Joud, in your past you’ve been working a lot with the concept of memories and how they fade and mutate. Can you introduce us to your work?
Memory is a huge concept, and I’m very interested in it. I always try to approach it in different ways in my work. I have already explored this with photography, drawings, AI programs, … For the work I made during my residency, I’ve tried to reflect on memory as a physical experience, something you can feel in your hands and on your body. I’ve also tried to link that to the Euphrates river and to the environment of Syria itself, to its soil, water, creative practices, and to the earth.
Hussein, you've been working on 'virtual weaving', what is that?
'Virtual weaving' are pixel-based animations. They are a virtual reconstruction of the weaving process, the threads are pixels and they are moving in every direction at once. You can see the pictures on the rug emerge while following the threads.
This concept is part of an ongoing project called Your Beauty Is Sumerian, in which I work on a Southern Iraqi tapestry. During my residency in Het Bos, I was researching the relationship between the tapestry and the region they were made, the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq, and I couldn’t help but notice how central water and the rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, were in daily life. Together with old Sumerian symbols and drawings, the old tapestry-makers often weaved depictions of everyday life in their work; so I’ve tried to do the same with my own take on the old art form, combining video footage of the marshlands with the 'virtual weaving'.
Bauhaus was not the start of everything, you know
In an interview I did with MC Yallah, a Ugandan rapper, she told me how she was dissatisfied with how fellow artists all wanted to be Nicki Minaj by making Western art from a Western perspective. As artists from respectively Syria and Iraq, is this something you recognize or struggle with as well?
Joud: Yes, I guess we could start with our arts education in Antwerp. The idea of western design or western art was very centralized, to the point where it was in everything we consumed. A lot of practices and philosophies were overlooked and looked down upon because of colonialism and global capitalism, which enforced Western values. It was a conscious choice for both of us to unlearn all of that and relearn different histories and practices that are there and redefine what design means to us and our position as designers/artists.
Because of this, we have to be very aware of all the references we make, the materials we use, the music, the sounds, etc... We try to think about all of these things, in the process of creating an artwork that is true to ourselves and not to reproduce the eurocentric, white-male dominated education we got.
It was interesting to translate their flowy imagery to my pixelated-digital realm, and still attain an organic approach
Hussein: The principles of modernism are very important in the west, the ideas of 'less is more' and 'form follows function' are very present. Beauty is not seen as a function anymore, and that is aggravating. In our cultures beautifying things always has been very important, and it still is. It has deep spiritual, cultural and social meanings and you can see it in all the little ornaments and the colours that are being used everywhere. However, our countries have absorbed these modernistic western notions and are losing the core principles that are true to us. So in a sense, most of us are living in a ‘Western’ world, even in places outside the west. I think this is very discomforting. Bauhaus was not the start of everything, you know?
Was the image for the book your first collaboration?
Joud: Yes, at least I think this was our first 'official' collaboration. The barrier between collaborating and not-collaborating is sometimes a bit vague between us since we talk so much to each other about our work and the process. During quarantine we spent a lot of time together on Discord, just talking, and designing.
Hussein: Collaborating on this image was a lot of fun. Joud often is inspired by nature and works with organic shapes; while my work is mainly focused on the digital and how one can replicate the organic virtually. It was interesting to translate their flowy imagery to my pixelated-digital realm, and still attain an organic approach.