Interview with Lida Abdul

Lida Abdul is an Afghan artist working in performance and video. She is currently showing in the exhibition 'Illuminations' at Tate Modern.

AM: As a child, you were forced to leave Afghanistan after the Soviet Invasion and sought refuge in India, Germany and USA...You have talked about being in a state of 'post-identity', 'post-nation'... How does your personal history inform your work?

LA: I feel that I can easily cross cultural borders. I think that is what is wonderful about not having a fixed notion of identity or nationhood. There is really nothing I have a duty to do. It bothers people, this refusal to choose between us and them because I guess when you announce your identity publicly people know what to expect. If I were to identify with anything, it would be Afghanistan because it's a country that needs so much attention.

AM: In White House (2005), in a landscape strewn with ruins, you painstakingly paint the rubble of a destroyed building white. It is at once an absurdist gesture and a cathartic, determined act of political resistance. You have said that the most difficult thing is to move beyond the memory of an event, and your works are the forms of failed attempts to 'transcend'. Could you say more about this?

LA: I wanted to turn the ruins into sculptures because they carry for me the memory of something lost, yet at the same time they are reminders of what is no longer there. A fragment. Yet complete in its own way because any attempt to fix it, will erase its uniqueness. It teaches nothing, except that what was once is gone and the only way to approach it is through art without direct reference to an event.

AM: The austere, battle-scarred landscape of Afghanistan is a central character in your video work. It has survived decades of war and is littered with ruins and monuments. How do you relate to this unique topography?

LA : I've made work in and around the real and imagined Afghanistan because I knew I had to come to terms with all this stuff within me. For some people loss becomes a dwelling. So I hope people see in the piece I've made references not just to Afghanistan but to the a certain condition, the other side of moving forward fast, the mute reminder without reference.

AM: How difficult is it for you to make your films in Afghanistan? What practical difficulties do you face?

LA: Its always difficult and possibly dangerous at times to be out in the country shooting a video, and often I felt very uneasy for reasons that are too numerous to describe here. But I also get a lot of support from women and men from all walks of life.

AM: It has been a very exciting couple of years for you, as your work has been gaining increasing international recognition. You represented your country at the Venice Biennale in 2005, the first and only time Afghanistan has been represented, and won the Taiwan Prize. You've since exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennial, the Gwanju Biennial, the Sharjah Biennial, winning the UNESCO prize and at the ( Sharjah biennale.) You've been created Prince Claus laureate, awarded the Pino Pascali Prize and are currently nominated for Artes Mundi 3, as well as participating in exhibitions around the world. What have been your personal highlights of the last two years?

LA: I am honored to nominated for these prizes and I am pleased that my work touches people and the work is being seen around the world. All this wonderful recognition has given me the opportunity to produce more work.

AM: What projects are you currently working on?

LA: I am working on a two channel video installation/projections side by side of a large lake outside Kabul.

AM: You have described how, for you, art is 'a petition for another world'. This a beautiful idea, do you believe that art can truly change the world?

LA: Whatever transformation art has the potential to bring about cannot be immediately seen. It's an invisible process simultaneously cathartic and active. I feel that only if people engaged with one another through their art, culture and music and genuinely resist trying to reduce the 'other' to what is familiar to themselves, a lot of change can come about.

AM: Do you feel optimistic that, after a long history of persecution, the situation is improving for artists in Afghanistan?

LA: I think its improving a little. At the same time it will take a long time for the country to rehabilitate itself from the trauma that it continues to suffer.


Lida AbdulBrick Sellers of Kabul, 200616mm film tranfer to DVD

Lida Abdul
Brick Sellers of Kabul, 2006
16mm film tranfer to DVD

Lida AbdulWar Games, 2006Film transfer to video

Lida Abdul
War Games, 2006
Film transfer to video