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ArteEast Artist in Resident Dalia Baassiri Exclusive Interview

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Transcript By Harriet Lindeman: Live interview with Dalia Baassiri. 7/1/16 Full video on ArteEast Official Facebook Page.

Sihem:  Alright, hi, welcome, so this is our first live Facebook interview with one of our ArteEast residents, Dalia Baassiri! Dalia is an ArteEast resident artist with Residency Unlimited – we are here right now in their studio in Brooklyn – and Dalia was talented enough to get selected through a very competitive open call process with artists from the Middle East and North African region. So that she could come here and promote her art, and take on a project, which we will be talking about right now. And my name is Sihem Mellah, I am a program assistant at ArteEast, and we are live from New York!

So, if you want to give a brief introduction about you . . .

Dalia: I am Dalia, I am a multi-disciplinary artist . . . I am so lucky to be here! Beyond lucky, I’ve been here for almost a month now, and I don’t know how time, like, flew by. . . I don’t know I just don’t realize the time in New York here. And so I’m here to develop my career, actually, it is a big opportunity for me, and I am very lucky to have been selected.

Sihem: So you are an artist in Beirut . . . you went to school –

Dalia: I am based in Beirut, I did my BA at Lebanese AmericanUniversity, I graduated and then I did masters in London at Chelsea College of Art and Design, it was like much later on in  2013, 2012 when I graduated, actually.

Sihem: So how did you hear about the residency, and about ArteEast?

Dalia: Well, I have amazing friends, I have two very good friends of mine who sent the announcement and told me that this really fits perfectly for me. And they were absolutely right . . . Now I know that they were really right, yes, absolutely.

Sihem: And why did you choose to apply . . . because it was New York? Were there any other —

Dalia: — I mean NY is attractive to all artists around the world of course, it is definitely a central city for artists, because one of my favorite artists lives in NY, in Brooklyn, actually . . . Diana al-Hadid, she’s one of my favorite artists . . . I mean, also the museums. I mean, I knew exactly that New York was gonna be a plan in the future.  And definitely for residency programs, it’s in a much better context, because it’s where you really meet the art hub professionally, and that’s why I’m here.
Sihem: Yeah, I guess New York is the cultural hub of the world . . . It’s so diverse, you have artists from every country and every obscure part of the world.

So, can you tell us a little more about your project . . . It was the project that you presented in your application, right, to be accepted for the residency?

Dalia: It is the very first time in my life that I am very precise, organized, and accurate, actually . . . The proposal was very clear, maybe it was very brief, actually. It was just a few lines in which I just wanted to say that I want to meet people on a different level. I want to collect from them items that are kind of personal – not personal – it’s like a hybrid between both. And I want them to realize that these objects are part of the stories that surround our lives. They are decisions. And I want them to just sit down, look at their environment, and give me one item, just one small item, and tell me how you feel about it . .  . Actually this interview is a great opportunity to send this announcement, which is my proposal. Shall we do it now?

Sihem: Yes, we can do it now!

Dalia: So, I’m in New York, and from day one, whoever I met, I just told them . . . I want this one item from you. And I want you to tell me – the name of it. It could be a personal name, it could be just any random name. When did you buy it? Where did you buy it from? Why did you buy it? And why are you giving it to me? And if there is any personal narrative around this item, that would be definitely an additional substance for me. And you would be amazed at what I’ve collected right now from day one. Incredible items that have stories, that have, you know, all these narratives, umm, given to me. And so my proposal is actually gathering all these items – I think I still have two weeks now – and then taking these items with me to Utica, which is my second residency, and try to understand what they’ll mean to me. How would I bring form to all these interesting phases of peoples’ lives? ‘Cause each item has a story . . . This is a cast . . . this is a mask that’s kind of vintage, I think it’s 40 years old, even older than me! And this is, I mean, kitchen stuff, so, a cd . . . I’m overwhelmed with peoples’ kindness and donations . . . And I’m asking for more, ‘cause I really still need more items to collect for my project, and, yeah!

Sihem: Do you have a story for each item?

Dalia: Absolutely . . . Some of them, as you know, all the apartments in New York are kind of small, so you have to think about space and convenience . . . So some of them, half of them, I would say, just got rid of them because they didn’t have more space and it was just like suffocating them, right? While others, no, it was more than just space issues . . . it was just, this object was there, and it just expired, right? Sometimes for no reason, sometimes for a reason. But people tend to keep their items without any sense of a future for them, and it just bothers them. I think the minute I met them it was like, “Oh, I’m gonna give you something,” so it’s exciting, and I’m just looking forward to know more about reasons, more than just items, you know. So the narrative matters more to me than the object.

Sihem: As some people watching might know, graphite was your primary medium, but this will be a multi-media project. How do you decide what medium to use for a project, and how does this shape the process? How is it different from your previous work?

Dalia: You know, I think at the start I was just into drawing, and just trying to dig in and analyze what drawing meant to me, or why would I choose this medium over others. So it was just a rediscovery of understanding this urge to draw. And I got into this interest and the substance itself. And then it became a performance, and then I realized how much I care about the process of making more than the actual outcome. So they kind of matter to me simultaneously and equally. Now today, this is not just a random decision, ‘okay, I want items from here because I just want items,’ no, there is a reason, obviously. And the reason is sort of because of last year’s garbage issue in Lebanon. It was a massive, massive, massive issue that is still ongoing, unfortunately. Just piles of garbage everywhere. And so I was concerned about my own consumption, because I am responsible as well, right? I have my own objects at home that they– that they’re just there, and I don’t know why I bought them! I’m sure I’m sharing this with many others, and so you realize, you’re just buying and buying, consuming, consuming, consuming, and then you’re faced with this disaster. I mean, it was the middle of the summer. It was in June, July, I remember, and yeah, I was living with garbage. So yeah obviously this is a personal concern, a global concern . . . Here I am in New York, we can talk about that . . .

Sihem: Yeah, and we actually have a live question from someone who’s watching . . . Will there be an installation for your fans and for viewers to see your project?

Dalia: Of course. This is gonna be, well, as soon as I leave Brooklyn I will have a studio in Utica, at Sculpture Space, and I’m very thankful . . . ArteEast orchestrated this residency perfectly. Brooklyn has a function, has a reason why I’m here, Utica has a different function, and a different journey. And they sort of complement each other. Utica will be the production. It will be where I will be granted this chance to literally work, have technical assistance, have equipment, have space, to really perform, and understand what’s going on. It’s good, when you change locations, this is when you start reflecting. I’ve been learning so much from NY, through different aspects of it, understanding the city, walking everywhere, and realizing how much garbage there is. I mean, uhh, I felt that every weekend you have a peak, you have many undesired items everywhere. From shoes, furniture, I mean, people just like let go, they like putting them everywhere on the pavement. And then, if you go for a nice walk at night around six-ish, you have a lot of garbage everywhere. And so you’ll be accompanied by them. Especially in downtown Manhattan.

Sihem: And very narrow streets . . .

Dalia: Very narrow, and all these giant plastic bags . . . So I’m sort of reminded of what’s going on in Lebanon as well, so the situation is a global situation, and it’s definitely relevant everywhere to discuss it.

Sihem: And that brings me to the next question . . . You mentioned your project would be pursuing the keeping and discarding dynamic, but wanting to put it in a more global context . . . how does your project connect with the American concept of consumerism, and specifically New York urban culture . . . but how does it also affect other major cities like Beirut, where the consumerism not as present . . .

Dalia: Well, this is the century right, I mean we’re all . . . think of your daily life, I mean, you’re driving or you’re walking and you have only billboards . . . animated ones –

Sihem: — Times Square!

Dalia: Everywhere! And umm, in Berlin for example, you have these vitrines on the pavement, and I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It was amazing, visually! But the amount of products that you have is overwhelming . . . consumerism is everywhere, and so again, it’s relevant everywhere to discuss it. The story of an item is a phase of someone’s life. It’s a moment, a decision. This is, for example, an accident! Everything has an implication. If I put them all next to me, I realize how much . . . It’s a lot to read. And, it’s interesting, and, I want people to pause – and that’s what life is about, when you just stop time for a while, if you can, and just assess your life, assess your decisions and be responsible. And that’s what I want them to do. Starting with myself . . . be responsible with how I live everyday, and how I choose things to add them to my life or to take them away from my life. I’m the decision maker, I have a brain like everyone else has, and we have to use it sometimes for the better of everything around us.

Sihem: That would be the intended meaning of this project?

Dalia: It’s about decision making, exactly, that’s all. That’s why I care about the narrative, otherwise I would say ‘just give me the item.’ No, there’s a narrative that matters, and maybe I might not even use the items . . . I don’t know. It’s just an open space, an open world of possibilities.

Sihem: It’s interesting, I know your artistic practice is to highlight overlooked activities. It’s like you intend as well to kind of . . . have something that’s so mundane and so irrelevant, to highlight the meaning of it. Is that . . .

Dalia: Part of it . . . Yeah, but like, if I want to also discuss my practice, it stems from the ordinary. So, I’ve always bridge the ordinary life with art, and I don’t see them as . . . there are no borders. And I feel that in everything we do in life is an act of art, is a decision. It’s a beautiful performance to be inspired by, and to appreciate. I appreciate washing my face, or talking! I appreciate everything, and I feel it inspires me to make art, and vice-versa. For instance the tools I use, and I always use, actually . . . some of them are cleaning tools. They’re like sponges, or, I don’t know, spoons, or I don’t know, like kitchen stuff . . . different things that I use on a daily basis, they become elements of art, and yeah, I don’t want to separate them. They are one. And I think everyone can perceive art this way. And if they do, their lives will be much more beautiful, I think.

Sihem: I have a surprise for you . . . (- pulls out purple bag- ) . . . I made it a point to not look inside before adding some items, because I had no idea what was in the bag. So, Dalia asked me to participate in the project by bringing an undesired item that I had at my house that I don’t really think about. And I actually was particularly annoyed by this because it was on my closet, and every time I open my closet it hits me . . . but it’s there . . . so there’s a bunch of items in here . . .

Dalia: Interesting, interesting, let’s discover . . . it’s like Christmas! We start with . . . (-holds up a book-)

Sihem: Okay, so this is actually really funny, it was about two or three months ago in New York, and there were three women who had these huge bags, and they looked like they were about to cry. So I went in and asked, “where do you need to go,” and they were like, “we have no idea, we’re from Utah, we kept asking people, but we can’t ask them, ‘cause we feel like we’re gonna bother them, they’re in such a hurry . . .

Dalia: They were panicking!

Sihem: They were panicking. And they had huge bags and they, well, New Yorkers tend to walk really fast, and they saw that they were kind of annoying or disturbing some of the locals, and they were very uncomfortable and panicking. So I asked them where they were going, and they were actually only about three blocks away from where they were going, and it was on my way . . . so I walked with them, and they told me that they were from Utah, they were sisters, it was their first time in New York . . . and they were so overwhelmed by the fact that I walked with them. And I was just like, ‘this is really nothing, I was on my way anyways,’ and they were very thankful, they were actually very surprised . . .  it was for me very weird . . .

Dalia: An unexpected gesture, they felt.

Sihem: Yeah, but for me it’s nothing, I mean, if you see someone distressed, and it takes absolutely nothing from your time to do, because I was walking that way anyways . . . They kept giving me hugs, and then one of them asked me for my address . . . They said, ‘we’ll send you something,’ and I said, ‘you really don’t have to!’ but they said, ‘we’ll at least send you a letter so that we can correspond.’ And so I gave her my address – and they were Mormons, I guess – so she sends me the book, a umm, t-shirt . . .

Dalia: How long after you met?

Sihem: Umm, about a month and a half, almost.

Dalia: So it was really unexpected.

Sihem: Yes. It was completely unexpected. And my parents were visiting actually, and they saw this, and it took me a couple minutes to remember. And there was a letter inside, and it just said ‘to thank you for your help and your kindness.’ But the thing is, I’m obviously Muslim, so when my parents saw the Book of Mormon was in there, my brother was looking in it . . .they didn’t really understand why I had it.

Dalia: Did you read it?

Sihem: I actually did . . . when she sent it, she had on the cover passages that were relevant to the kindness of people and how they wish more people were like that. But then it was really sweet, she said please don’t feel any pressure into doing anything, it was mostly just a thank-you, and they sent me also a t-shirt from their football team, I think.

Dalia: That is so sweet! I’m going to make sure to cherish that book, and this is a beautiful journey that you lived, right. So it embodies these people that you met . . . so, it is part of your past, and it will become part of my work, my future . . . So that’s one. (-Looks at other objects in bag-)

Sihem: So this is a necklace . . .

Dalia: It’s a love necklace!

Sihem: I actually have no idea where I got it or what . . .  I have no idea.

Dalia: So you don’t know for how long it’s been there?

Sihem: It’s been there at least since I moved, so about two years . . . And it’s been with my stuff at least since I’ve been in the US, so that’s 6, 7 years, so . . .

(-Dalia pulls out scarf from bag-)

And that one, I have three of those . . . So, I was babysitting – had a slumber party – with one of my friend’s nieces, and we made so many of these.

Dalia: Ahh, so it’s handmade. Interesting . . . it takes a lot of time to make this, if I may show . . . this is not a simple procedure. Okay, so you’re letting go . . .

Sihem: I have three, I actually wanted to give them away, but I’ve never had time to actually get that together . . .

(Dalia pulls out socks)

Sihem: I think that’s what was in the bag!

Dalia: A pair of socks . . .

Sihem: I think there is something from Algeria in there . . . It’s taxes!

Dalia: That is also part of collecting, so, it’s a paper . . . Okay, thank you so much!

Sihem: You’re right, it’s good to try and remember, and maybe that will stop you from buying so much! I just have a final question, what would your advice be for an artist in the Middle Eastern or North African regions who want to apply for a residency with ArteEast, or be involved?

Dalia: Just be clear. Be very, very, very clear. I don’t think the people reading your application have time to read a big paragraph like that, (-Spread hands apart-) so just say, authentically, out loud, what are your beliefs and concerns, what is your plan, and then it will be taken from there. I mean, that’s what I did, my application was very brief, it has, like, clear titles that made sense together I think . . . it stems from something important to me, and I think, I’m getting to know the people of New York on a very personal level. And this is, this is a gift that doesn’t happen twice in a life . . . to get to know people quickly, I mean, through this language, I would say. And every item has a lot of value to me now. So yeah, this is a big responsibility because whoever gave me this item – it’s going to be part of my work – so everyone’s waiting to find out what’s going to happen to their story, right, so this is a big responsibility that I’m willing to cherish . . . I still have two weeks in Brooklyn and then I’ll have eight weeks in Utica to make the work. And then I’ll be back in September.

Sihem: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining us, this is our first Facebook live together. If you want more information about Dalia, you can visit her website, and also, if you want to subscribe to our newsletter and visit our website, it’s ArteeEast.org, and you can find out about all of the artists we support and upcoming events. And yeah, thank you!

Dalia: Thank you! Have a good day.

A special Thank You for Residency Unlimited for their hospitality.

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