those about cartography and various topographical maps. Eventually, my research drew me to the “General Women’s Union, Heritage and Craft Centre”. This Union is devoted to presenting the histories and details of different craft techniques developed by Bedouin tribes in their efforts to adapt to the desert environment using only its natural resources.
Q: Did this research help you reflect on your own culture and history?
A: Yes, I felt like an outsider. I thought of myself as being, perhaps, like the Europeans who arrived in Brazil in 1500. I started to reflect on what ‘being a traveller’ means in our globalized world. How do we define a ‘traveller’ nowadays?
Q: What conclusion did you reach? How do you define a ‘traveller’?
A: A traveller is someone wants to immerse himself or herself into the local culture, interact with the locals, and be open to experiencing the new. Although we can now travel the world with great mobility, I hope that we will never listen to the same music or wear the same shoes, so that we never abandon our traditions and the world remains a colourful tapestry full of contrasts. Otherwise, everything would be uniform, monotonous.
Q: How does your work connect to this description of ‘a traveller’ to you?
A: There are several angles concerning the universal and extemporal, that are part of humankind’s existential condition. My artworks express a holistic point of view rather than a reductive vision.
Q: Please tell me what brought you to Dubai? Do you have family in the region?
A: The funny thing is that my husband is a satellite engineer and he ended up working here in Abu Dhabi. He’s a scientist, a brilliant mind! We both see the universe but use different perspectives!
Q: In my experiences as a curator in Dubai and as arts editor of a magazine focused exclusively on Middle-Eastern artists, I appreciate the historic, religious and cultural reasons why “calligraphic abstraction” dominates the region’s art scene. How do you think your work fits within that tradition and relates with local taste?
A: My work fits within and relates to the local traditions. Although it is not religious, it is connected to spirituality. I’m interested in the human presence, the human touch, in relationships that are built gradually and slowly and in their cultural dimensions. We are living in a time that prefers short – term solutions to a long-term perspective. This is related to the production process, but also to the value of human presence, motion, pleasure, friendship and also time for philosophy. I believe that a spiritual sense within expanded time would bring harmony between mankind, nature and the universe.
Q: Do you have a relationship with a God or a higher power? Do you practice your spirituality through any form of prayer or is art your form of spiritual observance?
A: In my opinion, an art piece possesses a kind of magical energy in itself, and I do believe the spiritual exists in art. Yes, there is a mystery, and I believe there is a higher power.
Q: How do the materials and colors in Symphoniae relate to your previous work?
A: In the 1990’s, I made leather mosaics and on top of this extinct animal, I painted vivid still lifes, thus creating an overlap of contrasting ideas. In subsequent works, I overlapped transparencies to create a deeper view into an object, and by doing this I also created a multiplication of colours. Back then, I worked with synthetic materials and stitched them with fine nylon threads, as I did, for example, for an installation called Mysterium esse revelandum. Currently, I appropriate from the AL Khous, carrying on the dialogue started by the Bedouin
women, thereby creating a mosaic. Mosaics are part of the ancient Greco-Roman tradition, from Mesopotamian, and they are a decorative element in the Arabic world. Now I use cane panels, which remind me of the Muxarabi – Mashrabiya (ةیبرشم) – an architectonic pattern that Brazil inherited from Portugal, which in turn was inherited from the Arab world.
Q: Why have you picked astrology as your conceptual theme for this series?
A: I am fascinated by the sinuous spiralled shape that moves continuously and gradually in a widening curve. It is like the cosmic awareness of evolution on individual and collective scales. In astronomy, the spiral shape means the spark of knowledge, the understanding of the universe in constant motion. I hope the mysteries of our existence make us reflect on the meaning of life. There is always the question: Why is it that we simply don’t exist? This reflects the anguish about our own salvation.
Ana Finel Honigman holds a doctorate in History of Art from Oxford University. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, Artnet, ArtNews, the New York Times, Texte zur Kunst, Wall Street Journal, several international editions of Vogue, and similar publications. Dr. Finel Honigman was a founding editor of Alef magazine, based in Dubai.