RASHA HAKIL INTERVIEW
Rasha Kahil (born 1980) is a visual artist living and working in London, originally from Beirut, Lebanon. She completed an MA in Communication Art & Design at the Royal College of Art, London, in 2009. Her projects take the form of photography, text, video and installation. She has exhibited solo and in group shows internationally, including in London, Istanbul, Zurich, Beirut and Paris (at the SLICK art fair). Rasha is represented in the Middle East by The Running Horse gallery, Beirut, Lebanon.
“Half Middle Eastern half European in spirit, the artist carries with her the turmoil of Beirut’s past and its rising art scene, as well as London’s chaotic potential to constantly re-invent herself.” – Eve Without Adam
How and when did you know you wanted to become an artist?
I never really decided to become an artist, and I actually even have reservations about calling myself an 'artist' as such. I've just always had a deep curiosity and interest in themes surrounding the body, the confessional, notions of private/public and have developed these throughout my practice in different shape or form, ever since my days as a BA student back in 1998. It was only during my Masters degree at the Royal College of Art (2007-9) that I really decided to focus on these notions, rather than treating them as side-projects. I realized that my passion lay in cultivating these nagging interests and making coherent work that I was ready to share with my peers.
Greatest inspirations or influences
I am mostly inspired by my day-to-day motions and by my relationships with the people in my life, family, friends, lovers. It is what I experience firsthand that feeds my work, and sparks the passion to encapsulate it, understand it and mark it in a piece of work: notions of love, repulsion, loss, sex, death, vulnerability. This is why photography is my first outlet for communication, it is a direct tool that allows me to freeze-frame an experience and draw from it what I find has touched me. And for the most part, it is through the female body that I have developed this, as it has a long-standing history in the world of Fine Art, and has been represented and commodified through media, photography, advertising, fashion, in so many diverse ways. Being a female myself, I have always been interested in exploring it as, on one hand, a blank canvas whereby I can project my own ideas and feelings, and on the other hand, and quite contrastingly, subverting its identity as a carrier of so many messages in our collective consciousness. My reading of work is quite emotional, visceral. I need to feel moved to be able to appreciate and relate to an artwork, and I find this in the work of Roger Ballen, Hans Bellmer, George Bataille, Marina Abramovic or Louise Bourgeois, amongst many many other...
Most interesting response to your work so far?
I am often referred to as an artist that treads the line of the taboo and sensationalist, because of my use of the body in my work, and I am very happy when people are able to see past the facade of nudity, and that it doesn't impair on the reading of the work itself and what it is trying to communicate. This happened in particular at the opening of In Your Home in Beirut this summer, which I was slightly apprehensive about for obvious reasons (mostly that my mother would be seeing it!). But the responses were overwhelmingly positive and i was delighted to see people connect with the project and tread past the first impulse reading, delving into the core notions of the series that I had developed. And my mum did love it, so that was a bonus...
I've got my hands in many pies at the moment, working on collaborations with people based in different media, as well as developing new personal projects based on photography with audio. I am also experimenting with male portraiture which is a nice departure! My work is rarely objective, and I almost always draw from my own experiences, so working with males brings about a whole new set of emotions, ideas and feelings. As a female photographer, there is a pull that is very different from photographing females who are my peers. The female to male gaze suddenly becomes an issue of tension and sensuality that rarely comes into play when I shoot females.
Greatest achievements so far?
I was very happy to see "In Your Home" series work so successfully and tour in different cities, after starting off as a little bit of self-portrait experimentation back in 2008. It has now been exhibited as solo shows in Beirut and Istanbul, as well as now showing in London in a duo-show and in Paris at the SLICK art fair, all in the space of four months. And it was singled out by ArtForum as a critic's pick for the Beirut exhibition, so I was more than delighted! I also published it as a book in a limited run of 150 copies, which I sell mostly online. (you can see it on my blog).
Gavorite websites, blogs, publications?
- I follow a lot of blogs online, mostly photographers' personal blogs, but also established online magazines like Nowness.com, Conscientious (http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/),
- HUH (http://www.huhmagazine.co.uk/)
- Wayneford's Posterous (http://wayneford.posterous.com/).
- A couple of quirky blogs I love are: This or That? (http://melaniecrete.tumblr.com/) and I Love Hotdogs (http://ilovehotdogs.net/)
- Publications I tend to gravitate towards and /or collect are Purple Magazine, 032c, Sang Bleu,... and Vogue!
- Though I have to say, I mostly surf junk on the internet, letting myself get lost from link to link until I have a million tabs open on my browser and no idea how I got there....
How did your upbringing in Beirut affect your creativity?
I have been raised within the Lebanese culture, it is a part of me, but this has never stopped me from exploring the themes that have interested me within my artistic practice. The fact that I exhibit in Beirut is actually a challenge that has allowed me to develop and refine my ideas. The last thing that I want to be is an artist that dabbles in sensationalism, or meaningless provocation, especially within a context like the Middle-East. I do practice self-censorship in the way that I would never produce work that simply indulges in pure voyeurism; I try to develop the substance beyond. Having been able to exhibit freely in Beirut and see my work engaging an audience and raising discussions has been very satisfying: it shows that these themes, which could easily have been seen as controversial, can actually have resonance beyond their face value, and touch upon more universal human subject matter and messages. So, yes, even as an Arab woman, I have never felt restricted in any way in using the body, nudity or confessional themes as tools for my work.
Favorite galleries around the world?
- CO Berlin
- Hamburger Banhof - Berlin
- Whitechapel Gallery, London
- Victoria Miro, London
- National Portrait Gallery, London
- Photographer's Gallery, London
- The Running Horse, Beirut
- Beirut Art Center, Beirut
Anything else youd like to share with our audience? I have always found the tension that exists in the contrast between defiance and vulnerability within one entity quite fascinating, especially when this duality is displayed through the use of the body as main element of portrayal. I believe that the mixture of these 2 opposing states is main the drive within each of us, that makes us human, individuals thrown in a social world. It is a delicate balance, but one that I find very endearing, raw and honest when I see it emanating from a portrait, or a self-portrait. I feel it goes beyond the exterior appearance, the mask that we all carry in the face of the Other, and touches upon something deeper, close to the soul. What I hope that people see through my work is that through the exploration of quite personal themes and ideas of mine, they are still able to connect to something within themselves or their own experience. I hope that through the awkwardness of the personal, I am able to touch upon something more universal and collective.