ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hiba Kalache as part of our Artist Spotlight.
Born in Beirut, Hiba Kalache is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice spans installation, drawing, painting, sculpture and interactive projects. Kalache draws on her daily life for her materials, process and content. She interrogates the separation between the private and public spheres, and more specifically, what she calls, “the banality of daily rituals.” Her recent interests include female desire and the abject in relation to truth, and the possibility of positing futurity in an era of perpetual presentism. In her latest project Our Dreams are a Second Life, Kalache shows a ragingly luminescent body of work that extends the themes and gestures of her practice. Produced in a period of protracted sociohistorical and existential crises, this recent work is consonant with the times, even if only obliquely so.
In 2005, Kalache received a Master of Fine Arts degree from California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. She has since exhibited in Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul, New Orleans, Oakland, San Jose (USA), San Francisco, Tehran, Athens, London and Paris. Her work has also been shown at art fairs including Art Dubai, Drawing Now (Paris), and Gwangju Art (South Korea).
Kalache’s recent exhibitions include Encounters – ongoing (2020) at The Upper Gallery at Saleh Barakat Gallery, Lemonade Everything Was So Infinite (2018), a solo exhibition curated by Natasha Gasparian at Saleh Barakat Gallery, Mimesis Expression Construction (2016) curated by Octavian Esanu at the American University of Beirut’s Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Museum, Heartland (2015) curated by Joanna Chevalier at the Beirut Exhibition Center, and Under Construction, Exposure (2014) curated by Marie Muracciole at the Beirut Art Center. In 2012, she had solo shows in Beirut with The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space, and the FFA Private Bank. In 2017, she taught fine arts at the Lebanese American University.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Hiba Kalache: My work is inspired by the spaces I inhabit, and it often indirectly acts as a witness to these spaces. In brief, my work obliquely deals with the geopolitics of the Middle East—where I am from—and more explicitly, it engages with the world from the position occupied by a female body. Over the years, I found myself returning to the same threads of interest, such as the psychoanalytic notion of the abject and the repetition, violence, and magic of the every day, while at the same time shifting my focus to different themes and technical or formal explorations. Since graduate school, I have looked at my daily life very closely and integrated it into my artistic practice. Through a ritual of early morning journaling and sketching, I begin to prepare a larger body of work or a series with the aim of producing a solo show. Dialogue with my gallerist and curator is an essential part of my process. I usually have a vision regarding what I want, or how I wish to engage with a gallery space, even though each work exists on its own and is never predetermined. I like to treat each work as a disruption, an important event. The process involves a lot of spontaneity and improvisation, as well as imagination, fantasy, and sometimes even escape. I remain forever curious about the materiality of the work and the peculiarities of every medium. The formal aspects of artmaking drive my process forward. In recent years, the subject of the geopolitical has infiltrated my work, particularly the highly politicized nature and history of the Lebanese landscape where the quotidian is violently disrupted. The work thus taps into the multilayers of how the geopolitical is lived daily through a gendered body and affectual experience.
AE: You recently held a show entitled, Encounters – ongoing (2020) at The Upper Gallery/ Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut. Can you tell us about the series and works you created for this show, which was in turn published as part of ARTMargins, MIT Press Direct (2019)?
HK: In parallel to the time spent in my art studio, I am drawn to engaging socially with the community. I periodically work on a new theme that aims to directly involve a public and triggers conversations with others. The resulting documented oral exchanges lead to a visual project. One of my most recent projects, Encounters-ongoing, which was shown in July 2020 at Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut, was the result of informal conversations I had with farmers along specific terrains in Lebanon and country borders. This series of works alluded to and yet blurred the sectarian religious divisions upon which the ownership of lands is based. I showed eighteen drawings with text, each of which marked these intimate encounters.
AE: You completed both your BFA and MFA in Montreal and San Francisco, respectively. What was it like returning to Beirut to continue your art practice? How has your experience of the art scene in Beirut evolved over the last decade, as well as since the devastating explosion in August 2020 and the ongoing economic crisis?
HK: Drawing and mark-making as acts of expressing experiences and building visual languages have been central to my artistic development in the last decade. Since graduate school, psychoanalytic notions have been key. The series of works I first produced for my last solo show, Our Dreams are a Second Life (Saleh Barakat Gallery, December 2020), materialized in July 2019 during an art residency in Varanasi, India. There I sustained daily practice of automatic drawing. I kept my eyes blind-folded for about an hour and constructed a specific rhythm and pattern on paper. The work that has been included in ArtEast’s Legacy Trilogy was created in this period. With the October 17, 2019 uprising in Beirut, and throughout the various stages of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the contours of the exhibition eventually shifted to become more political, while remaining indebted to psychoanalytic insights.
Following the devastating August 4 explosion in Beirut, new questions emerged: where is my exact place as an artist during such a crisis, and how do I protest through my daily art practice, when there is a persistent need for emotional, physical, and financial survival? I felt at that point an urge to announce my sense of presence beyond or despite the indiscriminate tragedy. I did so in my last solo show in December 2020.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
HK: My creative influences have varied, and I will name only a few across the arts. Authors such as Helene Cixous and Clarice Lispector, whose works I have devoured in the past two years, have helped the intellectual development and articulation of my recent projects. Artists and poets to whom I can relate and who amuse me include Iman Mersal and Afaf Zurayk. In the studio, Mashrou’ Leila, Shkoon, Stormzy, and The Blessed Madonna are among those who trigger the right mood and rhythm. I find confidence in reading about the practices of Louise Bourgeois, Cy Twombly, and Sam Francis, in engaging with other local artists in my network in Beirut and abroad, and in keeping a conversation going with my Beirut gallerist and my genius curator.
AE: How have you been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic? Once the global pandemic subsides, do you have any shows or projects coming up in 2021 and 2022?
HK: The pandemic has managed to affect me directly. I have now decided to take a step back and seek refuge in stillness and self-care. Lately, I have been reflecting on the terms care, ease, and transgenerational trauma. Given the political climate in Lebanon today — my government not caring about, or for, me — it is vital that we care for ourselves and one another. It is important for us to reclaim our identities, to remain central to the stories we tell, and to contribute to a necessary and collective process of healing. I look forward to doing new work that can manifest change and create shifts in perceptions. I have plans to show new work in California in 2022.
HIBA KALACHE online: