Nayab Ikram is a Turku-based artist working in many collaborative ways. One of her latest projects is currently on show in Titanik. FemF ART 2019: How to Slow Rush is a group exhibition curated by Ikram and Ramina Habibollah. EDIT discussed with Ikram about exploring her own artistic practice, facilitating other artists as a curator and working towards a more inclusive and equal art field. What came up was sharing resources, involving diverse talents and taking care of relaxation, among other things.
Nayab Ikram is a photographer, a visual artist and a curator. The variety of roles for working in the art field have expanded gradually for her, but at the moment she wouldn’t have it any other way. Other than maybe letting go of some administrational work by hiring a bookkeeper. One side of her practice is just that, sharing the resources and giving other people a chance to do the things they are good at. Another, even bigger part of Ikram’s way of living and working is having a dialogue. Her professional idols are her friends and colleagues, the people she has the most inspiring and difficult conversations with.
One of these people is Ramina Habibollah, a performance artist with whom Ikram forms a curatorial duo called inaway. Their practice was born out of frustration due to the lack of representation of people of color in the Nordic art field. With the tools of intersectional feminism they are creating space for POC-perspectives and stories. This year inaway has curated a group exhibition called Waiting for the Hidden Gardens to Draw Us – Closer in Taidekoti Kirpilä and The Winds of exhibition in The Festival of Political Photography. Now they continue their collaboration with the Feminist Forum by bringing the newest FemF Art exhibition How to Slow Rush to Ikram’s current home town Turku.
How to make art
But before going deeper into that, let’s get back to basics, the reasons and methods of making art. Ikram describes having two standpoints in her artistic practice, although they both emerge from exploring the common core of human experience.
I have one side that is more playful where I work with post-internet as a concept, and the other side is more serious where I work mainly focused on identity questions and these two combined comes down to the core. I’d like to find the similarities humans have, no matter who we are, where we are based. That’s what I present in various visual forms through art.
When it comes to materials Ikram denies having any favorites. She has worked with concepts like memories, rituals and cultural identities. For example, In between (I & II) is a body of work where Ikram has studied the different meanings related to human hair. At the moment her work is entangled with the question of globalism and that comes with certain kind of appealing aesthetics.
I really love all the computer stuff at the moment. I love the aesthetics of it and I like using old technical stuff like old phones, computers and screens. I want to go back to see where we kind of started connecting with each other on a global level. Before the internet, where did it all begin, when did we all started living in a global connected world?
And when it comes to another installation that I’m working on, the question is what are the sounds that surround us in our society? A sound that is global, for instance the sound of waves – something that we recognize and maybe the generations before and after the millennials might recognize.
The different approaches of working in the art field have evolved organically for Ikram. She noticed the need for diversity in her profession already when she was studying photography at Novia University of Applied Sciences in Jakobstad. That is how she started working with video performance and installations.
I’m an educated photographer but I felt like the two-dimensional form wasn’t enough for my expressions and the concepts that I wanted to work with. So for me to add other expressions was a natural way to go, but I still see everything through the perspective of photographer. That’s my home base.
This year the artist has found herself exploring live performance as well, even though (or just because) that might have been just the thing she thought of never doing. Working in this new way requires stepping away from the safety of a camera and overcoming inner barriers.
I’m very new into that, but it just happened to be something that wanted to come out for me. I’m very timid, because I’m not used to working in an interaction with other people, but I won’t be struggling against this expression. I think that’s when the interesting things also happen when you allow yourself to listen and trust your own intuition.
To begin with Ikram started working with other people because the creative process of a photographer or visual artist somehow felt lonely. Since then she has noticed many times how working in dialogue can be very time consuming but also very rewarding. It requires a certain kind of presence.
I just wanted to do something communal. So it was basically a need to have a conversation without being stuck in my own mind, and to see what happens there. Because I think that the dialogue is also at the core of artistic practice. All of a sudden you get challenged in a constructive way, and then you can fly, you can do whatever you want to do.
When it comes to the work I have done with Ramina it’s also the need of having another PoC-person to speak about our own experiences in daily life, in the art scene and then together having each other as best friends, but also colleagues which is very empowering in itself. We actually started working together as peers and then the friendship started to evolve, which I think is very nice.
How to make it more equal
inaway works mainly with artists of colour based in the Nordics to claim space. Ikram and Habibollah try to facilitate their needs and rights and “whatever they need to do for an exhibition for them to feel the best way”. Ikram describes their curatorial practice as a very intuitive process that involves a lot of dialogue, be it on the phone, writing on Telegram or IRL.
We work mainly political, both in a very in your face but also in some kind of subtle way. It’s very exploring, very everyday kind of feelings that pops up, like the notion of home, the notion of time, the stressful and hectic society, the PoC-body as a political body – we are coming to very everyday questions. It’s interesting that we do not think about a theme and then we start working on different kind of perspectives and write words and then we are like “Oh, this is what it’s been all about, all the time”. So it’s like our intuition is faster than our own consciousness, which is very interesting.
inaway started through frustration about how the art scene was actually looking in Finland in 2017. At the time Ikram was living in Stockholm and Habibollah in Espoo, so through their networks and conversations the curatorial territory spread naturally across the Nordic countries.
When we started working together we saw other smaller communities and platforms popping up and then it’s like why not collaborate and make it a bigger change and movement instead of being alone. We can do bigger change if it’s broader in the whole Nordics than only in the country itself. We can learn from each other, we can give each other tools and have a fruitful discussion and conversation.
The focus of each curatorial project is negotiated depending on the context. For example in the Festival of Political Photography the view on POC-artists was more direct but in Taidekoti Kirpilä exhibition the emphasis was on the notion of home through the perspective of a POC-person.
This is what we do, but sometimes we choose to navigate when to make it more political and emphasize on it and when to work in a more subtle way. You can see it by who we invite in. If you are curating an exhibition with only women and non-binary people you wouldn’t necessarily write it every time like that. You will be able to see the artists and their expression and who they are, and that’s powerful enough.
Regarding the current situation of POC representation in the Finnish art scene Ikram sees progress in certain areas, but the big picture is complex. For example Taike has improved a lot, but the work for equality needs to be done at all levels. The situation should be improved not only with reference to grants and institutions but also art schools and children’s art education.
For instance, my sister encouraged my parents to put me in an after-daycare art school. So once every week I went there. I wasn’t good at it, but I was there creating stuff and having the freedom of doing whatever, learning the basics and everything. So can we look at that level as well, see how many POC-people are there and how many white people are there? Is there an equality there and not only on the top?
Every aspect, when it comes to diversity, not only the ethnic diversity, needs to have more progression because I can also see the backlash that is going on, so I think this needs to be discussed more on every level, not only where we are standing, now working in the art field and being very privileged and lucky as well, but also where it actually begins and the whole cycle of it.
POC-people are claiming space and taking space and doing things for ourselves, for the need of what is important for us, not in relation to what white people think. And to see these kinds of movements all in the Nordics is powerful. So there is definitely something happening, but of course it can always be better.
And just because you see many POC-people in the art field do we have the same rights, do we have the same accessibility to grants, do we have the same accessibility to the same jobs or positions or equal pay? Diversity doesn’t mean taking ten POC-people in to your team and not treating them equally.
How to Slow Rush
Ikram and Habibollah curated the first art exhibition of Feminist Forum in 2017 and the exhibition happening currently in Titanik is a continuation to that. This exhibition was originally planned for 2018, but there was not enough time to prepare for it properly. The lack of resources is also the reason why other FemF events aren’t happening this year, and this is partly the argument behind the theme and manifestation of How to Slow Rush.
It’s basically a comment for today’s hectic society that we are living in, but also how the hectic life is embodied through the creative processes. And how it is like to allow yourself to work with material, to accept that it’s going to take time to draw this or something. It’s like slowing down but it’s still “slow rushing” because you always you have to rush and there is always a deadline and it’s always stressful. It feels like the whole society is so speeded up so it’s like how to think about taking it more slowly.
inaway comments on these issues by inviting less artists than usual to the exhibition and choosing people who are working in Finland. Vidha Saumya’s, Esete Sutinen’s and Man Yau’s artworks represent different processes like embroidery, drawing, sculpture, marble polishing and instant choreography. Ikram and Habibollah have also invited BOY Konsthall and Arvind Ramachandran to do lecture performances.
Because we work in three languages and we also involve editors to come in to proofread it and translate the texts and we also have a graphic designer, so it’s like facilitating the artists but it’s also dividing the resources and letting people to do their stuff. So it’s like not having it so cramped all the time, to give it space and to give it a thought.
How to keep calm
inaway considers Titanik as a good ally when it comes to feminist art practice and it is also important for them to move the exhibition from the capital to another city. Turku is also the place where Ikram lives and works. She grew up in Mariehamn, Åland and did her studies in an even smaller places in Ostrobothnia. This year she has had residencies in Mustarinda, Hyrynsalmi and in Bollebygd, Sweden. These small and even remote places fill the need to focus on important things like the quality of life. And Helsinki is close by anyway, just two hours by bus.
I find it slightly boring that everything is happening in Helsinki, because there are so many other interesting things happening in cities around Finland or in different countries as well. But everybody is like forcing themselves there. I love Turku because I can walk everywhere, in the radius of certain kilometers of course. It’s also easy access for me to go to Åland and Stockholm.
I can afford to have a studio space and live in a commune. I would never be able to do so in Helsinki. And this is a huge studio space where I can store all my stuff too, so I’m not limiting myself in my own creative expression.
Ikram believes that the collaborations that are meant to be will happen in a natural way, without the need to constantly push the networking by living in a bigger place and by attending every interesting event.
I tend to come to smaller places over and over again, maybe it is the calmness and the quality of life that is better, to not be in a stressful and hectic environment. Because I have been traveling a lot as well, I don’t need more stress added to it, I just need to have the total calmness and Turku is giving me that. As an ambivert I have a social side as well, but I need that balance to be able to create and to be able to focus.
The rest of the year is fully booked. Ikram has a residency in Art Lab Gnesta in Stockholm and an orientation trip to the Emirates and Pakistan regarding an upcoming project. Her In Between -work is exhibited as part of a Minority Film Festival in the Faroe Islands. Before the end of the year she has also an event in Norway.
I’m working towards a conference initiated by the Norwegian art council. I have had a commission for one and a half years there for working with POC-creatives, one from each of the Nordic countries. We are talking about how to change, how to make it better, so it’s going to be a three day conference in Oslo in December focusing on ethnic diversity and inclusion.
In spite of her busy schedule Ikram is trying to ensure that she has two days off every week. Her own recipe for self care means going to exercise and eating good food with friends. She is also excited about the clean calendar of 2020.
I’m looking forward to not really knowing what will happen next year. In January I will be able to update the website and take care of the portfolio. I’ll be taking care of the administrational work, involving other people through that, and maybe have some time to go into the collaboratory work that I started and that I want to continue.
FemF ART 2019: How to Slow Rush
4.10.2019 – 3.11.2019
Itäinen Rantakatu 8, Turku
Article photo: Julia Lillqvist