As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. Our fourth interview is with Yusuf Ali Hayat, Helpmann Academy Resident.
You were born in England to Indian parents and now live and work in Australia. How has movement across these cultures influenced your work?
A lot of my art practice has been preoccupied with ideas about being and longing and be(long)ing. Growing up in England, there is the big mainstream culture, then there are other cultures (which I grew up in and around). When I started to move out of the security of family and community I became more acutely aware of my distance from the dominant cultural centre. I think many people, especially second and third generation migrants, experience a hypersensitivity to all forms of exclusion and discrimination. There is an awareness that you (not coming from the dominant culture) might not always be represented in a lot things – and the things represented, are not reflective of your experience. In Australia too, I am aware of this ‘otherness’, I can also see trends that open up the mainstream without fetishizing and exoticising minority cultures. Difference is good!
I’m interested in the history of intercivilisational contact. If you think of cultures as fixed, bounded entities then there is no room for engagement. Culture is more dynamic, we need to create a dialogue, to try to keep finding ways to penetrate the established centre. Because of my perceived distance from the settled cultural centre that’s the position from which I negotiate my relationship with it. This distance creates a critical space that, for me, is also the creative space.
Through interaction there is room for re-negotiation, the settled centre shifts and mutates in some way. I don’t necessarily have to find the equivalent in the mainstream culture but I might find something familiar then appropriate and reassemble. A lot of what I make comes from within this constant cultural translation. Instead of assimilating into the centre, maintaining a sense personal agency gives importance to the things I grew up with, that I value and help me make sense of the world.
You work in a variety of different mediums. Tell us more about the processes you have been exploring while here in Rome?
I love learning new things and experimenting with materials and processes. I enjoy seeing how different materials behave and the potential for communicating something. I think about mediums and materials in terms of language. As with language and words, materials can carry meaning too. Jumping between different mediums I am looking for how I can best communicate. Sometimes this is also about reaching the limits of my technical skill and experience with the medium.
I come across this problem often with my limited Italian and try a Spanish or English word or phrase. Some words don’t readily translate or don’t have an equivalent in the other language. This can lead to unusual phrases that can be exciting through being interpreted differently. I used to work at a residence for asylum seekers whilst their claim for refugee status was being processed. Someone came to say that their light was not working. He couldn’t find the right word for bulb, he instead said ‘there is no sunshine in my room’. It wasn’t a place many people would stay out of choice and I felt empathy for him which might not have happened in the same way if he had simply reported the bulb in his room needed replacing. This is what I mean by switching between languages (and mediums) new expressions are found, trying to say the same thing using different words.
The medium I have been working with here comes from looking around Rome and how most people I see engage with the city.
I’ve spent a lot of time around Piazza Navona, I kept gravitating towards the depiction of the river Ganges in Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. A lot of visitors to Rome pass by there and nearly everyone takes a photo.
It’s pretty likely that some people’s experience of the fountain is mediated through the screen and the photo they take away of themselves there. Photography felt like an appropriate medium to communicate something of how most visitors engage with Rome.
Photography is about time, a medium that is caught up in the register of time. This is relevant in a place such as Rome, where you are surrounded by the gravity of history, its weight and the build-up of time. I’m also aware of the physical build-up of time here and how that is visible in the depth of excavations!
Conventional photography is often about the snapshot – ‘the decisive moment’. The photographic technique I am working with abandons some of the conventions of photography — i.e. where there is a single perspective and time is constant across the frame.
In the work for the Mostra the register of time across the image has shifted. The images are more an impression of the process and duration of making rather than a stamp of the moment in front of the lens.
Yusuf’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.
Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by Yusuf Ali Hayat