A Conversation with Communities: Hiba Abdallah

Kicking off the first of our Creatives in Residence profile series is Hiba Abdallah. A text and design-based artist, her work focuses on the intersections of collaboration, community and disagreement as productive frameworks for re-imagining public agency. 

In this conversation, we discuss art practices, navigating craft in a time of COVID, and her upcoming project as part of the Ontario Culture Days 2021 Festival.

Hiba Abdallah, In Retrospect,
presented in association with Supercrawl Hamilton and The McMaster Museum of Art
Hiba Abdallah, In Retrospect, presented in association with Supercrawl Hamilton and The McMaster Museum of Art

We begin with: why public artwork?

“The very first work that I made outside of my school training was a public artwork,” Hiba says, “So I’ve been doing public installations since I started as an artist. And I think what really drew me to it was the opportunity to have an expanded conversation with a wider community. Anyone can have an opinion about a public artwork, especially if it’s within their own community.”

“The breadth of experience and knowledge that the community brings to public art has always fascinated me. I think it’s added to the dynamics and complexities of public installations in a really healthy and interesting way.”

As Hiba works with public installations, COVID has proved a challenge. “COVID has changed everything about my practice. I tend to work collaboratively on a lot of my projects, and of course this is no longer an option during the pandemic.” 

However, Hiba shares, there are unexpected upsides, too.

“One thing that I’ve noticed about public installations, and public art more broadly, is that it’s really allowed another outlet for artists to still produce and make work that is safe and accessible to a larger public, in a way that’s really different from how public art was viewed before. I’m seeing a lot more temporary work around the city, and I’m seeing practices that maybe aren’t typically supported by public art become supported. That’s a really nice shift that I’ve seen throughout COVID.”

For her 2021 Creatives in Residence project with Ontario Culture Days, Hiba’s program will examine the role of libraries, centering them as beacons of community gathering, curiosity, and public importance. But why libraries?

“I’m excited to be working with the library on my Creative in Residence project,” Hiba says, “Because I am fascinated by what libraries mean in our communities today, and what resources and knowledge librarians hold that is untapped.”

Hiba Abdallah, EVERYTHING I WANTED TO TELL YOU, photo credit: Anthony Gebrehiwot
Hiba Abdallah, EVERYTHING I WANTED TO TELL YOU, photo credit: Anthony Gebrehiwot

“So I’m really looking forward to working closely with the librarians and seeing what we can uncover together, in the kind of expanded idea of how libraries are functioning today in our society.”

Hiba will work closely with the Toronto Public Library Eatonville Branch and create editorial stories detailing her findings, which will then inform a site-specific project at Eatonville for the Fall festival. 

Header photo: Andrew Williamson

You can check out our 2021 Creatives in Residence line-up here.

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