- Published on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 09:30
- Category: Art
What is Art? In contemporary society do we still cling to the idea that Art is only a canvas, framed and hung on a gallery wall? Or a sculpture fully rendered and placed on a pedestal? Do we allow for new forms to infiltrate our established definitions of Art or do we keep them sequestered in the margins?
Adel Abidin, a contemporary Iraqi artist working out of Helsinki, Finland views Art as his communicative tool — a tool that allows him to express his argument through the visual language. His work is as varied as they come, ranging from photography, to contemporary sculptural elements and mixed media, as well as provocative and ideology-bending video installations.
Abidin sat down with Aslan Media to discuss what it means to be an artist in the digital age, how his education influenced his art, and what life is like in the diaspora of contemporary Iraq.
Aslan Media: Tell me about your childhood. You were born, raised and educated in Iraq. What was life like growing up there and how has it impacted your life as an adult?
Adel Abidin: Like all children, I used to think the only way to grow up is the way that I did. Iraq was an ideal place, as I did not have an alternative vision. When I traveled and visited other parts of the world, I viewed my upbringing as conservative but still very beautiful and based on love and respect for the family, unlike the Western world. But I also uncovered the negative aspects of being dependent on family.
AM: Were your parents artists or artistic in any way? Were they involved in the visual arts? What influenced you as a child to begin your work in the art world?
AA: My parents still think until now that I should find another job! They never understood my art or even tried to understand it. They do not see the arguments I try to communicate in my work, so I have long ago given up on involving them in the process.
AM: You started your educational career at the Academy of Fine Arts Baghdad, and received an additional degree from Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki, Finland. How much do you feel your training in university influenced your artistic aesthetic?
AA: There is no doubt that my university education influenced my artistic aesthetic. This is especially true for me as my Master’s in Finland was in Time and Space Art. But, I think any book you read or any information that you collect on the web influences your aesthetic.
AM: Do you feel that to function as an artist in contemporary society that a degree was a beneficial undertaking? Would it affect the art you create?
AA: No, I don't think so. I think historically, being an artist never relied on a degree. We know many people with the highest degrees who never managed to get anywhere with their art, and some without formal educations who are accomplished artists... Real education comes from being aware and perceptive of the surrounding world. It is based on the information that we constantly gain from our environment.
AM: What made you leave Iraq? What made you choose Finland?
AA: I moved to Finland for personal reasons. When that reason became obsolete, I decided to return to Baghdad, but the threat of Mr. Bush propelled me to complete my art education. I earned my MFA in Finland in 2005.
AM: To what extent do you feel your Iraqi culture and heritage has influenced your art aesthetic?
AA: It has greatly influenced my aesthetic. I believe the greatest works should be solidly based on local, or personal issues, but also have a universal theme. I always strive for that fine balance, and I believe that I have achieved it so far in my work.
AM: Who do you create your artwork for? Do you have a specific audience in mind? Do you create just for yourself and people happen to see your work?
AA: As humans, we have a basic need to express ourselves. Art is the only tool that I use to express myself. So I begin at that level. But I also consider my viewers by trying to deliver the work in the most universal way as I can, so anyone from any background can feel my production of meaning and interact with it. I believe art is a social act and that the viewer needs to be involved in this process to complete the cycle of communication, but I never work for a specific audience.
AM: What is your impression of Middle Eastern art scene today? What other artists are you a fan of from the Middle East?
AA: First, I do not agree about the term “scene,” as I consider art is an individual act. I am a fan of whoever is able to engage me intellectually with his or her work.
AM: Have those favorites changed over the years?
AA: No one stays in the same position, even after death; people's memories change depending on the point of view that you have at a specific moment. The more knowledge you gain, you perceive those moments in a completely different way.
AM: In your own words, what has the response been to your work? Do you have any interesting accounts of how someone reacted to your art in either a positive of negative way?
AA: I like to hear both, whether positive or negative. They push me to review my mistakes and try to always do better. Imagine, if there were no critics, then there would be no development.
AM: What has been your personal favorite work that you have created?
AA: All works that I have presented are favorites to me, at the time of producing them the most, otherwise I won’t show them.
AM: You utilize technology in your artistic practice in pieces like “I am Sorry,” “Baghdad Travels” and various works using film. Do you find that ability to incorporate technology in your creative process freeing?
AA: I see technology as a tool made and delivered to us to use whether in art or in anything else. I do not see any difference (in the expressive process) between, for example, the computer and the brush. So if I have a concept I want to explore and technology is the best tool to use, I will go for it.
AM: Do you feel that you will ever reach a point where you will become bored with art?
AA: I do not think so... Making art for me is creating arguments in an aesthetic way, and that I will never get bored with...
AM: With all the unrest in the region right now, and the revolutions of the Arab Spring, do you feel these themes or issues that relate to revolution have appeared in your work?
AA: I haven’t worked on those issues yet, as it is the most beautiful art piece I have ever seen, made with the collaboration of millions of people. A piece that made us believe that every human has the right to dream and they have a chance to accomplish that dream. What a great work! I am sure that it will influence my own work in one way or another.
AM: Though there is a great deal of beauty in your work, do you also feel your work is controversial? How?
AA: Yes, because of my intention for it to be controversial... I think that the work of art has to involve the viewer in an interactive way, and leave an impression or thought with him or her.
AM: Have you ever been in a situation where your artwork has been censored?
AA: Not really. But, once in New York, I had a solo show and they refused to show Ping Pong, because it might offend American taste because of the woman’s position. Funny, right? Also, I faced semi-censoring for my work Tasty, but nothing serious.
AM: To you, what does it mean to be a diaspora artist from the Middle East on a global scale?
AA: I will tell you that there is nothing better than living in your own home country, but being abroad gives you the chance to see and get to know the other, and that will lead to you to a third, hybrid culture, that becomes your own. Sometimes, it's good to see the full part of the glass. Adel Abidin’s work is currently on view at Continuity at the Center for Contemporary Arts Zavod Celia Celje, in Celje, Slovenia, Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and the Venice Biennal 2011, Iraq Pavilion. For more information on Adel Abidin, please visit www.adelabidin.com
By Erin Joyce, Aslan Media Art Editor
IMAGES FROM ABIDIN'S COLLECTION: