ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Samar Hejazi as part of our Artist Spotlight.
By channeling her Palestinian ancestry through the historical choreography found in craft practices, Samar observes the complex conversations between social constructivism, ethnology and the ethos of modernity. These ideas are engaged in an ongoing way through her process and development of diverse materials and forms.
Since graduating with a BFA in New Media from Ryerson University in Toronto, Samar Hejazi has attended Arquetopia instructional residencies in Oaxaca, Mexico and Cusco, Peru for which she was awarded a scholarship. She attended the Takt Art Residency in Berlin in 2016, and completed a studio residency at the Toronto Museum Of Contemporary Art in 2019 which concluded in a group show. Most recently Samar was invited to take part in the international mentorship program at the Arquetopia Foundation. Samar has exhibited nationally and internationally at the Possum Gallery in Berlin and Decentered Gallery in Puebla, Mexico where she showed works alongside renowned artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Roberto Montenegro and Carlos Arias.
ArteEast: Can you speak to the traditional Palestinian embroidery, tatreez, that you primarily use in your work? What drew you to use this as a medium and what does it represent for you?
Samar Hejazi: My decision to learn tatreez was intuitive, which eventually turned conceptual. I thought of it as a method to explore my identity as well as the societal, political and traditional influences surrounding self-identification.
Setting aside its inherently cultural qualities and aesthetic—which I am drawn to due to my familiarity with it—in my practice, I enjoy observing the act of embroidering, its social dimensions and its ability to open the doors of conceptual questioning. I see it as text as well as a source of knowledge that I can draw information from.
AE: How does your work subvert strict tatreez embroidery techniques and what does this represent for your practice as a whole?
SH: The technique found in tatreez follows a specific methodology. I consider the emphasis on methodology as a behavior that expects a specific performance from the embroiderer, comparable to the expectations of societal ideologies placed on people. When I work with the motifs: pulling them apart, distorting them, playing with shadow and scale, I interrupt the rhythmic, repetitive performance and negotiate a new way for them to exist, which in turn creates a space for questioning, exploration and difference. This is what led me, in some artworks, to use embroidery as a metaphor for the discontinuous performative acts that constitute self-identification.
AE: How does your conception of identity influence your work and methodology?
SH: I see identity as a performance of repeated behaviors that are learnt from the surrounding society, its belief systems, its history and personal experiences.
Having lived amidst various cultures and observing conflicting narratives, I learned that perception and meaning are always changing based on context. It helped me question the power of perception. This inspires me to create work that exists differently and uniquely in the encounter between itself and the viewer. I do this by manipulating light, shadow and subtle movement in relation to the interaction and vantage points of the viewer.
AE: Some of your series, such as Transgressed Boundaries, consist of embroidery without support fabric, as if the embroidered motifs were floating. Could you elaborate on this technique and what drew you to it?
SH: It started with the goal of creating embroidery without fabric. I thought it would be a good way to express how it felt to be a diaspora. Once I figured out the technique to create what I had visualized, I realized there was an abundance of new characteristics that the technique itself brought to life. Traces of immaterial forms such as shadows, movement and reflections appeared and were constantly expanding and contracting in relation to the environment.
I related the behaviors of the artwork to the way reality and its notions could be experienced: constantly moving and transforming based on the viewer’s perspective.
It expanded my understanding of identity and the limitations of its definition. This inability to contain and control the work informed the concept of the series. Transgressed Boundaries challenges the perception of boundaries and our ability to create a static reality.
AE: Who are some of your biggest creative influences and why?
SH: I draw a lot of inspiration from cultural and societal stories that are passed down through the form of oral traditions. I am drawn to Islamic art and architecture, in particular for its use of repetition and geometry.
In terms of contemporary artists, I am inspired by Do Ho Suh’s installations. I find that the ethereal quality of his immersive textile pieces, the craftsmanship and the simplicity of the message are masterfully conveyed. I also draw inspiration from installation artist Cornelia Parker for the way she expresses temporality and for her use of found objects.
Joseph Albers’ work on color is also a big inspiration, particularly the way he describes the experience of color as an illusion. I have recently come across Rana Begum’s work whose way of manipulating light form and color is fascinating.
AE: You participated in residencies with the Arquetopia Foundation where you learned traditional Oaxacan embroidery techniques in Oaxaca, Mexico and natural pigment fabric dyeing in Cusco, Peru. What differences and similarities did you observe between your traditional methods and those from Oaxaca and Cusco?
SH: The stitches found in Mexican embroidery are similar to those used in Palestinian embroidery. The differences lie in the method, the size of the stitches, the composition, and the colors. In general, the compositions in tatreez are more geometric, symmetrical, angular and the colors are what I would consider deeper tones, although there are exceptions that can be found.
I didn’t learn natural dye techniques in the Middle East, but based on my research, similarities between the Peruvian and Arab dyes can be found in some of the organic material used to make pigment (Indigo, madder, etc.). I imagine that the recipes are different due to the types of fibres available to each area (alpaca wool vs. camel or goat wool).
SAMAR HEJAZI ONLINE: