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Ahmad Minkara Interviews Diana Al-Hadid, A Syrian-American Artist

posted on: Apr 20, 2016

Diana Al Hadid, Artist

Diana Al-Hadid is a contemporary artist who creates sculptures, installations, panels and drawings using various media. Here for Artscoops she talks to Ahmad Minkara.

She was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1981 and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Her sculptures, panels, and drawings often reference “art from centuries past.” Al-Hadid also sources conceptual ideas and imagery from literature, history, anatomy, architecture, cosmology, and physics. Her work blurs the boundaries between figuration and abstraction. Al-Hadid has described her work as “impossible architecture.”

How does the immigrant experience influenced your art?

That’s a very complex question and difficult to answer in a few sentences.  Being an immigrant certainly gave me a very unique perspective on what it is to be an American, and also a unique perspective on what it is to understand your country/culture of origin from a distance.  But it’s very difficult to extract one experience from the totality of my personhood.  Everything is blended together- being a women, an Arab, an immigrant, a suburban Midwesterner, Muslim-raised, an artist, all while living in the particular moment we live in today.  But I can say that perhaps my fascination with centers and peripheries, my interest in disembodiment, and my interest in distant places that are hard to reach, likely has its psychological root in my experience as an immigrant.  More concretely, I would say that being an immigrant and watching my parent’s struggle to provide a comfortable life for their family in this country has taught me hard work and how to appreciate the life of luxury and privilege we often take for granted.

You were born in Aleppo one of the oldest cities in the world and the starting-point of the Silk Road for a number of centuries. Now Aleppo’s heritage is completely destroyed.

How do you feel about that? How has this immense loss seeped into your art?

Of course, what’s happened to Syria is a tragedy beyond words… It is heartbreaking to know my husband and child will likely never see Syria with me, certainly not as it was when I visited as a teenager.  I have hope that someday the country will find some kind of stability again, but certainly there are things lost that can never come back.  I don’t know how to feel about that except a profound sadness.  I certainly don’t know how to process it emotionally or intellectually.  I don’t know how it has “seeped into my art,” in any way… if anything has or if it may affect my work in any way it should be understood that I am not a refugee of this war, so my experience of this is, again, one from a (comfortable) distance.  I’m extremely fortunate my immediate family is safe and that we left the country when we had the chance many years ago.

But I have some extended family still there and we are all very concerned about them.

Gradiva’s Fourth Wall, 2011, Installation; photo by Kevin Todora

We live in a world of multiple and complex identities, you are an immigrant, an Arab, an American, a woman, amongst a myriad of this. Does your art address those issues? What are some of the challenges you faced for launching this great career of yours?

As I mentioned above, all these things are blended together, I don’t experience one part separate from another… I don’t think my work focuses singularly on my identity, although obviously I can’t divorce my work from myself and the totality of my experiences.   I just don’t know how to comment on the relationship between my self and my work.  I just follow my curiosities whatever they may be. Although some of my very early work, right out of grad school, sort of reflected on my biography in an intentionally cartoonish tongue-and-cheek way, I am most of the time not terribly curious about it… But my interests shift with each project, and for an in-depth analysis of these things, I think therapy would be the better place to unpack issues of why I am who I am.  So while I can concede that my work is a result of my experiences on this planet, I am not really preoccupied with my personal biography in my work, at least not for many years. At this point I’m pretty used to being an immigrant, an Arab, an American, a woman, etc… So, as you suggest, my work is a reflection of all these things, but not necessary a direct commentary on them.

You have described your work as “Impossible Architecture?” Can you explain to our audiences what does that mean? What incongruous sources influence your art?

Architecture that is hypothetical, structurally impossible. I think I said this phrase to emphasize that, while I’m greatly interested in structure and material or spatial problem-solving, I am not interested in making functional spaces.

I suppose I’ve been influenced by a lot of different things, people, and places. Obviously, Early Renaissance and Gothic Art, as well as cosmology, architecture, caves, musical instruments, and of course other artists working today.  I love the Dadaists, fuzzy logic, fuzzy things, gold, welded structures, snorkeling, hula hooping, mountains, study drawings, air plants, bunnies, Faubert, rockets, ornament, stripes, fireplaces, and bells.  Really, I think the most direct influence on my work is the materials I use themselves.

Phantom Limb, 2014, Installation; photo by Markus Woergoetter

What elements of your art shed light on the human condition?  How do you reconcile between figuration and abstraction? What are you trying to make sense of?

I have no idea how to answer that first question.  .. or the second question.. I don’t think of my efforts as necessarily trying to reconcile anything.  I’m probably try to confuse things if I’m trying to do anything.  And when I’m working, I think I’m not always trying to make sense, a lot of times I’m in favor of nonsense… or trying to follow an instinct and unraveling the “why” part later.  But perhaps all these questions are better suited for the viewer of my work, not for its maker.


You have tremendous success in North American and in Europe? What Gallery represents you in the West? Are there any galleries in the Middle East you plan to collaborate with? When is your next show in the Middle East?

I am represented by Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and I just had a pretty big survey show in Abu Dhabi at the NYUAD gallery.  Three large works travelled from my show at the Vienna Secession in 2014, and they added a few other works from local collections as well as a triptych panel that I made this year and has not been exhibited previously.

Phantom Limb, 2014, Sculpture; photo by Markus Woergoetter