Sexuality, Violence, and Beauty in Art: Interview with Alqumit Alhamad

QA Blog Series: QA18 Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition: Artist Interviews

Posted on 12/07/2018
Alqumit Alhamad participated in the Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition, as part of the ‘Queer’ Asia Conference 2018. See more here

Artist works taken from Alqumit Alhamad’s series submitted for the exhibition: ‘Memories Requiem’

I thought it was fitting to choose a sample of my work that speaks to what it means to not only cross borders but also to be crossed by them. In my work, I am referring to borders in both the physical and psychological sense.

1 Alqumit Alhamad_Four Ethers
‘Four Ethers’

What experience or education led to your artistic practice? Could you briefly explain your trajectory?

As far as I could remember, I’ve been always interested in things of beauty. When I was a child, I was always drawn to pictures of nicely dressed models and celebrities, and I actually took up sketching dress design for people I admired. I guess one could say I had this specific sensitivity to beauty early on. I realize this is likely because of the atmosphere of the household I grew in and the significance given especially by my mother to developing and nurturing talents that had to do with beauty. Therefore, when I graduated high school, I got into the Fine Arts program at the University of Aleppo in the second largest city of my home country, Syria. It was a good experience to study there, as it opened my eyes to many things, but gradually I began to feel that the academic focus was at times quite restrictive. So, I started to experiment on my own, with different themes and techniques. I guess I should also mention how my interests have had a certain impact on my artistic practice – gender, sexuality, violence, death, rebirth, decay, etc. This may explain why I have recently been very interested in the Vanitas School.

2 AA Sinning
‘Sinning’

 

Could you describe your series of drawings, Memories Requiem, for the Bodies x Borders exhibition?

Since the theme of the third Queer Asia Conference is about the biopolitics of queer bodies in relation to the issue of borders, I thought it was fitting to choose a sample of my work that speaks to what it means to not only cross borders but also to be crossed by them. In my work, I am referring to borders in both the physical and psychological sense. The pieces I’ve selected can be generally described as preoccupied with dualities of different sorts, which I thought would link with the duality the theme that this year’s conference suggests. 

What was the process for creating Memories Requiem?

I’m a visual artist by training and by virtue of interest, so creating the right visual effect is key. I achieve this effect through colouring techniques that could highlight contradictions—stark at times—to bring forward my message. I usually use symbols from nature; natural elements are so useful to construct a body of work and as a metaphorical means to communicating your ideas as an artist. Thus, you may notice that most of the pieces I’ve chosen for the conference borrow from nature and work through nature. The contradictions I’ve just referred to can be seen from the perspective of dualities, especially with regards to violence, which I’m keen to depict on my work on different levels and in connection with many themes. 

My work also relates to how queer bodies in the Arab World and Syria are still heavily regulated and disciplined, so survival is not only a metaphor for artistic creation, but also an issue relating to daily life.

How do you think this series relates to the theme of Bodies x Borders? How do your personal experiences relate to your artistic practice?

I see that it connects on several levels. First of all, I’m a refugee who had to flee the war in Syria. I had to cross many physical borders all the way to reach Sweden, where I reside now, but I also faced social and political hurdles in the process of resettlement. Secondly, the question of survival highlighted by the conference is also relevant in the sense that I see my work to be therapeutic in the face of my own personal traumas, and they act as collective grievances. And finally, manoeuvring space and borders in one’s own development another element that I see intersecting with my work overall. My work also relates to how queer bodies in the Arab World and Syria are still heavily regulated and disciplined, so survival is not only a metaphor for artistic creation, but also an issue relating to daily life. 

3 Aqumit Alhamad_I Know It Hurts
‘I Know It Hurts’

How do you think your drawings in the exhibition fits with your overall body of work?

The pieces to be shown relate to my previous work in one way or another. For example, gender and sexuality have been two themes I’ve presented over the last few years. Another common theme is violence. In viewing my earlier work, especially those I created right before and in the period following fleeing Syria, you may notice that those themes were present then as well, even though choosing how to express these concepts may have been slightly different. So, thematically, I would say there’s no departure from my previous work. However, on a more technical level, one can say that my colouring techniques have become more sophisticated. 

Do you have any expectations for how audiences will respond to your work? Are there any messages you wish visitors would take away after seeing your work?

I really hope that those who are going to see my work will appreciate what it means for our bodies, especially queer bodies, to be regulated both individually and collectively, I think it’s quite telling that I have been denied a UK visa, hence why I will not be in attendance at the conference. This is an example that speaks to how our bodies are regulated and appropriated. I also hope that the audiences might make the connections between my work and the work of other artists participating in the conference.

Artist Biography: My name is Alqumit Alhamad, a 25-year-old native of Syria and now a refugee who has been granted residency in Sweden. I am a self-taught visual artist who initially started academic studies of Fine Arts back in Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria, before this was disrupted by the onset of the civil war and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIL) taking over my hometown of Raqqa. It was not only the war that triggered my seeking a safe haven, but also a need I had nurtured to find the right space for artistic self-expression and actualization. And Sweden became a refuge back at the beginning of 2016. Since then, I have been given the opportunity, through the welcoming and nurturing environment of the host society as well as by virtue of a personal dedication to accomplish my dreams, to take part in several art shows, both group and individual, where my work has been featured along with that of distinctive others and has been also appreciated for the issues it portrays. I have additionally sought to engage myself with causes that relate to me the most personally, such as LGBTQ rights, refugee and immigrant issues, gender and women, mental illness, among many others. In this sense, I have joined and been working with many organizations in the Malmo area that promote equality, rights and better integration of new comers who seek in Sweden a home alternative to theirs for a variety of reasons – be they war, sexual oppression or religious and ethnic prosecution. Thus, my work and art are inseparable: how individuals come to terms with who they are, especially when they stand out from the group for matters relating to identity, emotions, illness, etc. is largely and frequently depicted in my art. In short, my experience as an LGBTQ refugee artist from Syria has acquired multiple new meanings and dimensions given the space one finds in Sweden that enables a better reasoning with matters of identity, belonging and rights.
Alqumit’s work can be viewed on Facebook and on Instagram