I noticed that much of your work contains themes of social justice, and activism. Was there a turning point when you decided to center your work around these themes, or has your work always been this way?
I’ve always explored social issues, but maybe not so overtly. Even when I was in undergrad, I knew that I wanted to make work about understanding my own identity, and how that sat within the larger socio political climates. I think most of my work has been centered around exploring how our identities are created and affected by larger power structures, though I don’t think that’s the entirety of my practice.
So when you are exploring ideas for your artwork, where do you usually start? Do you do research? Do you just dive into a medium, or do you find people around you who influence you in some way?
That’s a really good question. It’s a little bit of everything. Most of my work starts with a feeling, something that’s very personal. As I’m working through that, I do research about materials, history of a certain topic, and other artists who are exploring similar themes. I also ask people I trust for feedback when I make something. The feeling often ends up taking the form of a question. When I was making Small Identities, the tiles with the ID photos on them, I was really interested in the question of, “How does home and architecture translate into the current political climate, and rhetoric, and how can I reinsert these immigrant Muslims back into the visual language in American homes today?” The arabesque tiles that I’m using are a really popular motif in American homes, used in kitchens and bathrooms, so that’s something that I was really interested in.
I did notice that those tiles looked familiar, though I couldn’t initially pinpoint where they came from. That kind of familiarity seems to make your message more resounding.
I see them in people’s homes all the time, and it reminded me of my childhood. I grew up seeing these shapes, and it reminded me of home. Yet, to see this in people’s homes around here, and not feel fully at home, was something that I really wanted to tease out through the work. That’s what drew me to the tiles.
When people view your art, what do you hope they will experience, or what questions do you hope they will ask?
As I’m working through a lot of these themes, and learning that when I make work that is deeply personal, it can be very universal because people can relate to the intimate struggles in a very profound way. I’m just hoping that I can draw the connections between the personal and the political, historical, and cultural lines. For example, the language that I’m using from the supreme court travel ban. I’m extracting that language, the word “alien” for example, and rearranging it in a way to strip it of the specificity of the travel ban, and drawing connections with the history of the United States, how the U.S. has a long standing history of violence and exclusion, and how these words, taken out of the document, are actually pointing towards a larger truth about our society and history.
It’s really just about drawing parallels with the present and the past, and how
what people are going through right now may seem like this is new, but really, structurally, it’s all connected.
Somewhere in your artist statement, you mention that you are very detail oriented. I notice that your work is very clean, and smooth, so I wanted to ask, where did this process, or style originate?
I’m very meticulous in other parts of my life as well, and not just my work. In my practice, I am really concerned with not over-decorating work or the ideas, and just using the materials that convey the message clearly and strongly. So, I’m drawn to mostly minimalist styles, because of how they can clearly and subtly convey the themes I’m working. What I’m really thinking about is, “How can I say the most with the least amount of things?” My work is monochromatic, because I’m thinking about how I can make use of the black, white, and gray conceptually.
It does feel like your use of black, gray, and white ties into your messages of social structure, as well as the current divisive political climate.
As a spiritual practice for myself, I’m trying to live more in the gray area, and not talk about extremes or think in extremes. It’s not always easy, but drawing parallels with how often our identities are politicized and stripped down to these black and white narratives, something that I experience a lot personally, is why my work is so politically and socially engaged. We are all complex beings. All of us have really complex histories, ancestors, and stories and personal narratives. It’s not black and white. Your life isn’t black and white, and mine isn’t either. But, identities tend to be politicized and talked about in that way. So, I’m really interested in how I can make use of the monochromatic scale in a way to talk about the complexity of these issues.
In your artist statement, you briefly talk about feelings of alienation, and not belonging. When you have those feelings, where do you find the inspiration to keep moving forward with your art?
I think that all artists have that moment of feeling stuck, and it’s a constant battle of having to push through a lot of those feelings. I think making the work itself creates a sanctuary of belonging in that gray space that I talked about earlier. My understanding of belonging is changing as I’m making the work; I’m growing in my own practice, and also in my own spiritual journey. I don’t think belonging is about nationality, place, or geographically. I think of belonging now mostly in the metaphysical or spiritual realm. Belonging within oneself and creating meaning as you go. Because everything changes and what you thought you belonged to also changes. While I’m really drawn to notions of place and home, these are still imagined recollections that I’m working with, that I’m incorporating into my current understandings of belonging.
So, what keeps me going through the doubts and through the feelings of not belonging is really just the possibility of miraculously ending up at another feeling that feels like belonging in a different way. Transcending these limited understandings of belonging.
There’s also a really strong and powerful outcome of just creating work that is rooted in your personal narrative, but is also about community and what is beyond yourself. Creating this work is really showing me how, even when we feel like we don’t belong personally, collectively everyone is seeking belonging. My work, Small Identities, has really brought me closer to this understanding of individual belonging and communal belonging. It’s a really intimate and interesting dance that happens between the two.