ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Dala Nasser as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Dala Nasser (b. 1990, Lebanon, lives and works in Beirut) she received her BFA from Slade School of Fine Arts, London (2016) and her MFA at Yale School of Art, graduating in 2021 with a focus on painting. Her work has been shown internationally, including at BetonSalon, Paris (2019); Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2017 and 2019); Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah (2019); Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles (2018); Victoria Miro, London (2018); Deborah Schamoni, Munich (2021). Residencies and prizes include Boise Travel Scholarship (2016), Sursock Museums Emerging Artist Prize (2018), artist in residence at Ashkal Alwan Beirut (2018), Gapado Air South Korea (2019), and VO Curations London (2021).
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Dala Nasser: I’m a material and process-based artist working through abstraction and alternative forms of image making. My practice examines the human and non-human entanglement in the perpetually deteriorating environmental, historical and political conditions resulting from practices of extraction and generations of colonial erasure.
I work with found and collected material, ash, dried flowers, natural pigments, rain water and wind. By using a specific pigment extracted from one kind of mollusk or by making rubbings of a particular tree, every material mark represents an explicit location and history.
I guess this is all to say I work with and through landscape.
AE: How did you arrive at your current process-based and experimental approach to art making?
DN: I moved to the UK from Lebanon and quickly saw the massive gap in the art education between my peers and myself. I felt I had to find a practice I was comfortable with that didn’t rely on hours of honed life drawing or oil painting skills. The best way to do that was through deconstructing what I already knew, or thought I knew, about art and start building something from there.
I broke down painting into its core physical components: separating canvas from pigment and oil, getting rid of one part and introducing another, just following the process. I truly enjoy working this way and eventually it became my practice. I make very deliberate decisions about the physical matter that goes into each work, and at the same time have foregone the element of control by leaving it entirely up to the matter to establish its final form. I would say my practice is one of composition and experimentation rather than mastery and fixed outcomes.
AE: You currently live in Beirut and have studied in London and New Haven, Connecticut. Since your practice is informed by ecological histories and the materiality of territory, have you incorporated the various localities you have lived in within your work, and if so, how?
DN: I have, but these locales have always been linked to Lebanon in a way. For example, while in London, I produced an artwork about the 2015 trash crisis in Beirut and the opening of a private art foundation designed by a prominent London architect using his London studio’s garbage. While in New Haven, I produced a body of work based on the Scroll and Key secret society tomb at Yale, designed using heavily orientalist motifs borrowed from the Middle East to evoke mystery and mysticism. In this work I made imprints and rubbings of these motifs adorning the gate, windows, and doors. All these pieces explore architecture’s assertion of certain power dynamics in the private/state authority that surrounds us, and their links to how this region is perceived, or more so, used.
AE: You work with various found objects, including dried flowers, ash, and rainwater, in addition to objects that you collect from your surroundings, such as used bed sheets that belonged to your grandparents. How do you translate incorporating the personal within your work and placing them in contact with materials gathered from nature?
DN: I don’t really see this separation. Everything can be personal and impersonal, in a sense, it’s all material.
AE: You approach land and materials as non-human witnesses to history. How do you understand the significance of your works with respect to the historical record and as bearers of traces of this witnessing?
DN: I would very much hope the works carry historical significance. But it really depends on the viewer. I believe in the alchemy of painting, but some might not. I’ve been producing videos along with the works. In Red in Tooth, I document the drive to the Wazzani River, where I had buried fabric for 3 months. In The Dead Shall be Raised, I filmed myself making rubbings of the Roman port of Tyre. So if some view the works themselves as not being a part of an archive of history, I have films that document it.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
DN: The Gutai movement in post World War II Japan is a huge influence, so is Arte Povera, the New Visions group from Palestine in the late 80s, and the American land artists of the 70s. They all focus on the purity and agency of material, while simultaneously challenging artistic hierarchies of skill. They’re all so disciplined in their approaches. But outside of art specific influences, I’m really inspired by travelers, through literature and film. I love road movies, even Anthony Bourdain is an influence.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023?
DN: I am working on a commission for the upcoming Carnegie International in Pittsburg, which I am very excited about! I also will be in the next Sharjah Biennale and am working on a body of work for an upcoming solo show in 2023. I live in Beirut but my studio is in the south of Lebanon, all these works were produced on different sites in the south.
DALA NASSER ONLINE: