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, 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.
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.
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?
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview written by Shivani Vyas, edited by Sarah Kass.