Samar Ziadat | March 8 2016
Artist Mouna Kalla-Sacranie dardashat with Samar Ziadat on her artistic childhood, her creative process, and the important women in her life. Mouna is a 22 year old British, Palestinian and Indian artist and photographer. Currently, she’s based in London, studying Liberal Arts at King’s College.
How long would you say you’ve been making art for? Did you enjoy it as a child?
I loved it. My mum could see that both my sister and I had quite a creative streak, so she enrolled us in art classes on the weekend, when we were both quite young. I also did art throughout school – and have always kept a sketchbook, journal or diary since then.
I’ve noticed that you journal a lot?
Yeah, I read a lot, and I write quite a lot, because of the nature of my degree. I started out free-writing in my journals, but now they are pretty much solely art-based. I find that journaling is a really useful way to chronologically catalogue and visualize my thoughts.
Do you have an artistic medium you really like to work in?
I really love working in collage. It’s actually how I started journaling. I think a lot of people find creative processes to be quite intimidating, and I receive a lot of messages on my tumblr asking me how I started journaling, or telling me that they’re finding the process difficult. I think collage is a really good place to start because you’re essentially reconditioning old things and making something new of your own. I think that can feel really empowering if you’re doing something creative for the first time.
Is there a favourite place where you like to make art?
My sister and I have shared a room our whole lives, and she got married last year – so I finally have my own room for the first time. I’ve created a sort of ‘studio-space’ in the corner, so that’s where I do my work. Having a space that is exclusively my own has allowed me to exercise my slightly erratic behavior when it comes to making art. Knowing that I can spread everywhere, whenever I want, make a mess and then clean it up in my own time has really helped me to open up creatively.
What time of day do you find most inspiring?
The time that I feel the greatest urge to make something is usually when I’m in a lecture doing something completely different. Usually when I’m not supposed to be thinking about it – I’m thinking about it!
Who’s your favourite artist?
There are loads of artists that I love, but my main inspiration – and by inspiration, I don’t mean that I’m directly inspired by the aesthetic of her work, but I’m more inspired by her intricate thought processes – is Sophie Calle. I discovered her during my A levels, when one of my teachers told me to research her work entitled ‘Take Care’. Her work is really deeply rooted in her personal life and experiences, and is very obviously an articulation of her own emotions, and an abstraction of them too. The idea for the piece ‘Take Care’ came after she was dumped via email, by her lover. She distributed the email he had sent her to 117 women who were all experts in their field – so an expert fencer, dancer, painter, shooter – and the women had to interpret this letter in whatever form they specialized in. One of the women involved was a rifle shooter. In some of the footage shot by Calle, you see this women put a printed version of the email in place of the the target at a shooting range, and you see her shoot this letter. Then you get a side by side with the original letter – and she had shot out with like the tiniest bullets the word ‘love’ where it appears three times in the letter.
I know – I’m obsessed with her – she’s so amazing. I actually wrote an essay about her recently, and it kind of reaffirmed my own confidence in being able to define myself as ‘an artist’.
I find this particular photo series of your Mama so striking. How long have you been shooting in film for?
Seven years. When I was at school, the caretaker of the art block used to lend out old cameras, and at the end of my year he told me that I should just keep the one I was using. This is it – this is the camera! It’s so old and so heavy and I have no idea how old it is – I’ve tried to look it up – it’s a Pentax.
I have the same Pentax! I got it secondhand and without a manual so I also don’t know the exact year it was distributed. I love shooting in film because it’s so magical not knowing how the photos will turn out until you print them.
Oh wow, it is the same! I don’t think that novelty will ever wear off. It’s so satisfying getting the film back when you’ve been waiting to see them for so long. The thing I love most about shooting in film is that you always conceptualize in your head what the photos will turn out like, and invariably, it’s quite different to how you originally imagined it. For me, it’s always better – except when it’s shit and I’ve got my finger on the lens or something – but yeah, I love it so much.
Where was this series shot? Is it staged or candid?
She knew I was there but she wasn’t posing for the photograph. She was preoccupied with doing her hair and makeup and sorting herself out before going to work. They’re all taken in the same place, in our home. I’ve always been really interested in the power of reflection. Especially taking an image in a reflection, and seeing both the person being photographed in the real form and the reflected form, and, if you get the triangulation right, you also catch yourself as well in the reflection. These photos have a really specific light that is extremely nostalgic for me – a sort of orangey-gold, or a burnt ochre light that makes everything look warm and soft.
Is there a favourite photograph of yours that you’ve taken?
There’s another two that I’ve taken of her in our home that I love. In the first, you can’t really see what happening, but she’s sitting on the sofa, and because the light is so dark you can’t see her face, only the shroud she’s wearing. We have this bowl in the living room, which is filled with massive amber beads – I don’t even know where they came from – but the whole picture looks like it’s been dipped in honey. It’s really precious to me.
My favourite picture of all time, is one I took of my mum and my aunt together. They’re both wearing these big white scarves and my mum has just wrapped the scarf my aunt’s head. In the photo, my aunt’s got her head back laughing at the absurdity of the situation like “I can’t believe she’s doing this to me!” They were just about to leave the house, and it’s that same gold-y honey light. I was just doing my homework, and I just happened to have my camera next to me, and took the photo as they were leaving. That’s probably my favourite picture on earth.
Thank you for chatting with me Mouna, it’s been a pleasure. Where can we see more of your work?
Likewise! You can find me on my tumblr.
Samar Ziadat is a postgraduate student in modern and contemporary art history at the University of Edinburgh. When she’s not ranting about intersectional feminism, she’s either curled up with a book or her cat. You can follow her on instagram and twitter, or read her articles here.