Hi Marwah, what are you up to these days?
I’m at a pause, contemplating and brainstorming... I have a couple of ideas on the way having to do with public interaction and how to create a dialogue in a public space. It’s also developing a dialogue with the city itself. Things are happening very quick here in this country [Saudi Arabia]..we are emerging in a very fast way..I’m just thinking more about my community and how to contribute to it more than myself as someone who does art.
I saw you in New York where you had been working on an installation using words. Was that the start of the public interaction with words? Can you tell us more about that…
New York is such a visually intense city. Just walking through the streets...I was so overwhelmed by how everything was so condensed and there was so much to look at. So, I gravitated towards text..not to write about my work but as the medium itself.
At that time I was very much inspired by Yoko Ono’s book, “Grapefruit”. I read it before NY and then I read Kurt Johanssen’s book while there. I realized that it was a response to Yoko’s book. So I thought..why not use a new formula? Where I use my own casual arabic that I speak in (the Saudi way). I wrote 2 art instructions and then I felt these instructions should approach the public. Also the arabic handwriting is intriguing. It was my first interaction in the streets and I’m glad it happened in New York...because it’s hard to attract the public in such a busy atmosphere.
Translations of the art instructions:
“Send an empty message to someone who forgot you”
“Open the world map, paste a jasmine leaf on Yemen”
“Cut out Iraq's map, hang it above your mirror, smile to it everyday.”
It’s a gentle reminder of the suffering nations. i just wanted to give my own tender touch.
Why did the art instructions inspire you?
I really loved the language of art instructions. It’s fiction and non-fiction; doable, not doable. Sounds familiar but no, it’s not familiar. It kind of provokes you to do it even if it is fictional. Going through all of Yoko’s instructions..I found it really interesting how she plays with the written text in a poetic context. Because it’s very imaginative and very surreal..it creates what I always call a visual poem. Just imagining it happening is an art piece in itself. And that is the result of an art instruction. You engage the public in an ongoing exhibition..it’s never ending.
Which words are always ringing true in your heart?
There is a quote by Elif Shafak from the book “Forty Rules of Love”.
“You think you cannot live anymore. You think that the light of your soul has been put out and that you will stay in the dark forever. But when you are engulfed by such solid darkness, when you have both eyes closed to the world, a third eye opens in your heart. And only then do you come to realize that eyesight conflicts with inner knowledge. No eye sees so clear and sharp as the eye of love. After grief comes another season, another valley, another you. And the lover who is nowhere to be found, you start to see everywhere."
I get goosebumps every time I read this. In arabic, it sounds even more beautiful. It’s a very soft and tender representation of the ongoing human struggle.
What do you explore through your art?
Mainly the human experience from a psychological and social perspective. I really focus on the inner world more than the outer world. Making the invisible, visible through art. I believe that we have something really big on the inside and what’s happening on the outside is only a fraction of the fraction.
Do you use poetry in any of your other work?
I wrote a fictional story for my first solo show. It was about going back to the inner child, confronting the global social pain and personal internal pain. It was very surreal atmospheric piece: A subject matter floating in water.
Where do your poems come from?
My eyes...I’m a very visual person. My eyes are the first tool to interpret the world around me..then my mind and heart will translate it relatively to what’s happening inside me. I really rely on what I see..and then i re-approach it in an unseen perspective. I see it..then un-see it and then translate it to bring it back to the world.
How does poetry /art connect us as human beings?
That’s a really big and beautiful question. Art is now going through a wide spectrum but as long as you share a common personal human experience, people connect automatically because they are relating to their own experience and by that, the art becomes personal to them, as if it were made for them. Art is just people to people. As long as you are willing to show your human experience..art/poetry can transcend the differences and connect us. It is beyond language and/or culture.
How do you stay tender?
It’s human nature. We were born tender...but reality can get really harsh. So all you have is you..and what you believe in.
Who would you like to see interviewed on We The Tender Hearted?
Ann Hamilton and Bill Viola
photographs by Naomi Shon
To see more of Marwah's work, visit her website.