Artist Spotlight: Sundus Abdul Hadi

I remember first seeing Sundus’ art and being competely capitvated by it.  I could hear the sounds, feel the emotions and I could sense all the different stories coming at me all at once.  Such a rich portrayal of culture in a juxtaposition context.  The contrast is powerful and enchanting. The above ‘The Forgotten’ is my favorite piece from the Warchestra series.

Coming from a family of artists and being married to The Narcycist (Yassin Salman), Sundus has a lot of influences that help nurture her art. Being in an environment that fuels her passion and to collaborate with arab artists (poets, singers, film makers.. ) helps make it a unified goal in getting arab solidarity across.  The message is clear and we are all listening.

Artist Biography 

Sundus Abdul Hadi was born to Iraqi parents in the UAE in 1984 and raised in Montreal, Canada. As a painter and multi-media artist, Abdul Hadi works around the concepts of media representation, and subverting existing images.  Recently, she has been collaborating with her sister Tamara’s photography by creating imaginative narratives to her photographs through the “Flight” series. She has had her work featured in Iraq and Australia, where she also gave visual arts workshops to youth. Community and social justice are important elements to her work.  Her work has been exhibited in the UAE, Palestine, Canada and the US, with solo shows of her multimedia series “Warchestra” held in Toronto, Ottawa, and in her home city Montreal as part of the Arab Winter exhibition. 

WARCHESTRA series statement:

WARCHESTRA is a multi-media series about war and culture, of visual and sonic components. By replacing weapons of war with musical instruments, the Warchestra experience aims to re-imagine, re-define, and re-invent the war in Iraq as it was represented in the media. Abdul Hadi’s position  as a cultural producer of Iraqi origin has informed the work’s desire to highlight culture amongst the backdrop of war. There is a soundscape accompanying almost each painting, made in collaboration with poets or musicians in musical or lyrical dialogue with the paintings, and underlaid with field recordings from Baghdad. Trumpets trump AK-47’s, clarinets covering RPG’s, blast walls emulating zithers, and grand pianos crashing from the sky as bombs, are just a few of the transformations these works have conceived.

Sundus’ latest collection FLIGHT SERIES Statement:

Human flight, in particular, exists only in the realm of the impossible, and is brought to life through youthful imagination. This transformational act is reflective of my own desire to transform my artistic patterns, and acts as a mirror to my personal process of  creation which is to shift from a focus on violence, politics, and war, to imagination, hope, and peace. The “Flight” series is an attempt to touch on issues that relate to the abnormal circumstances surrounding violence and survival, mobility and identity.  In collaboration with my sister Tamara Abdul Hadi’s photography, our flying figures are positioned in the particular context of the current wave of uprisings and the call for change in the Middle East, in light of the obstacles that the youth must overcome to shape a brighter future.

When did you discover your passion for art?

My mother is a visual artist, and my father is an architect, so art was very much around me when I was growing up. I was about 14 years old when I started to express my thoughts on life using visual art, and it grew with me as I grew older.

Do you consider yourself to be a politcal artist?

I don’t consider myself to be a political artist because I actually really dislike politics, although it did motivate much of my work! Rather, I’d prefer to consider my artwork as a commentary on the negative influence of politics on society and culture.

The Warchestra series tells so many stories- What is the main impact you want a person to walk away with?

As it has been a year since I’ve completed this series (which actually took over 3 years to develop and complete), I look at Warchestra with a different perspective now. At first, I wanted to leave the viewer with a massive amount of information regarding the huge consequences of the war in Iraq on the people, and as a direct commentary to the media misrepresenting the injustices that occur daily as a result of the US-led war and occupation. Today, I see Warchestra as a time capsule. It contains many stories that went undetected by the Western media, it subverted the stereotypes that ran so rampant at the height of post-911 Western media coverage of the war in Iraq, and it also speaks on a much more personal level of my own search for answers during those difficult years of watching my homeland looted and burnt from the West. 

How do the West perceive your art?

I make a point in my artwork to speak to both Eastern and Western audiences. So far, I have had a good reception to my artwork in the West. I’ve had many different reactions to my work, but overall, I have found that it has given some of my Western viewers a different perspective as to how to view Iraq and the Arab world in general, by giving them a chance to experience it in a re-imagined way. I’d very much like to believe that it has made them question their own misconceptions and stereotypes, but that is the core of the artwork, afterall!

What thoughts were going through your mind during the arab spring?

Wow. Wow. Wow. We’re doing it. For ourselves! I was absolutely inspired and moved by the people power and their might to get their voices heard. There was some sadness there for those who were robbed of the opportunity to mobilize and were continuously being oppressed by their governments, a sight that we have seen too often. I did maintain a healthy level of critique, and didn’t allow myself to get blinded by the rush of “revolution”, as true revolution happens after the fall. I have a great amount of hope in the youth of the Arab world, and have faith that they will carve a better world than the one we are now trying to fix. Needless to say, the uprisings inspired my “Flight” series tremendously. It proved that nothing is impossible, not even human flight. It also inspired a collective exhibition that we put together in Montreal this past December called “Arab Winter”, which was a multi-media experience featuring work by Tunisian artists El Seed, and Karim Jabari, and Iraqi artists (and family members) The Narcicyst, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Sawsan Alsaraf, Taghlib Abdul Hadi and myself.

What in your opinion could be done more to shed light on the rich arab culture,history, literature and to squash stereotypes and false propaganda?

CULTURAL PRODUCTION! I can’t stress that more. In everything that I do, I push to always encourage youth to tell their OWN stories, and not leave it up to the media machine to speak for us, especially now when information can be simultaneously so controlled and self-driven. I’ve taught workshops to youth in Baghdad via internet (God bless technology) that inspired me greatly. Seeing this new generation of cultural producers and thinkers creating art, films, images, and media further cemented my belief that it really is the duty of the artist to “depict current events and record the social conditions of the country”. This quote is from the Baghdad Modern Art Group’s Manifesto from 1951- so much has changed since then, but the significance of culture and art on a social level has even more value and importance, in today’s world where a handful of corporations control the information that we consume.

Three words that describe you…

This is the toughest question, Mara!

Loyal, critical and grateful.

“Those who have forgotten us, when will you remember us? When will we cross your mind? When will you help our situation? Love, you have left us with no explanation, You shut the doors in our face and abondened us.Where did you come from on the day you set your eyes on us? Where did you find us? Your eyes have scarred us? You who have forgotten us, when will you remember us?”

Lyrics of a tradional iraqi folk song on The Forgotten painting from the Warchestra collection.

Warchestra Series

The Forgotten
Acrylic on canvas
3 by 5ft

Violins And Bases
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas (Diptych)
3 by 6ft

Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
2.5 by 5.5ft

The Oud Maker
Acrylic and mixed-media on canvas
4 by 4ft

The Flight series

Over Baghdad (Maktoob)
Digital Collage
Majbooreen bil Amal (Forced Towards Hope)
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
3 by 5ft
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
5 by 14ft

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