Yasmina Alaoui Interview & Opera Gallery Exhibition

September 11, 2017 5:00 PM

Yasmina Alaoui burst onto the international arts scene in 2003 with "Tales of Beauty," a collection of nude portraits of Rubenesque women, and in the ensuing years, she has consistently used her art to challenge our modern standards of beauty and provoke dialogue about culture through her use of iconographic symbols. Ever experimental with her techniques and materials, Yasmina's newest exhibit at the Opera Gallery in New York features expansive compositions that employ sand, gravel, plaster, ash, broken ceramics, and other nontraditional materials to explore the bi-cultural landscape of her French-Moroccan heritage. On the eve of her exhibition’s opening, she took a moment to speak to TWELV about her life in art:   

 

 

1. When you collaborated with photographer Marco Guerra on "Tales of Beauty" followed by "1001 Dreams," (which consisted of life-sized nudes shot by Marco fused with your complex ink drawings), did you have any sense of the impact they would have on your career? How did the projects take form?

It was exciting to have the opportunity to work with Marco, who has since become a dear friend. At the time, I was just really focused on both projects and creating something impactful through this collaboration. Though the partnership did have global recognition, I was just happy to combine forces with Marco and explore the human experience through art. 

 

2. There is a delicate tightrope that a creative soul must walk between art and commerce. Your pieces tend to be large and impactful, and you have worked with many different mediums over the years. Do you ever consider whether a piece might be viable for sale to a private donor or attractive to museum curators during your creative process, or do you just adhere to your vision, whatever may come of it?

I have always been interested in cultural uses of mediums and am fascinated by the exploration of the line between science, nature, multicultural traditions and contemporary art making. I tend to adhere to my own vision since that is what is most important to me as an artist. 

 

3. Your new series of 20 abstract compositions will comprise your first solo exhibition at the Opera Gallery in New York. Congratulations! You use a variety of innovative materials to create an evocative three-dimensional form which includes sacred Islamic geometry imbedded in the layers. What are the main ideas you wanted to convey and how did you arrive at the medium that you chose?

The essence of this exhibition continues to explore my diverse cultural background and is really a testament to the world I live in. I have a nomadic lifestyle and work with raw and man-made materials that each location offers (in this case salt, gravel, ash, kohl, pigment, paint, plaster and broken ceramics).  Through the integration of these different elements and dimensions, these works evoke mysticism and spirituality alongside base reality. 

 

4. What was the timeframe for the creation of these 20 pieces? Do you work exclusively on one project at a time or do you tend to jump from piece to piece?

I started working on this project five years ago, and I have been working on this particular exhibit for two years.

 

5. You are of French and Moroccan descent, and many of your works pay homage to Islamic history in a very unique and sometimes irreverent way. Given the volatile climate of current global affairs, have you ever faced criticism or backlash from religious traditionalists?

Yes, and I am extremely thankful for this. My multicultural upbringing impacts every decision I make, both in my work and my life.  It opens up diverse views and perspectives to any situation.

 

6. Many of your artworks over the years have involved the fusing and balancing of polar opposites: the spiritual and the profane, the beautiful and the flawed, the classical and the contemporary. Do you seek to resolve these conflicts in your work or is it more about depicting the struggle between extremes?

The new installation continues to explore my bi-cultural upbringing; bridging extremes while embracing opposites.  My diverse background is especially accentuated in my recent abstract compositions, in which two layers are superimposed; bringing opposites together.

 

7. Did your use of innovative mediums and exploration of opposites begin when you studied Fine Arts at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris and Sculpture at William and Mary or did it take time for you to establish your voice as an artist after you completed your studies?

These new abstract compositions evoke vast mineralogical landscapes seen from the sky, ruins of an ancient village, a civilization that has disappeared, images of destruction or of looming human catastrophe, etc.  I think my cultural upbringing had the most impact and drove me to be inspired by it rather than what I was taught in school.

 

8. Which artists did you find particularly inspiring or influential in the development of your techniques and approach to art?

I enjoy contemporary artists who use unusual mediums, almost as chemistry, and who use references to biology and geology, but always in the realm of abstraction. I admire Kiefer, Tara Donovan and Anish Kapoor. I also love Damian Hirst's obsession with science and death.

 

9. We realize that some time may pass between the completion of a series and an exhibition. Have you already begun working on your next project? What themes or mediums are you interested in exploring in the future?

I am focusing on large scale sculptures, and multi-medium installations (video, sound, performance) to further explore my cultural background and looking at how they evolve through time.

 

 

INTERVIEW BY KAREN FRAGALA-SMITH

 

PHOTO CREDIT: OPERA GALLERY GROUP

 

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