Behind the Art of… Wasim Zaid Habashneh
By Liam Shearer
What is an artist?
In simple terms, an individual who uses material – be it paint or words, physical or psychological – to create a reflection of themselves or the world they inhabit. However absurd or abstract the piece turns out to be, there is always one process which links all artistic projects together – the arrangement of material. How we learn to perceive, understand, arrange and utilise material – the fabric of a dressmaker or the memories of a reflective writer – crafts us as artists. In a material world, we are continually defined by the material which is inside and around us at all times, and how we interact with it.
The salient point here is that the formative material has, in many respects, fallen behind the end product in terms of artistic appreciation. We often fail to see the constituent parts of the beautiful whole. This is exactly what Jordan-based artist Wasim Zaid Habashneh has attempted to highlight in his work. By focusing on and emphasising the material he uses – while also exploring their cultural implication – Wasim has created a number of sculptures and installations which aim to simultaneously tackle topical themes and explore the emotional minutia of situations, the journey of creation, and the connotations of his materials.
I was lucky enough to pose a few questions to Wasim. These questions pertained to his past, his process, his pieces and his philosophy, all in the hopes of garnering a deeper understanding of his artistic process.
You are from an architectural background. How do you think (if at all) architectural practices have informed your design process?
I believe that at an early stage during Architectural School I developed my interest in the conceptual aspects of design. It was clear to me that understanding the conceptual processes were the best way to realise and transform my ideas into tangible outcomes.
Can you remember when your interest in materials began?
I can’t exactly recall this period. But we often take our surroundings for granted, and we often inherit the use of a specific material without allowing ourselves to experiment and discover new ways to use it! I try to look at materials with a fresh eye, and utilise it to convey a message through a conceptual piece of art.
Your work specifically highlights and emphasises “those little things” that make an experience worth having. Did a specific experience spur your interest in the emotional minutiae of a situation?
Our personalities are formulated from our experiences, and so is our artwork. I consider myself to be an ‘emotional empath’ to a certain degree, therefore I often find myself effected by other people’s experiences and feelings in addition to my own. This overwhelming ‘inner-atmosphere’ has led me to conclude that art is not so much about how ‘pretty’ something looks, as it is about the message and story behind it.
You often infuse your work with a multicultural edge. Is this a conscious process? Why do you think the fusion of cultures is important in modern art?
Cultural fusion in my work is a result of my life timeline, and not something I ever intended to do. Today people are more to open to other cultures in many ways, and art isn’t excluded from the equation. But not really, I reflect my own experience in each piece without any attempt to impose any unnecessary cultural elements.
In terms of your design, you have in the past said, “I prefer to design everything in plain-mood then add materials instead of imposing materials on the space” – do you also consider consciously the relationship between material and place when you design your pieces and decide where to implement them?
When I design, I prefer to design everything ‘nude’ and then select the materials as I believe this shows you the true design without any cover-ups. However, creating an art piece is a different case. The concept of the piece plays a major role in choosing the materials and the location which would reflect the concept in a meaningful and interesting way.
Your piece, ‘Egotistic Misrule’, was nominated for the BLOOOM Award in 2018. It is an intricate and complex piece, made up of 3600 laser cut wood pieces, more than 40KG of coloured sand, 37 fluorescent tubes and 74 Cylindrical beech wood pieces – a massive amount of material. How long did these materials take to accumulate and prepare? Why were these materials chosen specifically?
The two pieces from the FloureSAND project took approximately five months, and I chose the materials based on their local and regional relevance. Sand art is practiced in Jordan and many other countries in the region, and the pieces discuss several sensitive issues occurring in the Middle East at the present time. I thought that if I wanted to be understood by the people, I must speak their language; using the sand as a main material assured me that people will relate to the piece through the materials itself to begin with, and then try to grasp the full picture of the work.
Your piece, ‘Simple Generosity’, is one of my favourites, with live pigeons capturing the essence of generosity. What inspired this piece?
‘Simple Generosity’ was inspired by the tradition in Jordan of offering a cup of tea whenever someone visits your home as a warm gesture regardless of the financial status of the hosting family.
Why did you decide to use the pigeons?
Homing pigeons were used in the past to carry messages. Pigeons are remarkable at remembering where they lived originally and finding their way back home – even when they’ve been transported a tremendous distance away. I decided to use them to “carry the message of generosity” away – from the installation to the world.
“An artist is a prisoner to his imagination, a jail with no chains.” In what ways would you say this quote informs your artistic mission?
Human beings are prisoners to their desires – money, power, etc. Our imagination is the only place where we can be a “free prisoner”, so why would you accept less than that? In my case, I believe that a true artist should use their imagination to discuss important stories, or as a form of documentation of points during an artist’s life.
I would like to thank Wasim very much for allowing me to conduct this interview, and I would like to wish him the best of luck in his future projects. For more information on Wasim’s work, as well as in-depth discussion of its thematic content, please visit Wasim at: www.wasimzaid.com
All images are from Wasim’s website (with permission): https://www.wasimzaid.com/