Interview: Dana Hassan
Luca Curci talks with Dana Hassan during Venice International Art Fair 2020 at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Dana Hassan was born in Beirut amid civil war and political instability. She still lives and works in a city that she loves despite everything. Dana’s passion for art began earlier in her childhood where she used to spend summertime with her family at a small village in Mount Lebanon, sketching with a piece of charcoal under a tree, some of Rodin’s sculptures. She grew that love for art throughout the years with some encouragement from her teachers at school. Even after completing her BA in Business Administration at the American University of Beirut, she resumed her art studies at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts (ALBA) where she completed her BA in Illustration and Comics. Dana works today at the intersection of conceptual art and storytelling. As a communication consultant, she believes that art can be a powerful way to communicate and engage with communities on global matters by making a strong impact, changing perceptions, or calling for action. In October 2019, Dana was shortlisted among 15 international artists to help raise awareness on the impacts of disaster and environmental changes on our communities and societies. Her latest work, If Not Now, When? was featured in The Art of Resilience curated exhibition at the World Bank headquarter-Washington DC. Dana was, also, a second prize winner at The International Festival of Comics in Beirut in 2004.
Luca Curci – What are you currently working on?
Dana Hassan – I am currently developing a series of works that help to retrace the collective memory of my city Beirut. Delving into Beirut’s collective memory, the works aim to reignite this nostalgic feeling, sentimental yearning, and remembrance of particular places, times, and persons from the past. The project was launched in times of COVID, when I came to the realization how tremendous this pandemic is likely to impact our lives, as well as challenge our perceptions of what back to normal should be. Wall Calls for Peace is one of the first works. The three-dimensional collage reflects on Beirut’s cut and torn urban areas and mixed identities. Looking at urban walls as the most important elements that define social interactions and the relationships between a city and its people; I went exploring how those torn down walls in the streets of Beirut can greatly influence the city’s collective memory and give my city a brand new identity. By overlaying random urban areas’ multifaceted traits and drawing on an eclectic mix of subject matters, languages, cultures, my artwork becomes a hybrid language of remixed identities that have been revisited from their actual contexts to reinvent a new form of modern urbanity. Wall Calls for Peace has helped retrace a new city where urban spaces are freed from sector and neighborhood boundaries, linear maps and historical borders. It also carries the uprising voice of Beirut’s inhabitants that call for a citizen-led state relation, transcends sectarian divides, and embodies the unity that they aspire to, since October Revolution.
LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
DH – I was born Beirut amid civil war and political instability. I still lives and works in a city that I love despite everything; it has been my biggest inspiration. From an early age, I enjoyed art and began drawing as a child. I grew that passion thanks to the encouragement of my school teachers. Even after completing my BA in Business Administration at the American University of Beirut, I resumed my art studies at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts (ALBA) where I completed my BA in Illustration and Comics. In 2004, I was named second prize winner at The International Festival of Comics in Beirut, after submitting an autobiographical comic in remembrance of my childhood during the Lebanese civil war. Today, I work at the intersection of art and storytelling. I’ve always looked at art beyond being merely aesthetic but as a powerful force for positive change – especially when it touches on complex subject matters that engage with global communities and make a strong impact.
In October 2019, I was among 15 international artists to help raise awareness on the impacts of disaster and environmental changes on our communities and societies. My artwork, If Not Now, When? was on display at The Art of Resilience exhibition – World Bank headquarter in Washington DC. The exhibition was curated from a global call for entries by the World Bank Art Program and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. This is when I realized that my vision for art became a viable reality and I shall do art that sparks new ideas and aspire social change.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
DH – The inspiration in my works stems from a long process of rethinking, reforming and reinventing what I see is art. I am in a continuous process of experimentation with new materials, mediums, textures, and techniques. And this means bringing novelty into my work. There has been many breakthroughs in contemporary art that were shaped by scientific discoveries and emerging technologies, pushing the boundaries of traditional practices. If we look into the future and reimagine what will be the “new contemporary” beyond the realms of the aesthetic, I think there is a vast universe for artists to look into for inspiration and art- science-technology collaborations.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
DH – My artworks captures universal concerns and aspirations of people and communities, in an effort to contribute to peace and reconciliation efforts and inspire a message of hope. Even if drawn from the realm of social and political, they also reflect on my personal experiences and probe questions on complex issues of our time. By reimagining alternate universes and parallel realities in my artworks, I aim to evoke a sense of universal expression, memory and emotion in narrated stories that are told to diverse cultures and generations to come.
LC – Do visitors’ suggestions enrich yourself and your art?
DH – There is always a narrative that permeates into my art. Whether at the beginning or along the creative process, it always stems from merging my own personal experiences with helping people find their own truths and communicating their concern. People are the main participants of my art. They have a great influence on my work and creative process. By listening and engaging with them, my work becomes a universal language of collective stories and experiences, personal histories and cultural backgrounds.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
DH – Ode to a Mother is among a series of non-conventional format paintings that I’ve made in an attempt to revisit traditional mounted canvas’ paintings on wood and bring three-dimensional fluid forms into my art. On a white drapery canvas, I painted the continuous symbiotic process of love and birth of a crumbling city with a tortured past that keeps inspiring me, Beirut. I redrew my visual memory of places I’ve been and streets I’ve walked, projecting forward and backward at once, in an effort to reimagine my city beyond the atrocities of wars and political unrest. The metaphor Beirut-mother plays a central role in my work taking the form of an interlaced abstraction of what is both real and symbolic in the feminine body and urban patterns. The lines are a walk down memory lane, traced in the form of umbilical cords extended between the city and its land. They are the streets, the strolls, the curves and scars. Beirut’s dilapidated evolution is marked by an asymmetric interplay of dissimilar street plans and block arrangements. All, in varying states and patterns, stand side by side to form a progressive poetic rhythm. My urban fabric is borderless, typically freed from its frame, solid and resistant. It is a mere reflection of a city that is always bursting to rebel and realign boundaries. The artwork seamlessly meshes with the BODIES+CITIES SKIN theme of Borders art fair, by drawing on two parallel universes: the feminine body of a mother and the urban skin of a city. You may look at the work, analyzing the various urban elements and compositions or choose to explore the feminine forms. All this to say that cities’ endurances could be seen as ours. We are the city and the city is us.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the festival?
DH – I really like the theme of the festival. It stems for our daily living and probe questions about our “new existence” in regards to the new borders and social distancing caused by covid-19.
I think this theme has generated socially engaging artworks and exchange of ideas from a large number of international artists. This has surely helped create a wealth of cultural and artistic expression, empathy, and new understandings. And this how my vision for arts converges pretty well with the one of ITSLIQUID. That is to convey and share experiences.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
DH – It’s a great platform and a reference in the arts that promotes talent and exchange of ideas.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
DH – Yes, surely. ITSLIQUID gives me the opportunity to be part of a much bigger art ecosystem. It has all the resources and collaborations that I will look into in the future to explore how I can benefit from and build something useful for my art; whether it’s advisory services or exhibitions in key locations; curatorial advice; or collaborations with individuals, communities, and institutions in the creation of participatory art.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
DH – Yes, very much. It was lovely working with the whole team and look forward to more collaborations in the near future.