by Manu SharmaJan 19, 2021
Anyone with reasonable exposure to the world of art would agree that while inspiration is myriad and many, the dialogue generated within and around the subject of nature is an extension of one of the more significant conversations we are currently having. What is of particular interest in this case is the endless number of ideas and aesthetics which present themselves to us within this context. Our relationship with our natural environment, as a consequence of this, is continuously evolving, being pulled and stretched, redefined and restructured. Every work of art offered up in tribute to our only home, the Earth, then becomes a part of a larger whole. When I first came across the work of Aamina Hammad, that is what I saw as well - a tribute to something larger.
Hammad spoke to STIR about her own relationship to her natural environment and how her practice derives from it. She shared, “Ever since I took a serious interest in art, I tried to learn as much I could. I have dabbled in a lot of media, and I like to keep expanding my skill set and explore whatever I can. The main reason to pursue multiple mediums for me is to avoid any form of negative art block. I always have a certain kind of medium to jump back to or experiment with if I am having trouble with a particular medium. I draw most of the influences from nature, and it has become my main source of creativity. There is a lot of mileage one can get out of simply observing everything around them, and it’s always best to go back to our roots, quite literally. I am motivated to not only use nature in my artwork and series, but to learn from it, and treat it with the respect it deserves”.
Hammad works with photography, embroidery and a variety of other media but her most recent series Beautiful Heads is what made me stop and take notice. The series of images uses props and plants to create a range of fictional characters who are then photographed. Hammad brings together flora with tribal and contemporary props to develop an intimacy between the plants and character in the frame. When I asked her about the series, she said, “My portrait series is some of my proudest work, and I am glad you liked it as well. I will have to credit nature again for this series, and not just what is at the surface, but everything that’s below the ground, or the various relations nature has with other species. You will notice that my masks have these exaggerated structures resembling various insects found in almost every single garden. I wanted to pay tribute to everything that lives, crawls, and maintains a garden without us ever knowing. Other portraits are formed with various other elements found in gardens, and I like to tell a story that my viewers can take from each piece. Some of the artwork is very clear in the idea, but others I want to leave to the viewers on how they perceive it. This work is very close to me, and nature has allowed me to express my gratitude and love through this portrait series. A lot of what you see in this series is handcrafted, stylised, and painted by me. After all the structures are finalised, I arrange them in a way that everything is visible in the photograph”.
Hammad’s relationship with and expression of nature stems from a personal and vulnerable space. The artist discussed her perspective saying, “I was not always as close to nature as I am now, and the real reason I did develop an interest in nature was to improve my mental health. I was stressed out and needed something that would heal me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I took up gardening and started small, with a few plants. I learned everything myself, and in a matter of months I had a sizeable garden with a variety of plants that I take care of daily. It is a part of me, and something I am grateful to have taken an interest in because it has helped me more than anything I can imagine”.
“Since I have been an artist, before my interest in gardening, I started to think of ways to implement nature more in my artwork. It started with simple illustrations and has now developed into a combination of various mediums. It took a lot of experimentation, creative struggle and time to create something unique out of this, but I think I have finally found a way to express myself with nature and pay tribute to it with my art”, she concluded.
Each image from the series tells a story. Hammad largely uses herself as model for the images. However, the line between portrait and self-portrait is unknown. Each character developed seems to extend from a specific facet of Hammad’s inner world. A young artist, Hammad’s work simmers with fresh flavour. While the direction is exciting, the journey cannot be known without deeper exploration. With a relatively small oeuvre, what I am most keen to see from her work is simply this - more.