Having lived between the deserts of Jordan and New Mexico, Palestinian-American artist, Lena Kassicieh’s work is multi-disciplinary and experimental by nature, including ceramics, collages, sketchbooks, acrylic paintings, and photographs. In only the last 3 years, Lena’s signature works have been featured in major regional exhibitions including Art Dubai UAE Now, Gulf Photo Plus, and as of recently, Abu Dhabi’s Warehouse 41. Currently based in Dubai, we sat down with Lena to get to know more about her inspiration, behind the scenes, and ways she continues to explore themes of nostalgia, the melancholy of daily life, and the strangeness of dreams.
Welcome to Emergeast, Lena! Introduce us to yourself, who is Lena in 3 words?
Curious, scatterbrained, optimistic.
As a Palestinian-American currently living in Dubai, in what ways has this influenced your artistic production?
Being in Dubai specifically has been great for my artistic production in the sense that the creative community both here and regionally is still growing and developing, and so it feels more accessible than the art scene in places like London or New York. I think generally also the UAE/Gulf aims to support artists with different programs, fellowships and arts grants which are invaluable in the development of one's artistic style and oeuvre of work. I feel that it's relatively easy to make connections and build your network here, and this is inspiring in that it opens up new doors for exploration and production.
With a masters of science degree in cultural and social anthropology from the University of Amsterdam, what made you want to pursue art?
I've always loved art and creativity in general, and have been drawing since I was a child. I remember I used to take entire printer stacks of white paper, lock my sister out of our shared bedroom, and draw comics for hours. I would even narrate the scenes I was drawing aloud. I wanted to study art, but I felt it was not really encouraged nor was it seen as a sustainable livelihood by my family, so I studied different fields that were more 'practical' and pursued art on the side. Only in the last 6 or 7 years did I really start taking myself and my art practice seriously, and have been so inspired by artists who make a living freelancing, consulting and taking on projects they really care about.
From collage, to paint, to ceramics, you are a multidisciplinary artist, to say the least! What’s the importance of being particular with the medium you choose for each work?
Some artists choose one medium and really stick to it and continue to advance their skills in it, and I admire that immensely. I think there are pros and cons to both; for me, sticking to one medium feels very limiting and I think part of my nature is I don't want to just do one thing and be boxed in. I know that can be confusing, as people tend to want to easily define someone or something and it can get complicated when people don't stick to one discipline, field, or medium. Sometimes I'm in the mood to get messy with clay and want to sit and do that for hours, other times I only want to draw on my iPad for 20 minute increments in between watching a movie. I think being flexible with the medium also opens up doors for you to explore what you like and continue to grow and challenge yourself, which is something I think should be a key element to an artist's practice.
We love how bright and playful your work is. What would you like collectors to take away from your work?
I think the world has enough darkness in it, and with my art, I want people to feel lighter things. I want to give them a sense of calm, of possibility, of hope. Sometimes melancholy or sadness does inspire some of my work -- because those emotions are a normal part of life -- but the end result somehow is usually a bright and uplifting piece. I guess that comes from my intrinsic desire to always see things with a glass half full.
Can you explain the story behind Antar and Abla and Things That Float
Growing up, the story of Antar and Abla was always my father's favorite poem, and whenever I would ask him specifically about Arabic books or poetry he liked, that was the one thing he always mentioned. In hearing him tell me the story, I imagined this really vibrant and somehow chaotic world, and wanted to bring that to life in the way the story does with the characters. 'Things That Float' was literally my lockdown anxiety brought to life through mixed-media collage. It was a very meditative piece to create, as I hand-drew every single line on the paper and kept the marker on the paper for the entire long line, while sitting on the floor and listening to music. I wanted to detach from the current reality, and this piece represents that feeling of being in a transfixed state, removed from any surrounding mental or physical chaos.
You’ve been a part of great artistic collaborations! What’s the importance of working together in the art world, in your opinion?
I think collaborations show that creation does not happen in a vacuum. Inspiration, exploration, creative development; those things can be shared experiences that create an intimate connection and safe space for creatives. I also think it's a way to learn to let go a bit, and to trust someone's else's creative eye or vision. That's a really hard thing to do, as art is quite a personal experience, but it may ultimately teach you something about yourself.