ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hadeer Omar as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Hadeer Omar (1988, Alexandria) is an Egyptian new media artist, designer, and educator. Omar holds an MFA in Design and BFA in Graphic Design from VCUarts Qatar. Her research explores cultural identity and memories, the self, and narratives artfully through immersive XR media and technologies, graphics, photography, VJ performance and video art installations.
She currently serves as an Assistant Professor at VCUarts Qatar, and was a former artist in residence at Fire Station program in Qatar. Her work has been showcased in Egypt, the US, Austria, France, UK, Bulgaria, Qatar, Dubai, Russia and Germany.
Omar’s passion for documentary storytelling and cultural movements crosses disciplines within art, immersive technology, new digital media, photography, and film, as a means of presenting stories through her work. She found her way by utilizing digital and analog tools, to observe her surroundings, document her process, and build a body of work that tells stories.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Hadeer Omar: I reflect and ask a lot of questions about myself and my identity as a woman, a Muslim, Middle Eastern African who grew up on the Northern Coast of Egypt and has been in Qatar for the last 17 years. Asking myself what I am doing here and what my purpose is. My work revolves around that, and even if I don’t want to articulate it, I come back to it because I think many of us ask these questions. The purpose of why we are here, our position and image, our legacy; since I’m not capable of writing or saying it visually.
I’m curious about how to tell stories in all ways and forms. I observe a lot, and my documentation has been a way of preserving what’s happening around me. I’ve been interested in bridging storytelling, art, and technology in my work for the last couple of years. This allowed my work to be, I would say, more experimental and organic; it is continuously growing when it comes to exploring digital media.
AE: Tell us about your Fragmented Realities installation you exhibited at the Fire Station in 2021. How did this project come about and what were some of the challenges you faced in putting together this elaborate installation?
HO: Fragmented realities installation was part of my residency at the Doha Fire Station program in Doha 2019-2020. I was interested in designing an immersive collective experience that captured my own and other people’s knowledge regarding the process of dreams; if they remember any of their dreams or what they believe they symbolize. My research investigates its science, the philosophy behind dreams, and how art can get involved in the processes related to the senses of smell, time, or space.
When I started this project, I knew for sure that I was interested in dreams as a question and what’s around dreams as a phenomenon. I was obsessed for a long time; I watched documentaries and interviewed people talking about their dreams and incorporated social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. I started researching and using the time of my residency to work on the technology to bring this project to life.
I started learning quickly how to think spatially about the experience of how people interact in the space; the sound design was a massive part of my installation, which made me collaborate with sound designer Sahar Elkabbash for that process. I collected stories and voice notes from people around me, introduced the project to my students in my class, and created visuals and different narratives that go with the project. Almost 60 people participated, which was a lot to handle but simultaneously rewarding. The challenges were being alone during Covid; when it came to the technology, I had to find the right people to work with to support me technically. I did my technical research and learned everything from scratch before even approaching collaborators for help.
AE: Can you speak about your experience as an Assistant Professor at VCUarts Qatar teaching time-based media and storytelling? Has the act of teaching and conversing with students taught you something in turn or influenced any aspects of your practice?
HO: I started teaching at VCUarts Qatar when Covid began. Before that, I was a teacher assistant in the Art Foundation department, so I knew a little about the workflow, dealing with the students, or translating ideas into steps and plans. I learned a lot in the Teacher Assistant program that we had in the school, which equipped me with the tools I needed once I started to work as an assistant professor.
I teach Time studio, the idea of time, and the relationship of time with everything else. I structured the course around curiosity about all sorts of media and finding a story to tell. A lot of self-reflection happens in my class of freshmen, who are new to the system of being in the university, and can benefit from a course like that to help them explore critical thinking and making.
I teach them editing, for example. It is a great tool for understanding how to communicate your idea, thinking of its beginning, middle, and end, and how you can build that puzzle so many times to tell many stories. I also teach them art fundamentals such as light and shadows or color theory. I see the students take these challenges or opportunities and come back with many unexpected resolutions, troubleshooting, and observations.
I feel it’s helpful for me as a researcher to start with the basics when it comes to tackling a problem or thinking about a specific topic; going to the basics to introduce myself as a maker from different aspects of the project before any other steps are taken. The course is an excellent space that overlaps with my research and introduces students to it too.
AE: How has your art practice evolved when it comes to engaging with immersive technologies?
HO: I have always been curious and constantly feeling hungry to know more and more about technology and get updated daily. As new inventions and discoveries have come along, they have made me think that I’m always running after that technology and trying my best to be up-to-date. Immersive technologies as an idea have been in my mind for several years, but I could not define it or understand it fully until I went to South Africa. I participated in an immersive media lab by Electric South in 2018 that supports African artists and their projects. I met people from the fields of journalism, media, filmmaking, design, and all sorts of artists. They were all coming together with ideas they hoped to turn into immersive experiences. There was the freedom to explore, and I discovered that more individuals and institutions are now interested in exploring new ways of communicating complex ideas.
The Lab was a turning point for me; I’m just a confused, curious artist, and the more I’m confused, the happier I get, so when I went to that Lab, it felt like everything made sense because I couldn’t fit myself in a box. New technologies helped me be more flexible through trial and error and by embracing mistakes and updates.
AE: When and how did you start performing live? How do you approach your live audiovisual performances in comparison to installations in gallery spaces and your overall art practice?
HO: Last year, I started thinking about producing other ways of designing experiences and installations that could be installed and disassembled on the same day to be more efficient regarding time, resources, and maintenance. The first collaborator was Sonic Jeel, a Qatar-based initiative and lab investigating sound and electronic music locally and internationally. We performed a live-streamed audiovisual performance at Shubbak Festival in London during COVID.
I collaborated with Youssef Elimam, an Egyptian musician and actor. We did three performances and called them it’s everywhere, based on the title of one of his tracks. Together we designed an audiovisual performance in gallery spaces in Cairo, Egypt: in TAM gallery, Karim Francis gallery, and Medrar for Contemporary Art space and lab. We all came together as performers and audiences to experience something. It is documented and gone forever.
Also, I worked with Shkoon, a Syrian-German band, who mainly create electronic music. I worked on their new album artwork and visuals for their summer album tour in Egypt and Lebanon. This is all very interesting to me as it’s all happening rather quickly. I’m happy with the experience of meeting people and collaborating to help them share their stories and mine.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
HO: Nonotak Studio’s work is very sophisticated, unique, and immersive. They work mainly with geometry and black-and-white installations. They build all sorts of spaces for any setup, and they have a very significant style which I feel is what makes them stand out. I’ve never experienced one of their works, but I would love to.
Another one is Artechouse in New York and Washington; I had a chance to visit and experience both. They collaborate with many artists, animators, sound designers, etc. They have a very sustainable business model, which blurs the lines between gallery spaces, site-sighting, and entertainment. It’s fascinating what they’re doing.
I recently collaborated with John Dave; he’s a visual artist and has a studio based in the Middle East. He also collaborates with many musicians, happenings, and events in that region. I was fascinated with his workflow. More and more talents in the Middle East are interested in the new media and curious about other technologies, incorporating them with arts and culture to express so many happenings and stories right here.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023?
HO: I’m working on a short VR documentary film. It’s a psychedelic journey that takes you on it. On this trip, you get to meet a character with so much to say and offer who immerses us within her Virtual Reality world to tell her story. The film is under development now in Doha Film Institute Documentary Lab; Cambodian film director Rithy Panh leads the Lab.
Also, I am exhibiting the I would wake up with blue eyes short film at Majaz: Contemporary Art Qatar at Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar, part of the Doha Fire Station residency program Alumni Show. The show is on till the beginning of next year. I worked on it with my former TA, Sahar Elkabbash, and former Art Foundation students.
HADEER OMAR ONLINE
Website : hadeeromar.me