Meena Hasan, Landscape #1, 2009, ink on paper, 61 x 188 cm, Premio Terna 02 (category Connectivity)
Meena Hasan is a young Bengalese artist who was born in New York in 1987, this is where she grew up and currently lives. She completed her art education at the Oberlin College, a prestigious U.S. private institute, and later graduated at Yale specializing in painting and drawing. The artist perceives the world as an ongoing flow of events that are constantly changing and the purpose of her work is to reflect cultural exchange. To achieve this objective, Hasan has chosen to use drawing, a traditional and ancient technique she uses in several fields: from geographic maps to animation and as a malleable means open to experimentation. Through drawing, Hasan attempts to overcome boundaries, bringing them into harmony and creating common meeting points. Following residency at the American Academy in Rome and her stay in Shanghai with the Terna Prize in 2010, she visited Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh and later returned to New York where she became a member of the Gowanus Studio Space in Brooklyn. Her work has been on display in numerous galleries and institutions, including the Gowanus Loft (New York, 2014), the Touch Gallery (Cambridge, MA, 2014), the Stedelijk Museum (Den Bosch, 2013), the Supec (Shanghai, 2010), the Aicon Gallery (New York, 2010), the Temple of Hadrian and the Maxxi (Rome, 2009). In addition to the Terna Prize (2009) she also received the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Painting in 2013 from the Yale School of Art
Landscape #1 – one of Terna Prize 02-winning works – consists of a collage made out of Bangladeshi paper that attempts to design a landscape using hybrid animals (originating from the West and the East) and the body of a woman in order to describe the complexity of identity» (Meena Hasan).
What role do artists play in the current system of art and society?
I don’t think that there is one singular system of art and society, but instead that there are a myriad of systems linking artists with the communities around them. Each individual artist undeniably brings their own personal histories and politics into their work, with or without intention. The simple act of creating an artwork and then sharing it with the public is political and social in and of itself.
Of course, some artists courageously speak more directly to issues of religion, science, politics, history etc. For example, the visual artist Naeem Mohaimen’s work investigates political histories through their leftist movements and utopian endeavors and he is particularly interested in revealing the complex history of Bangladesh to a global audience. His work takes on many forms as he utilizes photography, film, essays and mixed media. Mohaimen also works diligently as a scholar, writing extensively and analytically on his research and findings. This scholarly activity not only functions alongside his artistic practice but also often becomes the art itself.
There are also many institutions that actively promote socially aware artwork. For example, the Brooklyn Museum of the Arts in New York has an extensive public program that involves the surrounding community daily through lessons, lectures, activities and entertainment events. Their exhibitions themselves are often geared towards public engagement such as the artist Heather Hart’s traveling installation, The Eastern Oracle: We Will Tear The Roof Off The Mother, installed at the Museum in 2012. The piece references colonial architecture, notions of public and private and the spiritual versus the natural. The installation consists of an independent rooftop dropped to the floor that visitors can climb on and into in order to share in the history of the space as well as the spiritual experience it offers.
In one of its first editions, Premio Terna published a survey into the probable developments of the state of art from 2010 to 2015. The results opened a window onto what is effectively the current situation. The forecasts also included the fact that the crisis would lead to outgrowing the habit of complying with dominant rules, as well as greater social commitment of art. Is that what is really happening?
I think that there is simultaneously a newfound enthusiasm for socially aware art today, as well as a market for sellable work that perpetuates a materialistic attitude and promotes ideas concerning status. And then I think, of course, there is the grey area of the many artists, organizers and curators that function between those two opposites.
It is an odd dichotomy that can be reframed as that between «art for art’s sake» versus «functional art». These two modes of making, however, can live in parallel to each other and can also motivate each other to push further in either direction. Art for art’s sake dominates the current art market as far as the exchange of money is concerned, but I do think that art institutions and artists themselves are in active dialogue about work that is overtly socially aware, partly because that is the work that tends to push the boundaries of form and presentation. Artists that pioneer social visions investigate concepts in refreshingly new ways, while also forcing the viewer to ask specific questions.
What effect has taking part in Premio Terna had on your experience and your artistic experimentation? Has it generated any tangible opportunities, including market prospects?
Since my experiences with Premio Terna, I have exhibited my work in New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts and The Netherlands. I graduated from Yale University School of Art’s Painting and Printmaking Master in Fine Arts program in 2013. Upon graduation I was awarded the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Excellence in Painting. I currently maintain my studio in Brooklyn, NY while showing my work regularly and selling to the occasional collector. Premio Terna has proven to be significant in terms of kick-starting my career as an artist and I owe many of my recent accomplishments to the experiences, exposure and generosity that Terna provided.
What do you think Italy should (but does not yet) do to foster creativity and make our country increasingly competitive at an international level? And which country in the world do you think is the best from this point of view?
I am not incredibly well versed in the way the Italian art world functions, unfortunately. However, while at the American Academy I did attend a few openings and noticed that it was roughly the same group of people attending all of the shows and that the art world, at least in Rome, is intimate and has a strong established community. I think, probably, creating a competitive environment starts with the community, which Rome already has, and then follows with the resources available to that community. I imagine more galleries, more residencies, more collectors, more art fairs and public art installations would all be ways to offer resources and allow the art-city to grow into an art-world. Terna, it seems to me, is already acting as an incredible pioneer in this direction and I’m sure that Italian artists can feel those benefits.
Given that it is primarily up to resources, I might say that New York, Paris and London are the three most internationally competitive cities (not necessarily countries, I think finding the most competitive country would be a more complicated task and that, instead, those cities that are the most global and multicultural are the cities where the art world thrives). I am grateful everyday for having grown up in New York City and for continuing to live and work here. I am exposed to contemporary art daily, even just walking down the street, and the art community here is so vast that I am only a small part of a much larger thriving network.
Can you tell us about your experience of residency at the American Academy, following the Terna Prize?
Oh, it was just the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me and I am so grateful to Terna for giving me such an amazing opportunity! I was at the Academy for three months from January to April 2010, and was given the most glorious live-work space I have ever seen (really) as well as delicious free meals every day and a generous stipend. The Academy’s ground are gorgeous and offer ample time and space to focus on your own practice. The communal gatherings during mealtime provided mental sustenance for our practices and I really enjoyed the incredible conversations I shared with artists, filmmakers, archeologists, philosophers, writers, poets, historians etc.
Because I was the youngest person at the time to have ever passed through the Academy, I decided to learn as much as possible from my peers while taking the opportunity to spend my days and nights working diligently in my studio. I created numerous drawings inspired by Persian miniature painting and Islamic patterning as well as the architecture and historic demeanor of my surroundings in Rome. I held an Open Studio at the end of my residency in order to share my work with all the members of the Academy as well as artists from Rome.
It is in that studio that I first had the space, resources and energy to experiment with abstraction. It was also there that I first got to witness the everyday life of an artist who can support him or herself through his or her own work. In other words, it was at the Academy that I made the invaluable realization that I was capable of, as well as desperately desired, the space to make artwork full-time, for the rest of my life.
What of the Italian culture has left a mark on your personal as well as professional route, considering also your wide traveling experience abroad after the Shanghai show?
My family originates from Bangladesh so I grew up traveling regularly from New York City to South Asia. I was surprised, upon arriving in Rome, to find that Italian culture shares many beautiful similarities with Bangladeshi culture: the same appreciation for good food and hospitality as well as a strong reverence for familial ties and heritage. In many ways, I felt right at home in Rome and that feeling helped to broaden my perspective on global culture and what a cross-cultural identity might mean.
Traveling around Shanghai with a group of Italians was incredibly fun and enlightening. Dumplings became raviolis and Shanghai became our playground. I made some wonderful friends, both in Shanghai and in Rome, that I keep in touch with and that have proven to be invaluable figures in both my career and my personal life; I continue to learn from them even today.
Because I am a Bangladeshi-American who travelled to Dhaka yearly as a child and also because I traveled with Terna essentially at the beginning of my career as an artist, travel has come to play a large part in my own practice. Although my current income does not permit as much traveling as I would like, I find that I can travel through time and space by looking at the art made throughout the world. I look for inspiration in American art as well as South Asian, East Asian, African and European art and often think about the distinction between the traveler, the voyeur and the anthropologist (which in itself contains a variety of definitions).
Where is your most recent experimentation leading you? Can you tell us about your future projects and prospects?
Currently, my work primarily depicts figures as they perform daily rituals of change, moving through those trivial moments that are usually simply forgotten. There are legs bent for hands to reach their shoelaces, scarves being wrapped around cold winter necks and water pouring down dirty warm limbs. These figures leave behind material like stray hair, fingerprints and scuffs as they perform their various actions and move around their unstable, shifting environments.
I am drawn to these every-day transitional moments because of my family’s own history with a kind of drifting, traveling existence. Much of my family left Pakistan at the time of the Partition in 1971 and is now scattered across the world, while part of my family has had its roots in Bangladesh for centuries. I am interested in dislocation and the effect and experience of having to uproot oneself, be it for political or environmental reasons; what does it mean to exist in the world as a floating island that remembers where it came from? How does it look to inherit the sense of being in transition, looking simultaneously forwards and backwards while existing solely in the moment? I interrogate, probe and deconstruct this island-person’s sense of self. My work lingers between expressing the Absurd nature and tendencies of our everyday lives and investigating the Sufi Islamic ideals of finding spirituality and meaning within daily repetition and the individual.
I use acrylic paint, taking advantage of its adhesive quality to integrate various Japanese papers, fabric dye and plastics. Acrylics interest me for their stickiness and assertive plasticity – they are made of the same polyethylene that makes up many of the objects that we use daily. The papers go through processes that reference South Asia’s long tradition of textiles. This, along with my inclination towards the kind of patterning that well describes its surface, creates an experiential space. The paintings are an accumulation of material and layers and their surfaces aggressively invite and guide one’s eyes.
In constructing these pictures, I often utilize a first-person perspective, turning the viewer into the artist, subject and outsider all at once. I create graphic compositions so that each corner and texture has importance. The entire picture is a fragmented, yet whole, identity that references the flattening pictorial principles of both Cubism and Miniature Painting. I hope that the destabilizing perspective, inviting colors and vigorous materiality create an environment that is both familiar and uncertain, questioning how we move through the world and how we percieve others and ourselves.
Terna is a company that transmits energy to the Country. Its commitment with Premio Terna focuses on transmitting energy to art and to culture and on creating a network to support and develop talent. Do you think that the formula of “Premio Terna” is still relevant for promoting art? Do you have any suggestions to make for the next edition?
Terna’s ‘formula’ is definitely still relevant as artists are constantly in need of new support and new networks in order to help their practice continue to grow and develop. I had a wonderful experience and was very impressed by how well managed and how open to communication Terna’s representatives were during the second cycle and still are. As the one American in the midst of all the other Italian winners, I felt, in a way, immersed in Italian culture which made the prize go hand in hand with the country, which I thought was fantastic. Also, as the one American, I think that I often offered a strange new perspective (and was sometimes even told so) and the dialogues that I had with my fellow winners were incredibly fruitful and interesting. I don’t think I have any specific suggestions. Terna was so generous it would be strange to ask for more. If resources permitted it would be amazing to continue to travel with the show, even farther than Shanghai. I might also have liked to better understand Terna as a company and how they distribute energy throughout the country, but that might just be out of sheer curiosity!
(cover, 1) Meena Hasan, Landcscape #1, 2009 Ink and Paper on Paper, Premio Terna 02 (2) Meena Hasan, Putting On Scarf 2014 (3) Meena Hasan, Lathering Up, 2013 (4) Meena Hasan, Untitled, 2013 (5) Meena Hasan Taking Off Shoes, 2013 (6) Meena Hasan, Pants, 2014