Syrian-born artist Diana Al-Hadid is known for her two-dimensional sculptures and artworks that transform the industrial materials like bronze, steel, fiberglass and wood in evocative visions drawn from cosmology, cartography, folklore and antiquity. The artist, who lived and worked in Brooklyn in the past For 16 years she has witnessed the transformation of the borough over those years and in many ways her works are about time, its passing and how this manifests itself in brand-making.
Today, Al-Hadid splits her time between the city and upstate New York, where she purchased a home in 2019. Currently, she is also in the process of building a studio for that property. Al-Hadid is prolific. Currently, she is participating in an ongoing residency with Brooklyn-based Dieu Donné, a non-profit cultural institution dedicated to advancing manual papermaking processes in contemporary art. ThNext November, the artist will present his highly anticipated first exhibition.Women, bronze and dangerous things» at the Kasmin Gallery in New York, presenting a body of work five years in the making. The exhibition, which runs from November 2 to December 22, 2023, promises to feature a selection of new works, including a series of painterly wall works and totemic sculptures that rise in the same way they are planted. Coinciding with the Kasmin exhibition, Al-Hadid will also be presented at GNV Triennial, which opens on December 3.
Before these exhibitions, we visited the Al-Hadid Museum Brooklyn studio, a space awash in splattered pigments, sculptural detritus and a myriad of other materials, and spoke to the artist about the guidelines of his practice and the ideas and experiments at play in his new body of work works.
Your work has remained aesthetically consistent over the years, capturing your hand and marks over time. Can you talk about your interests and practice?
I often think about the glacial pace of my work or the long list of materials I’ve been working with since graduate school. There are basic constructions which coincide in their raw form with our contemporary world. In a way, I think there are formal or perhaps subconscious constraints that have remained consistent (in my practice). I work a lot with lines and planes, pours or drips, and things that happen over time. There are metaphorical concepts that interest me and that we live with as a society.
What do you mean when you say you are interested in the metaphorical concepts that we live with as a society?
Tthese are the ways we move, shape and shape the world. We use wood, metal, steel and contemporary materials, but the processes are ancient in many ways. All my work returns to art histories, narrative histories and common tropes: ascensions, aerial and underground. We sometimes understand metaphorical concepts as a cultural construct and sometimes as a bodily or cognitive construct. They are all cognitive. The title of the show is “Women, bronze and dangerous things,» which is inspired by a book first published in 1987, titled the same way Women, fire and dangerous things by George Lakoff (born 1941), American philosopher and cognitive linguist. The title of the book comes from an Australian Aboriginal dialect and refers to a word that describes women, fire, water, certain animals and dangerous things. This offers an incredible shift in thinking about how we see the world and the language we use is intrinsically linked and reinforced time and time again. One of the metaphorical concepts explored by Lakoff is the notion that the unknown is in place and the known is off. In English we could say: “What’s new?” » or “It’s up in the air.” Language plays a role in how we perceive our living bodies and how our society makes associations.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the different visual experiences people have linguistically, depending on their native language and other written languages they may or may not know. For example, even saying, “What’s up?” » when translated into another language, it may not have the intended meaning. These errors of understanding can also occur when talking about spirituality.
You hit all my notes. This series contains religious elements, and the reason this book resonated so deeply in my bones is because of these irregularities between cultures and minds. We always want to try to make contact, to get closer to something, to understand it. I was born in Syria, my native language is Arabic, and I grew up in Ohio, a very Christian, white…but loving and wonderful place. I often look at works from the Middle Ages, both Islamic and Christian. I look to the 1550s for a lot of my references and always get there. Right now, after 2020, I have a child, I’m no longer an emerging artist, and these are facts about me. Moving upstate (at this point in my life) I learned about plants, roots, and trees. I constantly listen to Arabic music. Life is such a negotiation as an immigrant; discover how much of yourself to make public and how much of your story to keep. I returned to Syria at 13 and I often think about what you mentioned, about that approximation, that lack of connection in a conversation, and how language can lend itself to poetic and cultural ideas that otherwise would not be understood. I’m constantly aware of it since I didn’t grow up there, even though it’s my blood. This is something I’m still working on as a reference.
Thinking about roots metaphorically and literally, everything seems to make sense in your work – things that are connected to the earth. Do you also think about the lack of space? How do materials inform your process?
Yes, exactly that, immaterial spaces. I made a visit to Smithsonian and spent time looking at Islamic and German miniatures. They almost look like fortune-telling devices: people could read their future on them. I am now at Dieu Donné as part of an ongoing residency and working with paper pulp is a large part of the show. I work in bronze and I work in paper. I’ve never worked with paper before, I tend to do large scale drawings on mylar.
Does this mean that before creating a sculpture, we don’t draw it first?
The sculptures start off very casually. There is a work intended for the exhibition which is a very small piece which will be in bronze. These are jasmine roots. Jasmine is the flower of Syria and it is very nostalgic. All my aunts have jasmine and I had jasmine plants that died. I took what was left in the pot, the roots, dipped them in wax and hung it up. I’ve had so many root bound plants and learned how those roots grew to the edge (of a pot) and locked themselves in. It struck me as a metaphor for the immigrant experience, for those tightly wound roots where you have to learn to grow in new territory, new soil. It seemed so essential to me.
It’s beautiful. The roots can be confined or allowed to spread if planted in the ground. What else can we expect from the show?
The series draws on many sources, but I think there are some common historical threads, including Medusa, inspired by Greek mythology. To return to the idea that unknown is in place and the known is at the bottom, the gallery is a cavernous space, almost underground. A stacked and imposing sculpture will be installed in the main gallery, rising upwards and another will be on the roof, a sort of ascent, an unexplained narrative.
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