Established by The Abraaj Group, a leading private equity investor, to support contemporary artists of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, the Abraaj Group Art Prize is back for its 9th edition in 2017. This year, the jury received a record number of applications from 61 countries; more than double the number received in 2015. Following the application and jury process, four artists are shortlisted for the prize and one (of the four) artists awarded the $100,000 commission. The aim of the prize is to empower potential and give often under-represented contemporary artists the resources to further develop their talent. This year’s prize is curated by Omar Berrada, a New York based writer, translator and curator and the director of Dar al-Ma’mun, a library and artists residency in Marrakech.
Counting down to the fair, Art Dubai sits with Tehran-born, Brooklyn-based Raha Raissnia, whose practice encompasses painting, drawing, filmmaking, and performance, with each medium informing the other, resulting in installations and performances where composite projections of hand-painted slides and films are layered on painted screens and panels.
Her painting practice brings and adds elements of abstraction to the vision she captures onto film and her films bring in elements of reality into her paintings. What reveals itself as a subject matter in all of her work is of human vulnerability. Although at times her work seems to allude to the dismal, her philosophy is optimistic and believes in human integrity. Her art makes use of both old and new technologies. Music and sound play a major role in both inspiring and forming completed works.
Her film work can be associated with expanded cinema practice where she manipulates cinema’s structural elements in regards to space, time, projectors, and screens in live performances. She gained exposure to avant-garde filmmaking as an intern at Anthology Film Archives.
Her film works are the result of an iterative approach: footage shot on Super-8, 16mm, digital, and even mobile phone is manipulated in the studio; Raissnia projects the footage onto paintings and screens, integrating found materials and additional film and digital imagery, and refilms the whole to yield densely layered celluloid films. These films, in turn, are often screened superimposed with handmade slides or fashioned into film loops that Raissnia manually manipulates on projectors, which take on the role of instruments.
One recent body of work, derived from video recordings of East Harlem street scenes, oscillates between keenly observed portraits, by turn stoic and vibrant, and the sublime nature abstracted images achieve through texture and rhythm. Raissnia has collaborated with musicians such as Charles Curtis, Briggan Krauss, Dalius Naujo, Doron Sadja, and Aki Onda.
In a conversation with Raha, we were given a chance to delve deeper into her practice and personality, as well as gain insight on her forthcoming work at the Abraaj exhibition this year.
AD: Can you describe the sources of inspiration for your art ?
RR: It’s mainly from people of the past and now who engage in serving humanity by shining light on all that is profound and beautiful in existence.
AD: Does your own heritage influence your work, and if so, how does this manifest itself?
RR: My heritage is infused in me, therefore it manifests in all that I do in various subtle ways that are not always clearly apparent. I don’t impose it on whatever I make in any conscious way.
AD: How has your work with the Abraaj Group helped you develop your artistic practice?
RR: For the Abraaj exhibition I am transforming a piece that has existed for performance into an installation. This requires shifting my consideration for the piece in new and interesting ways. I am excited to see the results.
AD: Tell us more about working with Omar.
RR: Omar is very intelligent and sensitive. He is very calm and attentive to all details. It’s a big pleasure to work with him and I am excited to find out more about him and his thinking behind the exhibition.
AD: Has your work ever brought you to Dubai? What are you specifically looking forward to in coming here?
RR: I have never been to Dubai. I am looking forward to discover what kind of music the locals listen to.
AD: In terms of developing and exhibiting the project commissioned by the Abraaj Group, what are you most looking forward to leading up to the fair?
RR: I am looking forward to seeing the impact of the overall exhibition with all four artist’s works in it. To see how the works will communicate with one another in one setting and up against the entire fair.
AD: What is your most important artistic tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
RR: I have no specific tool I depend upon.
AD: How did you start your artistic practice and what is the driving force that compels you to keep making art?
RR: My practice happened in a natural way out of my tendencies since an early age. The driving force is also part of my nature and is beyond my control.
AD: Which artist, if any, continues to be a source of guidance for you?
RR: Many of my friends and great minds involved in serving humanity.