Lina Hashim: Hunting for truth

Back in may 2015 I met up with the heavily pregnant artist Lina Hashim in her home by the seaside north of Copenhagen, Denmark. My mission was to combine an interview for Wonderland Magazine with a video interview for my own site You can enjoy both below. The written interview works as a light introduction to Lina Hashim, while the video goes a little deeper.

If you have read any of my former blogposts, you will know that I do not see photography as documenting the truth, but more as a kind of language. I think Lina Hashims work is pretty interesting in terms of this discussion. I will let Lina Hashim speak for herself here, but you can read more thoughts on it in my blog series The Paradox of Photography.

   – For English subtitles press CC!

Currently enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Danish-Iraqi Lina Hashim is already a rising star on the international art scene. Working primarily with photography, Lina Hashim crosses into fields such as anthropology and performance, using her art projects to investigate her cultural baggage, Islam and the arbitrariness of the way the Quran is interpreted today.

AB: What did you want to do when you were a child?

LH: For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an artist. My father taught me calligraphy, and my favourite thing in the world was to draw. When I was a child in Kuwait, I used to watch a very popular television show about drawing, and when the artist from the program came to visit my school, I wanted badly to show him my work and be on TV. I was heart broken when I wasn’t chosen.

AB: Why did you change from drawing to photography?

LH: I changed to photography because I became a mother and felt the need to photograph my daughter Tara. The more she grew, the more I needed to document it. At the same time I had reached a point where my enthusiasm for painting had gone. I had become technically skilled, but that didn’t give me the desire to keep expressing myself. I ended up just staring at the white canvas for hours without painting. With photography a new universe was opening up to me.

AB: What was it like, moving to Denmark when you were 14?

LH: We fled the Iraq-Kuwait war and after some really chaotic years we arrived in Copenhagen just as Denmark had won the European Cup in 1992. It was incredible: The whole city was celebrating and so full of light! I think that as a teenager, you are very open to change and to adapting to new circumstances. We had already been listening to Western music, so I felt pretty at home with the Danish youth, but off course some things were very different… the way Danish people showed affection in public, and had romantic relationships without being married was a really big thing for me.

AB: Tell me about your acclaimed project “Unlawful meetings”?

LH: I worked on “Unlawful meetings” for three years, beginning while I was at the photo school Fatamorgana. According to the Quran any form of sexual behavior is strictly forbidden outside of marriage. In spite of this I had seen in my own youth that ‘unlawful meetings’ were practiced widely in the Muslim community. But if an ancient dogma is continuously and commonly breached by the greater proportion of Muslims, it probably means that it doesn’t make sense in a modern world. I wanted to show the truth.

AB: The bodies in “Unlawful meetings” are anonymous and fragmented. Have you had any special thoughts about that? How do you use your own body in your work?

LH: To take the photographs for “Unlawful meetings” I received training from a detective. I took on the role of a spy, and put myself in potentially dangerous situations in order to get close enough to take intimate photographs without exposing the identity of the people involved. I was interested in showing the way intimacy can be created in the middle of a public space, but I didn’t want to get anyone into trouble. If I had shown faces or other identifying features, people could get into some bad situations with their families. According to Sharia law the photographs could be used as evidence in the Islamic courts, and people could be punished accordingly.

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