by Dilpreet BhullarJan 29, 2020
Amina Ahmed’s works at first refer to her engagement with making marks and drawing in space. Yet, there is symbolism and layers to be discovered in her installations. Objects as mundane as pins become an important subject for her practice. “Pins were always present in my mother’s room. I loved watching her, the ways she used them—sewing, binding things together. I used those same materials to draw with…I feel pins express one's need to be held together, as sinews sometimes fall apart, yet there is also the possibility of putting these parts back together again,” explains Ahmed, who was born in East Africa, grew up in England and has lived in Iran and USA. STIR interviewed the artist during her recent exhibit titled Visions in the Making, co-curated by Myna Mukherjee and Davide Quadrio at the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre in New Delhi.
Rahul Kumar (RK): What becomes more significant for you – the process or the eventual visual?
Amina Ahmed (AA): Thank you for asking, if I had to choose one, it would be the process. The two are not so different from each other, because the visual is always eventual, continual, never really finished, and my hope is that viewers are seeing that ongoing narrative within the work.
RK: Repetition, almost obsessive (or meditative) nature of recurrence seems to be an important aspect of your practice. Please tell us how you arrived at this process and what you would want your viewer to experience from this. Is the focus more aesthetic or philosophical in your approach?
AA: The repetition was natural, as a response to the body that comes directly from the heartbeat. I hope that vibration and rhythm emerge and are encountered through the work. I want the viewer to experience beauty. I am making visual work, as a manifestation of a philosophical approach, aesthetic in the traditional sense. I would say that there is an underlying set of rules that guide my practice. These patterns are universal, they are rooted in nature, in water. The symbols are expressions, archetypes. I studied Islamic and traditional arts, this means the guiding thread is the study and practice of geometry, which in turn is in nature and the source is water.
RK: Your statement, 'The mark that I’m making is the sound that I’m listening to', seems profound. Please help us understand how two distinct senses relate to each other in how you work.
AA: The hand is an extension of the heart. And if I might just go back to that heartbeat, that’s the sound. Everything has a sound; colours have a sound. Sound is the first sense when we are in the womb. I’m trying my best to make sense of it. I’m playing with the senses, I pretend, imagine I’m writing music, it’s all language really, isn’t it? Stories, music, song, poetry, philosophy, sound, dance, spirituality, drawing…all of it. All of it is drawing.
In reference to some of my drawings of roots and weeds, I am thinking about displacement, migration, exile. Weeds have always found a way to grow, wherever they are. Roots and weeds have an ancient voice; it is about listening to that primordial sound inside and outside ourselves. We all have this opportunity and are capable of listening to the voices in everything that’s around us, to the voices of the people around us.
RK: Please explain the genesis of your pin-and-thread installation. How would you like it to be read by your viewers?
AA: The piece is called 'Time. Staircase of My Spine'. Well, I have had pain in my back as well as a recurring dream of the traumatic period when this pain began. I drew directly onto a wall on my studio, which was very immediate for me. I used graphite and a compass, and then used the pins; I do not know what it meant at the time. The pins and thread were accessible materials for me as these were always present in my mother’s room. I loved watching her, the ways she used them—sewing, binding things together. I used those same materials to draw with. I’d like the piece to be read as viewers see it. Once it’s drawn, the work is no longer just mine. I would like to know how viewers interpret it, that is a lovely question, by that way. We are vulnerable, perhaps now I feel the pins express one's need to be held together, as sinews sometimes fall apart, yet there is also the possibility of putting these parts back together again.
RK: At some level, as stated by you, you are expressing about violence and the inequalities that women face. Please elaborate how this is perceived through your works.
AA: I can’t help but be provoked by what is going on around me. It is easy to use drawing as an escape from the world. But I believe that art is transformative, and I believe in its power, and that beauty transcends all things. I can still talk about rage, trauma and vulnerability in a subtle way, and bring attention to it, but I do not want to make violent images. For example, invocation was provoked by the violence of assault. This is a piece that invites women to gather together and engage in a process that is symbolic and significant in finding ways of healing. The work “Rohingya" uses geometry to respond to violent acts; the point is that it’s subtle, it is not literal. Issues of violence are present, yes, with love and beauty being at the core of my invocation when I make a work, and on the other end of the spectrum, in my use of specific colours and patterns that speak to geo-cultural contexts.