Taking up this issue’s theme of ‘The Diary of an Artist in Confinement Interesting Times’, Selections invited artists to share their thoughts on work, art and life in general since the beginning of the year. We guided them with the following questions:
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
If you were to write a note, a reminder, a memory to yourself, or to the world, in a time capsule, and you were to open it 15 years from now, what would it say?
If you had to describe the year 2020 in brief, what would it sound like?
Some of you have dedicated this year so far to working continuously in your studio; some others have found themselves completely demotivated and have halted everything. What have you been doing? Please describe in detail and share with us the work you have been doing during this period.
The pandemic has changed our perception of time and our relationship to our homes. What is your experience?
How do you see the future of art?
Have you been reading?
Some chose to respond in a diary form or with visual storytelling; others provided their answers at varying length and in different ways. Each provides a unique insight into and reflection of the most extraordinary period of our lives to date.
Thinking positively, 2020 is not an apocalyptic year, but a whistle-blower about unlawful and immoral activities by humankind on Earth. Two events this year indicate that. First, the pandemic of Covid-19 shows how humans violate Earth and Nature. Secondly, the Beirut Port toxic explosion (one example of millions) shows how humans violate humans.
Above is my bracelet which I got at the test centre in Bahrain when I had Covid-19 septimates.
Exhibition Centre, Bahrain, as a Covid test location in 2020. It was previously a location for Art Fair Bahrain and cultural festivals. Taken with my mobile phone camera.
I had exhibited my work/project with my master students at Exhibition Centre, Bahrain in 2017-18 as an artist and academic/scholar. But, ironically, I re-visited it and spent one night there in March 2020 as a Covid-19 patient.
Humans Violate Nature/Earth
Lessons from my solitude in 2020.
Being human has a new significance in light of climate change. Our failure to establish a connection with other species has led us to live in a way that is resulting in mass extinction; we are making the planet unliveable, not only for ourselves but for other beings.
Where humans can encounter other creatures and engage these creatures in a kind of dialogue. Sometimes this dialogue takes the form of the twittering of a bird, and sometimes it takes the form of the silent gaze of plants. But in either case it depends upon the recognition that we, humans, are all created beings. It is our creatureliness that makes it possible for us to form relationships with trees, flowers, birds, and soil. Recognising that we are creatures not only changes our relationship to each other; it makes it possible to open new lines of communication with other species, not only with each other but with other created beings on this planet, whether birds, plants stones or mountains. And maybe that will change how we live.
During my solitude I searched by my body (eyes) and mind (brain) for the difference between the green of plants, which is green because of the chlorophyll they contain (deep necessity), and the green we humans create both in our use of language and in our activities, not only in art but in everyday life. And that clarifies something about our relation to both the natural world and the material world we fashion for just ourselves.
I think that all art—ancient, present, future—is a “citation” of what we encounter in the natural world. If that can be understood by humans, it could help them to get rid of their foolishness!
At my studio, on the table, I create for myself a small empire of neglected material around me, to question my existence as a human through them! Image taken with my mobile phone camera, 2020.
Human violence and wars on Earth will never be stopped, unless by an apocalypse.
“قَالَ ٱهْبِطُواْ بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ ۖ وَلَكُمْ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ مُسْتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَٰعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍۢ”
الاعراف اية -24
Gaze of Victims
The Beirut toxic explosion of 2020 evokes my memory or war! I tasted wars physically for three decades in Iraq. What I have been left with is a ‘Gaze of the Victims’. Even though their photos were taken in a moment from their life, their gazes are imbued with foreknowledge of an imminent and harrowing fate. Their eyes seemed to follow and haunt me.
Gaze of the Victims, 2020
‘…which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead’’
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, P9
*But this photograph: the return of what?
If I were to keep a visual note, as a reminder not just to myself but for all humans in 15 years’ time from now, I would keep the names/photographs of all human victims who were killed by humans, imagining to keep them as an embryo stored in a sub-zero state, preserved in the womb of time until a moment in the better time of future when the embryo is brought back to life. Video (file no 5)
After this pandemic will be over (post- pandemic), how will people scale and order their priorities? And where will art, galleries and museums be in that order?
Hanaa Mallalah studied fine art in Baghdad with an emphasis on graphics and painting. In 2005, her thesis concerning the logic order in Mesopotamian drawing earned her a PhD in the philosophy of painting. She has taught and lectured widely at several faculties of the University of Fine Arts in Baghdad. At the end of 2006, she left Iraq for an artist residency at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and from there followed the call of a fellowship offered by SOAS in London in 2008. Mallalah held a fellowship at the Chelsea College of Art in London from 2011 to 2013. Currently, and temporarily, she works as associate professor at the Royal University for Women (RUW) in Bahrain and concentrates on research. Her work graces numerous private collections, art centres and museums, including the Centre for Modern Art, Baghdad, the Jordan National Museum Amman, The British Museum, The Imperial War Museum in London, The Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, The Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah and the Ramzi Dalloul Foundation in Beirut.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.