What is Art? In contemporary society do we still cling to the idea that Art is only a canvas, framed and hung on a gallery wall? Or a sculpture fully rendered and placed on a pedestal? Do we allow for new forms to infiltrate our established definitions of Art or do we keep them sequestered in the margins? Adel Abidin, a contemporary Iraqi artist working out of Helsinki, Finland views Art as his communicative tool-one that allows him to express his argument through the visual language. His work is as varied as they come, including photography, contemporary sculptural elements, and mixed media, as well as provocative and ideology-bending video installations.
In a July 2011 interview, Adel Abidin discussed with me what it means to be a recent artist in the digital age, how his education influenced his art, and what life is like in the diaspora of contemporary Iraq. From growing up in Baghdad, to his life in Helsinki, Finland – the internationally acclaimed artist shared what influences have shaped him into who he is today. The frank and candid exchange that took place really revealed what is at the core of his creative process.
Erin Joyce: Tell me about your childhood. You were born, raised and educated in Iraq. What was life like growing up?
Adel Abidin: Like all children, I used to think the only way to grow up is the way that I did. Iraq was an ideal place, as I did not have an alternative vision. When I traveled the world, I viewed my upbringing as conservative but still beautiful.
AA: My parents still think until now that I should find another job! They never understood my art. They do not see the arguments I try to communicate in my work, so I have long ago given up on involving them in the process.
EJ: How much do you feel your training at the Academy of Fine Arts Baghdad, and the Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki, Finland has influenced your art?
AA: There is no doubt that my education influenced my aesthetic. This is especially true for me as my Master’s, it was in Time and Space Art. But, I think any book you read or any information that you collect on the web influences your aesthetic.
EJ: Do you feel that to function as an artist that a degree was beneficial? Would it affect the art you create?
AA: No, I don’t think so. We know many people with the highest degrees who never managed to get anywhere in their art, and some without formal educations who are accomplished artists. Real education comes from being aware and perceptive of the surrounding world.
EJ: Who do you create your artwork for? Do you have a specific audience in mind?
AA: I try to deliver the work in the most universal way as I can; I never work for a specific audience.
AA: I haven’t worked on those issues yet, [but] it is the most beautiful art piece I have ever seen, made with the collaboration of millions of people, [it] made us believe that every human has the right to dream and they ave a chance to accomplish that dream. What a great work! I am sure that it will influence my own work in one way or another.
EJ: To you, what does it mean to be a diaspora artist?
AA: I will tell you that there is nothing better than living in your own home country, but being abroad gives you the chance to see and get to know the other, and that will lead you to a third, hybrid culture, that becomes your own. Sometimes, it’s good to see the full part of the glass.
Adel Abidin’s work is currently on view at the Continuity at the Center for Contemporary Arts Zavod Celia Celje, in Clje, Slovenia, Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA and the Venice Biennal 2011, Iraq Pavilion. For more information about Adel Abidin, please visit www.adelabidin.com