Hend Al-Mansour: "An artist is her community’s spokesperson..." by Altered Esthetics

Born and raised in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia, Hend Al-Mansour currently resides in the Twin Cities and is a featured in Altered Esthetics’ new exhibition, Turbulent Identities, on view at The Southern Theater from 3/3 - 4/2/2017. All are invited to the Opening Reception on Friday, 3/3, from 5:00-7:00 pm. RSVP on Facebook.

Hend Al-Mansour, Facebook-I, 2013,  Screen printing on paper, 40 x 46 inches

Hend Al-Mansour, Facebook-I, 2013,  Screen printing on paper, 40 x 46 inches

Hend, you have referred to yourself as a “Minnesotan Transplant”. As an Arabic woman that has migrated to Minnesota, a predominantly White state, have you felt as if it has been difficult for your narrative to fit within the constructs of this state? What has living in Minnesota taught you?

I suffered from alienation and marginalization in my home country and that is why I sought another home in Minnesota. I am enjoying freedom of expression here. I also can address issues that are important to me: Gender justice and sexual independence. My artistic language however has been difficult to translate to my new audiences. I found myself often unexpectedly explaining images that Arab audience will take if for granted. I am still learning how to make art that can speak to both audiences. Living in Minnesota had expanded me personally and artistically.

Women are consistently featured in your works. What do they represent to you? What do you hope viewers will take away from your work?

My work seeks to restore social gender balance. I do this through telling stories about women who are sacred or iconic in the Arabic culture. Or by depicting the holy mosque in Mecca as a feminine goddess. I use the spiritual sphere as a forum because it is often from there that maleness are made superior.

Hend Al-Mansour, detail from Haneen, 2016, installation at Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College

Hend Al-Mansour, detail from Haneen, 2016, installation at Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College

Cultural appropriation is the central theme to Turbulent Identities, what is cultural appropriation to you?

I like it when my culture can inspire others. I don’t like it when that goes without credit. Sometimes the term is applied to any borrowing of other cultures even if it is done respectfully. I rather like cultural interactions and exchanging knowledge and ways of life. Cultures and individuals always do better when they grow outside of their traditional limits. And where do they get inspirations? From others around them of course. Sometimes, however, there is a tendency of the appropriator to annihilate her source. But in general that does not succeed or only succeed for a short while.

Do you believe it is possible to appreciate a culture without appropriating it? What advice would you give to humans unsure of how they can appreciate a friend, colleague or partner’s culture without appropriating?

Just acknowledge your inspiration. For example, the great Islamic Art is inspired by Byzantine and Roman art and all other local arts that the early Muslims settled in but the result was an incredible aesthetic vocabulary and priceless treasures that has its own character. This had worked on individual levels as well.

You have a degree in Art History. How has this study impacted your work? 

It made me pay more attention to the artmaking process. Where my art is coming from and how can I optimally present it. It also made me aware of the responsibility that I accept by becoming an artist. Not only responsibility of education and presenting visual knowledge but also of honest expression. An artist is her community’s spokesperson whose work represent others’ thoughts and feelings.

Hend working on an original pattern inspired by Islamic design.

Hend working on an original pattern inspired by Islamic design.

Who are some of your favorite authors, artists or directors that address these complex ideas of identity and cultural exchange?

Artist Shazia Sikandar. Artist Kehinde Wiley. Artist Hayv Kahraman. Artist Mona Hatoum. Poet Mahmoud Darwish. Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions and/or projects we should know about?

I have an exhibit that opens and runs at exactly the same dates as TI. That is why I am not here. It is at Eisemann Center in Richardson, TX. Closer to home I will be in a three women’s show at the Phipps Art Center in Hudson, WI in October this year.

Where can we find and follow you online?

www.hendalmansour.com

 

All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Shivani Vyas, edited by Sarah Kass.

Christopher E. Harrison: "Knowledge is the greatest teacher." by Altered Esthetics

Christopher E.  Harrison is a Twin Cities artist who is featured in Altered Esthetics’ new exhibition, Turbulent Identities, on view at The Southern Theater from 3/3 - 4/2/2017. All are invited to the Opening Reception on Friday, 3/3, from 5:00-7:00 pm. RSVP on Facebook.

Christopher E. Harrison, Masquerade II, 2014, Plaster, Collage on Chicken Wire, 11"x14"

Christopher E. Harrison, Masquerade II, 2014, Plaster, Collage on Chicken Wire, 11"x14"

You work in several mediums. Can you tell us more about the materials you use and how you choose them?

The materials I use vary depending on the piece. I try to stick to natural components like tempera paints, plaster, paper, inks, etc. I do this because I want to build sustainable materials into my practice, which then harken back to the organic themes that are prevalent in my work. I do use acrylic paint which is an exception because of its low toxicity and quick drying time.

In addition to making art, you also work as an arts educator. How do these two roles influence each other?

As an educator, providing the community with the service of discovering and appreciating the arts in its many forms is very important to me. Its an intellectual as well as an aesthetic benefit to society that we all as citizens should strive to uphold. I’m always learning from being in the space around great art and processing this information to give to patrons and this in turn informs my practice in the studio.

As of recently, you have described a change in your approach moving from dimensional/figurative art to a more non-objective, biomorphic/organic form of art. The works featured in Turbulent Identities demonstrate your earlier style, can you elaborate on what inspired you with these works? Do these themes show through your current works?

There’s many inspirations inherent in my work, whether it be politically, socially or environmentally based. Although the earlier Masquerade series pieces are figurative as compared to my current work, the thread for me still deals with the ideal of “otherness,” meaning that I create around images that could be seen as outside of the what is considered normal or obvious. As a person of color, this is a concept that I live with on a everyday basis. So whether it’s through my older figurative works or abstract forms I use diverse optics like collage or disparate materials to tell those stories of differences coming together to create new experiences of seeing the world.

Christopher giving a tour at the Walker Art Center. Photo by J. Wren Supak.

Christopher giving a tour at the Walker Art Center. Photo by J. Wren Supak.

Cultural appropriation is the central theme to Turbulent Identities, what is cultural appropriation to you?

I define cultural appropriation as recognizing an aspect(s) of an alternate culture and adapting or absorbing it into the greater, more dominant culture for the greater culture’s own benefit, so much so that the origins of this aspect becomes minimized or forgotten. For Turbulent Identities, I feel that the show’s theme has artists challenge cultural definitions through their work and explore what a true diverse world looks like.

Do you believe it is possible to appreciate a culture without appropriating it? What advice would you give to humans unsure of how they can appreciate a friend, colleague or partner’s culture without appropriating?

I do believe you can show culture appreciation as long as the history and origin of the culture are realized and shared in a respectful manner, even to the point where aspects can be borrowed to create some more interesting. The advice I would give is to always reference the source first. Knowledge is the greatest teacher. Learn what you can from people or information that’s available so you’ll know what is celebratory or taboo. If some cultures hold their identities as more sacred than others, respect that by leaving it alone!

Who are some of your favorite authors, artists or directors that address these complex ideas of identity and cultural exchange?

I enjoy James Baldwin’s writing, in particular Native Son, a great tome for exploring the journey of a Black man’s self discovery. I’m also inspired by Jean Michel Basquiat’s work for it’s in-your-face expressive visual sense of urban urgency that is still potent today. I’m also a fan of artists Joan Miro whimsy, Romare Bearden’s grittiness, and indigenous arts from the Pre-Columbian era, Asia and Africa.

Christopher E. Harrison, Constellation Conception, 2016, Acrylic, tempera on raw canvas, 6' x 6'

Christopher E. Harrison, Constellation Conception, 2016, Acrylic, tempera on raw canvas, 6' x 6'

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions and/or projects we should know about?

I have a show coming up in July at the Nemeth Art Center in Park Rapids, MN that will showcase my abstract art based on the themes of my creating an imaginary alien race.

Where can we find and follow you online?

My website is http://www.harrisonartstudio.net

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/christopher.e.harrison

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/charrchr

Twitter - https://twitter.com/@ceh8ball

 

All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Shivani Vyas, edited by Sarah Kass.

Shivani Vyas on Turbulent Identities by Altered Esthetics

Shivani Vyas is a Curatorial Assistant with Altered Esthetics. She is directing the upcoming Ae exhibition, Turbulent Identities, which will be on view at the Southern Theater 3/3 - 4/2/2017. We are accepting submissions for Turbulent Identities through 1/29/2017: http://www.alteredesthetics.org/form/submit-art-upcoming-exhibition  

Nalini Malani, Childhood fears, 2009, Numerical pigmentary print, 54,6 x 76 cm

Nalini Malani, Childhood fears, 2009, Numerical pigmentary print, 54,6 x 76 cm

Shivani, give us a brief bio: who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

I am originally from Washington State and I am finishing up my Art History major at St. Olaf College. I’m currently working at Flaten Art Museum as a collections and museum assistant. I’m also an intern for Gallery 71 and obviously Altered Esthetics as well.

You are currently a student at St. Olaf College. Why did you decide to study art?

My interest in art manifested through my volunteer work at Seattle Art Museum during my sophomore year of high school. My passion in art comes from its powerful potential to initiate discussion, educate and influence. For me, the most important part of art is how the juxtaposition and display of artwork plays a huge part in the way it is received by audiences. Today my passion focuses on historical accuracy of artifacts and the narratives that museums emphasize through curation.

Photo of Shivani Vyas

Photo of Shivani Vyas

The intention of this exhibition is to create a discussion around cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. What was your inspiration for the Turbulent Identities exhibition?

My inspiration for this exhibition comes from personal experience. As an Indian American brought up in Seattle, Washington, I found it difficult to balance my two identities. I felt I was American, but not American enough, and when I went to India I found that I was Indian, but not Indian enough. It is painful to remember the time when I was ashamed of being Indian to the point where the fact that my parents carried their culture through their accents and style would bother me. I found myself trying to assimilate into American society by hiding my accent and adapting my food choices so they were more closely aligned with the less-fragrant foods that most students brought to school.  I felt the need to closet a part of my identity that I deeply appreciate today. So having to understand how these two identities have shaped me into who I am today took a long time and it still continues to be a point of reflection for me. These experiences have made me sensitive to the way different cultures and traditions are misrepresented and commodified in much of Euro-American/Anglo-American society. Many immigrants and people of color experience microaggressions with regard to the way they dress and speak, so it is frustrating to see mass media trivialize these exact traditions for the purpose of profit. This frustration collided with my passion for art this past year when I was studying art in context in London and one of my classes focused heavily on the narratives enforced in museums. Understanding how colonization silenced the narratives of the colonized at such institutions helped me realize that the appropriation of cultures and the looting of goods and narratives are rarely acknowledged. This exhibition seeks to create a space in which such narratives are recognized and addressed.

What do you hope artists gain by participating in this exhibition?

I hope that artists can use this space as a platform where they can express their cultural identities through art and constructive dialogue.

What do you hope viewers will take away from this exhibition?

I hope that viewers leave this exhibition with a better understanding of cultural appropriation and the urge to continue discussion outside of the exhibit space.

Kehinde Wiley, Saint Adelaide, 2014, Stained Glass, 96 X 43.5"

Kehinde Wiley, Saint Adelaide, 2014, Stained Glass, 96 X 43.5"

Who are some of your favorite artists that address these complex ideas of identity and cultural exchange?

Shahzia Sikander, Nalini Malani, Kehinde Wiley, Aidan Salkhova

To submit work to Turbulent Identities, complete the web form by 1/29/2017: http://www.alteredesthetics.org/form/submit-art-upcoming-exhibition  

 

Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass