Khaled Hourani

Dear Sana

I have never before written about art or about an artist solely on the basis of looking at reproductions and of a phone conversation.This was not an easy task for me. I felt both frustrated and saddened that the roadblocks prevented me from seeing the worksin person. Especially in the case of sculpture, no two-dimensional image can provide a faithful representation of the original;sculpture is three-dimensional, while the image shall forever remain flat.
More than once, I thought of apologizing and declining tocomment on the works. I felt I couldn’t write from Ramallah aboutsomething I was able to view only through the lens of the siege –which has prevented me from viewing the artworks themselves,the space in which they are installed, and their actual dimensions.

Nevertheless, I finally decided to make the effort – to attempt to gobeyond this narrow geographical confine and the restrictions imposed by the Occupation to the realm of art.

My initial impression of the sculptures, as I observed them on my computer screen for the first time, was that I had already seenthem before; beautiful works reminiscent of the masterpieces of modern sculpture, of Rodin and of Henry Moore. I followed the sequence of their evolution –from the early works to the works inspired by Cubism, to the later manipulation of texture and space and finally to the sculptures’ radical fragmentation. This seemed to me to be a logical sequence – born of the requirements of history

and of experience, of the nature of the material and of the  culptor’s desire to attain optimal results. Such a concentration is also born of the desire to offer a faithful representation, to analyze and to dissect, followed by the realization that one may do away with the details in favor of movement and of expression. This realization, in turn, led to an emphasis on restriction and on the attempt to subdue the surrounding space, which ultimately led to a process of dismantling and fragmentation.

Up to this point, the works denoted the hope that art always conveys when it eternalizes beautiful moments in a conflicted world – a world that appears more than ever to be standing on the verge of an imminent catastrophe, as if it had internalized none of history’s lessons. In a region marked by the intermittent outbreak of small wars – which may perhaps be viewed as one lengthy, continuous war – artists are constantly suspended in a state of bafflement between one war and the next. They strive to establish their national identity under anomalous circumstances and in a state of occupation, and attempt to define their human identity and cope with existential questions in the face of numerous obstacles.

 

The anarchy and harsh political circumstances that shape the contemporary world barely leave a breathing space for ordinary people, and for artists in particular. Nevertheless, some of us insist on taking a respite, or possibly even on turning our backs to all of this – not as an act of denial but rather as a leap of faith, an expression of hope in the possibilities embedded in the future.

Painting, sculpture and design were traditionally included in the category of the “Fine Arts,” with all the romantic implications of this term. Yet this term has now become too narrow to encompass the products of contemporary art and life; too narrow to contain the numerous doubts and concerns that plague us, and which artists wish either to address or to intentionally refrain from addressing.

 

The category of “Fine Art” thus gives way to art without quotation marks. This is due neither to the debate concerning the meaning of beauty, nor to formal, technical or medium-related concerns; rather, it is due to the existence of numerous doubts, which may have no clear-cut resolution.

An investigation of the themes and concerns underlying these sculptures clearly reveals a persistent preoccupation with femininity and with gender-related issues. Sana Bishara is an Arab woman living in a mixed city – in both the social and the national and political sense of this term. It is impossible to ignore her prominent preoccupation with everyday life – which is characterized by a sensibility unique to her status as a woman, a mother and a wife.

This is a woman who works and struggles; an independent woman capable of repeatedly rising anew out of the ruins.Woman, from this woman’s point of view, is a universe overflowing with beauty and peace – at once strong, fragile and full of tenderness. Sana gradually leads us from reality itself to its various manifestations and to an analysis of its forms. This process results, finally, in a deconstruction of reality that is pervaded by an understandable skepticism, as she assuredly strives to represent reality in a manner at once reserved and serene.

The essence of womanhood, and woman’s cares,preoccupations and longing for peace are all expressed by means of malleable clay, which is subsequently cast in bronze. This process is not born of an attempt to determine the sculpture’s fate or to come to some kind of resolution. Rather, it heralds what is yet to come, based on the sculpture’s rhythmic pulsation in space. Shedoes not want these sculptures to remain in the shadow. She wants them to be liberated, to dance and to be forgiving, immune to the threat of missiles or to the secret fear instigated by moments of threatening calm.

 

As an artist, Sana has the ability to conjure figures out of the sculptural mass, to imbue it with life and motion and thus to soften its solidity. At the same time, she displays a kind of introverted determination as she moves from one stage to the next, repeatedly  building bridges before each new leap into the air. The upwardly spiraling thrust of these works seems to hint that the sculptures themselves are about to burst into motion, as if they were centered upon a dynamic axis that supports the body as it merges with the surrounding space.

At a later point in this process, the artist sets out to reconstruct this surrounding space as an active component of the work.

Although space is a component of all sculpture, in this case it seems to spark matter’s internal dialogue. This dialogue relates to space both formally and thematically, and stretches the limits of space’s ability to partake of the work itself. We thus become aware of the void surrounding the sculptural matter, which penetrates to its very essence. Does this enable us to divine the meaning, the connotations and denotations, towards which the artist strives? Is the matter embedded in space, or is space embedded in matter?

This meaning exceeds the sculpture’s formal appearance, and relates to its intrinsic, philosophical structure.The variegated quality of these works is expressed not only on the level of matter and space, but also on the level of their texture, and of the molding of matter to the figure’s desired contours; it extends to the contrasts between indentations and protrusions, between smooth and rough surfaces, between reality and its representation. Sana has “recruited”dozens of sculptures in order to avoid monotony and imitation. She is clearly well-versed in the academic techniques of sculpting, yet is weary of rebelling against the achievements of classical and modern sculpture.

 

Overtime, the sculptures representing the human body have been replaced by smaller works, in which likeness gives way to an exploration of architectural form. In addition, these smaller  sculptures are all placed in a social context. They are juxtaposed with other figures, stand alone, or recline joyfully after having been sculpted in clay – waiting to be cast in bronze, which has been consecrated over time as the substance into which sculpture must be cast.

Nevertheless, one wonders whether the solidity and other qualities of bronze could be revolutionized by means of changing its texture and palette – given the current availability of techniques, colors and other materials capable of withstanding the ravages of  time. This issue does not concern only the elementary components of sculpture; it extends to the study of a given time and place, to the question of openness to contemporary cultures, and to the ability to internalize the lessons of the past – all of which could lead to the replacement of the familiar bronze. Sana’s affinity with the tradition of classical sculpture seems to actually be based on a yearning to create new and unique forms, which may reflect her concerns and her views as a woman living inthe here and now. These concerns exceed her preoccupation with the artistic challenge of working in the context of Arab culture,which is opposed to the creation of sculptures and to the art of sculpture more generally, while celebrating other art forms.

It is no secret that there is a conspicuous dearth of Arab sculptors, which is due to both the cultural context in which they work and to the challenges of executing sculptural works. Sana is one of the few Arab women sculptors active in the local art world.

Like every other art form, sculpture is shaped by the artistic and professional knowledge available to artists at a given time. The real

challenge faced by all artists is the ability to make a unique contribution in their field, and to deliver a personal message to theworld. Rather than rejoicing in their technical abilities and in the desire to experiment with them, artists must strive to deliver

themselves from the constraints of technical skill, and to remain open to the multiple possibilities offered by artmaking. Above all, her works are characterized by an attempt to harness her talent and technical skills in order to formulate a unique statement of her own. At the same time, she is concerned with questions of proportion, texture, and mass.

Every sculpture has a unique inner essence that is closely related to its defined function, rather than to the celebration of a particular figure. The figures she represents are chosen, above all, for their human qualities. Moreover, the artist seems to have sought out her own humanity in those who resemble her. She is content with representing ordinary people, and is not interested in sculpting public or heroic figures. Most of her works highlight the academic principles that have paved the way for their creation. This is obvious both in the early works, such as Infant, Tango and Secret; it is also evident in works such as Merging, Woman With Bird,

Feminine Side and Family, and in Cello Player, Contemplation, and Vision. Sana displays a clear commitment to the requirements of classical sculpture, and she is determined not to forsake the “rules of the game.” Even her most fragmented works remain faithful to the concept of sculptural wholeness.
It is no easy task to comment on an artist’s works in a manner that detaches them from their immediate context, from the history of art, and from similar contemporary or historical works: for every artist partakes of an age-old legacy of art making, which has been evolving since the dawn of history and the creation of the earliest cave paintings.
The arts have experienced numerous innovations, revolutions, forms of repetition, developments and moments of crisis – events

and processes that have yielded numerous masterpieces by well  known artists. It may well be that the celebration of great sculptors like Michelangelo and Rodin, or even like Henry Moore and Picasso,is impossible in the context of contemporary culture.

Artists today are content with making a statement. This choice is not a reaction to the proliferation or surplus of artworks, but rather a  result of the change in the role and very essence of art.

 

Sana’s works appear indifferent to all these upheavals. She creates sculptures of various sizes on the interior of the home with the passion of one who builds and furnishes his own cozy domestic space, rather than of one who builds entire cities or designs vast

landscapes. The house is a world onto itself, a microcosm filled with personal attributes. The exhibition of the works, and the written commentaries about them, constitute the dividing line, or threshold, that separates them from the exterior.

We are not concerned with the beginning or end of this dividing line, bur rather with its observation (from afar, in my particular case). Needless to say, in this context my impressions can hardly qualify as serious criticism – not only due to the geographical and political obstacles, but also for many other reasons – including the evening news that was broadcast tonight on one of the satellite channels.
Today’s world suffers constantly from explosive events and expressions of limitless anarchy, which leave their mark on every dominant aspect of contemporary reality and of the future; it is plagued by wars, death and various other crises. All these are exercising their effect on an entire generation, leading it to question the power of art. The artist, by contrast, uses her instincts to point us towards signs of power and resilience, which may subdue our despair and sense of impotence.Viewed from one perspective, the multiple facets of Sana’s fragmented works reveal the condition of a woman torn between home and work, between family and self. From another perspective, however, they may be seen as representing alienation from one’s environment, and from humanity more generally. This is the condition of a person torn between reality and between her dreams and her longing for peace. At the same time, this person may also be torn between questions concerning national identity, gender, and more general humanist concerns. Finally, one cannot avoid privileging the internal elements embedded within the artwork, even if one wishes to avoid questions of intentionality. These works are undoubtedly beautiful. They celebrate life and dance, and strive to portray movement as well as relaxation, boredom, introversion, weakness and possibly even sadness.
Yet the representation of these emotions does not stem of despair, but rather constitutes a means of revealing a shaft of light at the end of the tunnel. The challenge inherent to working in sculpture is that it is not created in a moment of excitement; the effort involved in its execution enables the artist to transcend the realm of immediate reactions and enter the realm of contemplation, of discourse and of possible action. Sculpture involves a literal immersion in the material – touching, cutting, rounding, adding, subtracting and merging together meaning and emotion.

Only at a later stage does the work become concerned with space – which emanates from the material and returns to it. I am certain that these works will engulf the viewer with a sense of magic, and with an awareness of the uncertainty embedded in chance occurrences. In an architectural structure, the walls define interior space and separate it from the world outside. In sculpture, the space resulting from the relations between exterior and interior is usually positive, whereas the ceramic structure and the bronze cast generate a negative space.
Sana’s works have evolved from a preoccupation with space and with abstract forms to a concern with cutting and fragmentation, which involves a conceptual perception of space. A close examination of these sculptures hints at the development of a new phase in this artist’s work, which could perhaps involve an emphasis on color and light of the kind characteristic of Eastern art.

Sana’s sculptures stand, recline and are rotated; they do not attempt to make a public statement, but rather to engage in an inner dialogue concerned with nuances. This is a dialogue in sculpture and about sculpture, like an attempt to freeze a moment in time in order to bear witness to all those moments that pass unnoticed as life races by.

It is not our role to analyze the artist’s conscious intention. In some respects, we may discern in these works a form of protest against injustice and against the Occupation, and an expression of hope for a better future. At the same time, they bespeak an almost total avoidance of these very issues.

Finally, it is necessary to note that a study of any artwork is a highly individual philosophical and emotional process – and that every artwork, like every statement, is always open to numerous interpretations.
Sana’s works express hope for a better world, a world filled with joy and peace.

 

Ramallah, 2006