Beginning January 27th, Syrian-born American sculptor Diana Al-Hadid’s installation will be on view at the Visual Arts Center. Al-Hadid’s works have often been described as formal and liquid, as well as large yet intimate. Al-Hadid was in residence and installing in the Vaulted Gallery over the past few weeks, and we took a few moments to chat with her.
In the past, you have worked with elements of architecture in your sculpture, but in recent years, you have started incorporating human figural elements into your works as well. Can you tell us a little more about that shift?
I think the architectural impulse is something that is still with me as a general organizing principal. I tend to construct things with an inside and an outside, in terms of layers, with skins as structures and materials driving form. I realized many of my works implicated the body, not only in the way that sculpture (and architecture) tends to naturally or inherently implicate the body, but in that I used the movement of one’s body as a way to organize the structure of a piece (dancing to create a “map” or outlining the path of a labyrinth). The figure was always present in some sense but was also denied, made invisible.
As a Syrian-born immigrant who came to the U.S. at a young age, you once said you “understood how a person could feel closely identified with and yet remotely nostalgic for a single place—of being simultaneously attached and disconnected.” Does this sentiment affect the places or spaces that you draw upon for inspiration in your work?
The question of how or to what degree my biography affects my work is a difficult one to answer because it’s deeply psychological. It’s a problem that bears some resemblance to the historian’s fantasy: to simultaneously document and bear witness to the event. In the same way, it seems impossible for me (being me) to draw a connecting line between my biography and my work. I suppose it has something to do with being able to stand away from your self and see yourself as “a biography,” which is too weirdly abstract. It’s strangely paradoxical that, while a straight connecting line is uncomfortable to draw, it is equally difficult to draw a dividing line between myself and my work. However, it does speak to this issue of being “simultaneously attached and disconnected,” and I suppose that applies to your sense of self, as well as to your sense of place. I have noticed that the places that attract me are often places that live more in my mind than in my real life, maybe there’s something to that. It’s hard to say what a person feels more attached to—the things in their head or the things in their “real lives.” But I’m sure in either case, I’m probably making an effort to get more connected to both things.
As part of your residency, you will be working with students within the Department of Art and Art History. You currently act as a mentor for students from the New York Arts Program and Cooper Union. What does this process mean to you?
It’s a great program that benefits both myself and the students, I have the pleasure of working with young energetic and highly dedicated students who are eager to learn, and they hopefully benefit from learning something from me, whatever that may be. I become very close with the students along the way, it’s a close-knit group we have at the studio and I do what I can for them. I have had students that have worked with me for the majority of their schooling and have watched my studio grow and change radically in that time. I have almost exclusively hired from this pool of students when there are openings. I spend most of my time with my team and it’s important that we all like each other and communicate well, and I am very lucky that we do.