Interview: Flo Housseini
Luca Curci talks with Flo Housseini during MIXING IDENTITIES, third appointment of CANVAS ART FAIR, at THE LINE Contemporary Art Space in London.
Floriane is a photographer based between Beirut and London. Born and raised in Beirut, she was exposed to the vibrant creative industry at a young age. The instability and multi-cultural nature of the country has been a constant influence and source of inspiration. While her passion has always been fashion photography, she has always incorporated aspects from the socio-political and cultural events into her work. Photography has always been her means to articulate and make sense of the world around her. After graduating from ALBA with a bachelor degree in advertising and photography, she pursued a master’s degree in fashion photography at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London.
Luca Curci – How did you get to photography? Do you remember why you took your first professional photo?
Flo Housseini – I was born in October 1997 and saw my passion for photography arise when I was 12 years old. I took a trip to Kenya in 2010 that showed me so much my eyes and memory just weren’t enough to process it all. For the first time, my camera became my greatest companion; everything was so mystical and wild that I had to keep what I saw in its exact moment, as natural as it was. My trip was all about shooting nature and animals until I discovered the Masai tribe. Observing them was so astonishing, I thought that despite my little knowledge in photography, I wanted to leave this country with remarkable pictures that showed the details of their clothing, their breathtaking colors and their outgoing spirit. Since then, I’ve always wanted to create a new work within fashion photography, without using a lot and without showing a lot, but I didn’t know how until this day. Back from this trip, I was luckily chosen amongst professional photographers to exhibit at the « Beirut Photo Fair » for two years in a row. Surprisingly, one of my photographs was bought by a professional photographer. I was only 15 years old back then and it gave me a lot of confidence in what started to become my work. I always knew that I wanted to create a new visual and mix my Arab background with western elements. I had the opportunity to do so during my year in London for my masters in Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion; I felt the need to have a different audience than the one I grew up with.
LC – How much is the editing process important? How’s yours?
FH – The editing process is really important for me. I have a certain style where my colors are always saturated and where everything has to be perfect in photographs. The images are reconstructions on my imagination, they are digital collages made on photoshop.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
FH – I wanted to use a piece of clothing in fashion photography that is part of my Arab culture: The Burka. I recontextualized whatever I borrowed from my own culture, the Arab culture, to create a new work or a new visual. What I want to experiment during this project is to show in my images that a fashion photograph isn’t always all about the make-up, the hair, the body and the face; it’s also about being able to produce an image with new objects and at the same time keeping the audience emotionally attached to what’s being shown. There are no rules. In Mediterranean countries, the sociology of the behavior is impacted by the warm weather and people easily live outside their homes, communicate a lot and look at each other while maintaining a rich social life. Social media and international fashion magazines brought to this part of the world seem to have the conviction that western design is superior and reflects a kind of belonging to modernity. Still, something inside me didn’t match with this unanimous, mainstream flow and I always needed to find the small detail or accessory that could distinguish me from the crowd. But for the past two years, I started realizing that my roots were what made me different and richer, as it embodied a breeding ground for my creativity. I realized that I could draw into that endless cultural and artistic inventory a possibility to create what’s next in fashion if I learned how to use it and mix it to Western aesthetics.
LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
FH – Even though Lebanon is an Arab country, we don’t tend to see the burka very often. We are, in a sense, considered as an open-minded Middle Eastern country. However, I was personally always intrigued by the Middle Eastern woman, what she portrays, what she represents. This thought was reinforced by my experience abroad. The orientalist perspective that foreigners have towards the Middle East is pretty interesting; they perceive it as a mystical place. I found myself sharing these “orientalist” thoughts; it was quite disturbing for me as an Arab woman to feel close to this view of my region but I wanted to explore this thought. I decided to recreate and recycle the burka in order to portray it as a new visual, that can be fun and fashionable. The “portrait” series of my work were actually self-portraits. I wanted to place my body under this “sheet” to know what it feels like to be “trapped” and, to my surprise, it opened my creativity. It was just me, myself and I. My inspiration is the product of my own perception of Arab women wearing the burka. I went on with the project to go deeper into the analysis of my thoughts. As a fashion photographer, I wanted to express these thoughts into photography by breaking down the common conception of the woman’s body and especially a woman wearing a burka, in fashion.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it like your medium of expression?
FH – I believe that my series of photographs are provocative of change. Indeed, fashion was and still is in another way about showing skin, body and make-up. Even though today’s diversity and inclusion are key motors in the fashion industry, the body (in its different forms) is still a central issue. Why not completely remove the thought of a body in photographs? Why not forgetting about the body and creating something around it? I wanted to show that fashion can exist without the body, rather it is the atmosphere that you create around it that makes it aesthetically pleasing. By concretely “diminishing” the woman’s body to an “object” and by covering it all by a veil, I aim at de-objectifying it. The woman’s body was always objectified in the Fashion industry. By putting a sheet on it and covering it, I want to open up for different interpretations and suggestions about what the body can actually look like. Thus, removing its objectification. The fashion world needs to have more diversity. We are starting to see the same concepts over and over again.
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?
FH – I want to make a difference at how people look at ethnicities. I want to show the creativity and the colorfulness that lives within me because of where I’m from. I always knew I wanted to be provocative in my work but I didn’t know why or how. Being provocative doesn’t only mean being different, it also means trying to induce a change, offer something new and original, that will take my work beyond the images themselves to a place where the particular joins the universal.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
FH – My multicultural background is what made my work original and unique. This is why I want to go back to the essentials, the things I know best: my culture and the way I was raised, because there lays the truth. The mix of these two may create a clash or a breed, and both interest me. What I used in my photographs are different materials, objects of the Arabic heritage. I linked these pieces to what’s fashionable today (saturated colors), and a new fashion concept appeared. This is a world I want to explore and “recycle”.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
FH – I am really excited to be part of Mixing Identities because so many young artists come together as one, each one of us has a story to tell.
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
FH – I think ITSLIQUID GROUP is doing an amazing job, even through challenging times.