Artist Monira Al Qadiri sits down with Editor Katarina Djoric to talk about living and working in Berlin, her recent exhibition at the Schinkel Pavillion, and art’s place in the environmental discussion.
You are Kuwaiti, born in Senegal, educated in Japan and you live and work in Berlin. How important do you think place of birth/residence is in today’s world? – I think a large part of cultural identity is formed during childhood and early adolescence, but it’s also a constantly changing and shifting entity. I believe identity is inherently flexible and malleable. I think we need to understand this, especially in today’s global landscape.
I think a large part of cultural identity is formed during childhood and early adolescence, but it’s also a constantly changing and shifting entity. I believe identity is inherently flexible and malleable
What are your thoughts on the Berlin art scene today? – I think Berlin today is what Paris used to be in the Belle Époque. A huge part of the population is composed of artists. That’s why its art scene is always fresh, surprising, interesting, and fun to be a part of. Not to mention the great number of collaborations that are made possible here because of the mix of people living in the city.
You took part in Schinkel Pavillion’s Sun Rise – Sun Set exhibition dedicated to climate change. What motivated you to get involved in this project? – Upon hearing the curatorial framework of the exhibition, I was very intrigued by how works from completely different epochs and disciplines could come together in this way, and somehow still convey a similar set of ideas. The relationship between humans and nature has been contested for longer than we’d like to imagine, which is a question Sun Rise – Sun Set poses to us quite beautifully.
Could you tell us a bit more about your work, Divine Memory, that you’ve exhibited there? – It’s a video work where the camera follows several octopuses swimming nonchalantly in water, edited to artificially distort their colours. Using a vocal religious poetry recitation from old television archives mixed with a video game soundtrack, the work is a kind of music video attuned to natural phenomena; it attempts to delve into our innate memory as creatures of this world, perhaps a pre-human genetic memory, so as to stimulate feelings of awe and wonder at the construction of being.
What does it have in common with the other exhibited works? – The exhibition as a whole touches on humans’ relationships with other species, from many different perspectives, and highlights our ability to empathize with them, as well as questions the power dynamic that exists between us. I think many works in the show hark back to this innate biological memory we have, that we are, after all, flesh and blood and not very different in composition from other beings, but that in our hubris we have somehow lost this connection to what really makes us alive. We have chosen to forget our own organic structure.
I think art has been raising awareness about these issues for a long time, but only recently do we begin to understand the complex messages involved in these historic works. Of course, it is my firm belief that art has the ability to change people’s perceptions about specific issues, and the environment is no exception.
The exhibition aims to reconfigure our relations to the Earth. Could you describe how the concept of this work symbolizes your ecological concerns? – Being from an oil-producing country myself (Kuwait), I have created many works around the destructive nature of fossil fuels and proposed ways to accelerate their demise. For these works, I have often framed the desert as being the landscape for this toxic activity because it is the climate I grew up in and saw first-hand oil spewing from the earth and burning in the air. But recently I have begun to look towards the sea to try to discover other ways of understanding toxicity in nature, from oxygen-producing algae that create a red toxic tide once a year to examining the octopus as one of the creatures genetically farthest from humans, but simultaneously trying to find ways to empathize with it.
Do you think art should be tackling environmental issues? Can art help raise awareness of these issues? – I think art has been raising awareness about these issues for a long time, but only recently do we begin to understand the complex messages involved in these historic works. Of course, it is my firm belief that art has the ability to change people’s perceptions about specific issues, and the environment is no exception.
How do you imagine your work transforming those who encounter it? – I would like them to have a faux religious experience when seeing the work. This feeling of awe and wonder has been under the purview of theological spaces for too long, and I feel we must reclaim this impression in art.
Are you pessimistic about the direction the world is heading in? – Coming from one of the hottest countries on earth with a high level of toxicity in its climate, I think that even if the future is ecologically disastrous, we could still theoretically survive, just like we have survived already in the desert. If the future turns out to be a tragic ruin, I think that there is still beauty in that.
The relationship between humans and nature has been contested for longer than we’d like to imagine, which is a question Sun Rise – Sun Set poses to us quite beautifully
What are you working on right now? – I am working on a robotics performance with my partner—artist and musician Raed Yassin. It is about the madness we feel while living together in a self-imposed exile.
How would you define LOVE? – For me, love is the object of obsession and embodiment:
I want to become that which I desire.
I transform myself into that which I love.
It has been this way with me ever since I was a child.
Do you believe in LOVE at first sight? – Yes. It is a wonderful cosmic accident that has happened to me in the past.
What is your favourite LOVE quote? – “I encounter millions of bodies in my life; of these millions, I may desire some hundreds; but of these hundreds, I love only one.” – Roland Barthes “A Lover’s Discourse”
Find more of Monira’s work on www.moniraalqadiri.com.
Interview originally published in DSCENE Magazine’s love issue – read it now in print or digital.