Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Saba Hasan is a New Delhi-based artist with a body of work comprising paintings, book sculptures, photographs, videos and sound, presented since 1996. Saba has been awarded international fellowships from Syracuse University, New York, the French Cultural Ministry, Paris, the George Keyt Art Foundation, Colombo 2002, the Oscar Kokoschka Academy in Austria, 2010, and the Raza National Award for painting in 2005. In Salzburg, 2010 Saba wrote a voice work, “Journey of a Broken Song”, which was installed first at the Hohenberg Castle for the International Art Festival. It is written in the cryptic tradition of the Ghazal and takes a look at racial profiling, state oppression, love and mystical journeys.
In 2011, the Brooklyn Art Library, New York made Hasan’s 38-page sketchbook on early science from the Islamic world a part of their permanent collection and mobile library of 35,000 such books which travel every year around the schools. The versatile artist also exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2013 as part of the Imago Mundi Collection and her sound work, “Walking in Deer Park” was on radio in Portugal as part of an international collaboration. Saba’s works have been at other major international shows in Florence, Paris, Salzburg, Singapore, Colombo, New York and Lisbon. She was nominated for the Celeste Contemporary Art Prize 2014 for her video, La Verite/Haqeeqat/the Truth Project, which was screened in Milan and Delhi.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
Very early. I was doodling on paper, desks, walls since preschool. As far as I can remember, I have always been reading, drawing, making up rhymes, watching clouds and dreaming, unable to ever decide which it was I wanted to be, a writer or an artist, and so it goes on…
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST WORK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest work is a series of text and book installations referring to women’s voices in life and literature. I have used books by Indian women writers as materials to sculpt and create art works. One such installation where I printed Urdu text on my mother’s sarees is called “the silence from which a woman speaks”.
I have in the last few years written and recorded in my voice poems which are set up as sound installations. Such soundscapes allow me to capture larger spaces than those within conventional gallery confines.
My latest voice work is titled “the two of us”. It refers to the criminalization of homosexuality in India and other forbidden loves or taboos:
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
Solitary, sunny, often virtual, sometimes loud, seeped in comfort where I keep my children, my dog and my husband close, like armour against the chaotic, tiring, big city life of Delhi.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
All the time but hardly ever at a desk or easel…mostly while travelling, walking outdoors, anxiously pacing in my studio, amidst clutter, to music repeating itself endlessly or simply in bed on my iPad.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK PROCESS?
I work best in spurts, apparently spontaneously but actually with a lot of deliberation. For this day and age I am very slow. I mull over ideas, words, lines, colors, materials and need to do the same thing again and again till it feels like my own heart beat.
I have, for instance, been photographing the same place, the deer park across the road from my house, since I moved here in the early nineties. This March I will finally show these photographs as they are today, distilled in these twenty years into familiar abstracts of my paintings.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Because I love doing it. It makes me feel alive, out there, in contact with the world. There is always a mystery to art, an endless search, a knowledge which if shared, evolves further, often taking me to places I knew not existed.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Inspiration now comes from anywhere, an angry heart, a memory, music, the sky, ocean waves, leaves, bringing up my children, changing society, power conflicts and most certainly hope.
Over the years I have learnt that ideas come usually from working. They are stages of development in my thinking and an integral part of the process of experiencing life. Also, I like to work across media and these different languages or materials invariably act as triggers for something new.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
To make a living out of my art. I am fine as long as I am thinking, drawing, painting, converting concepts into art works…complications set in when I have to enter the commercial domain. I can’t handle that aspect of my profession at all.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE ARTISTS?
Writers like Sappho, Susan Sontag, Ismat Chughtai, Sylvia Plath, singers like Nina Simone, artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Eva Hesse.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Saba Hasan!
— Nicole Melanson
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