Interview with Susan Hefuna
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Let’s talk about those architectural influences? In the literature about your works there is always mention of the Islamic woodwork from the urban areas of Cairo, which oscillate between visibility and invisibility.
Susan Hefuna: Mashrabiya.
HUO: Right, it’s all about the seeing and the not seeing: what I see, what sees me, what I don’t see and so on.
SH: Those Mashrabiya screens are very old. They originated in ancient architecture, similar to the half-timbering architecture in Germany. They’re no longer used in contemporary architecture, but in the old days these screens were used to get the air in the rooms circulating, as a kind of ancient air conditioning system that cooled the air and filtered the light, and enabled the women to sit inside and look out the window while being protected from public view. They had a strong influence on me for a long time, I can’t really say now exactly why. Then I became increasingly absorbed with them, on an abstract level as well, actually very abstract.
HUO: And could you say that you also use a kind of mapping, a kind of urban research? Do you photograph these elements? Is there a notebook you use, or an Atlas?
SH: No, there isn’t. There are photos, but the photos stand for themselves, as photographic works. And the drawings are, for example, not preparatory drawings for photos. Neither are the photos used as a basis for the drawings, but rather the drawings are the view I would have if I were sitting in one of these rooms myself, because the nice thing about these rooms is that you’re isolated and protected from the world around you, but at the same time you can see it all. You see life outside the room, hear the cars and feel the hectic pace of the city – but you yourself are in calm surroundings, so it’s therefore very meditative. In principle I also need to be in such a mood when I do these drawings. Then I have to really concentrate and surround myself with a very calm atmosphere.
Authors: Hans Ulrich Obrist
Artists: Susan Hefuna