Portfolio Advice

Portfolio preparation advice: What is a portfolio?  "...the voice your ideas". Watch this inspiring clip to get an insight into how you can best prepare your portfolio and portray your talent.
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Huda Lutfi: Still representations of a dynamic voice


An intellect, an artist, an innovator, it’s impossible and possibly counterintuitive to try and categorize the dynamism that is the Egyptian artist, Huda Lutfi.

Huda’s academic pursuits have seen her obtain a PHD in Islamic Culture and History in Montreal. Her continued commitment and passion led her to pursue a career as a distinguished Associate Professor, teaching Islamic Culture and History. Despite never having any formal training as an artist, her extensive knowledge in her specialised academic area has manifested into an array of visual masterpieces.
Mai Serhan 2012 observes that:

‘Indeed, much, if not all, her artistic work has been a visual translation of her historical interests in the city (Cairo). ‘[1]

Huda’s artworks simultaneously present a socio-political and aesthetic challenge. With regard to the former, Huda has become famous for her strong feminist themes that resonate in much of her work. She provides a distinctly feminine angle in her works that is both relevant and in some respects revolutionary. The feminist tones stem from her observation of the lack of female presence in the historical documentation of Islamic culture that she has studied for so long.  She ensures a more wholesome perspective of Egyptian events whilst providing a form of protest by ‘making women the mouthpieces of the city’[2].

She is proactive in advocating female emancipation and as a historian; she recognises the fundamental importance of documenting the journey to emancipation.

Her piece entitled ‘Crossing the Red Line’ (2011) documents an important move in the female struggle. An image of soldiers has been manipulated to represent a truth; that women played an integral part in the revolution. She uses photographs of female faces and applies them on to what appears to be male bodies. These women are portrayed as powerful and liberated, with their assertive stances, ‘walkie talkies’ in hand and heads held high.

Crossing the Red Line: Courtesy of The Artist and The Third Line
One can’t help but feel a degree of sensitivity to the fact that these women are quite literally ‘wearing the trousers’. Which seems to be a paradoxical representation from a feminist point of view; if trousers were viewed in the traditional masculine sense. However, it is a definite example of Huda’s perceptions of ‘imposed identities’. She believes identities such as gender identity is an imposed construct and is in no way definitive or fixed. Thus, we are traditionally it is accepted that trousers are a masculine garment and so is correlational with a masculine identity, Huda seems to want to break this. 

Her work tries to evoke the restrictions that human beings face in their lives, be it restrictions on thinking, restrictions on the body. She believes there is a way out of getting too attached to our ‘imposed’ identities.[3]

The art work shows both men and women crossing a red line, which is symbolic in two ways’; crossing the line of fear that all Egyptian revolutionaries faced. As well as crossing a line towards equality; an important step for the women’s liberation movement.  

Aesthetically, her images are equally as bold and confrontational as the message she wishes to portray. She juxtaposes the modern and the traditional, the real and the imagined, and attempts to collaborate styles transcending cultural lines.

Repetition is a style that Huda is very fond of. On many of her pieces she repeats the Sufi text, to decorate her works. This is significant as writing is highly significant when decorating object and building in Islamic art.

The naturally decorative nature of Arabic script, led to the use of calligraphic decorations, which usually involved repeating geometrical patterns that expressed ideals of order and nature’[4]

Her installation piece entitled ‘Carpet of Remembrance’ (2003) is a perfect example of her vast collaborative methods, as well as her willingness to challenge the norms.

Carpet of Remembrance:
Courtesy of The Artist and The Third Line
'Carpet of Remembrance' is a collection of a shoe maker’s last (the forms used to shape a shoe), which have been painted silver and are repeatedly covered in the old Sufi adage “I am the companion of the one who remembers me.” This was a highly controversial piece as it was sacrilege to write Sufi text on any kind of shoe – despite Huda writing on shoemakers last and not an actual shoe, this did cause a degree of contention.

Her pieces can be brave, honest and controversial in both the message they provide and the aesthetic image they project. She is unafraid to depict the controversial truth and attempts to instigate social change and create new truths.

Written By Kiran Sahib

[1] ‘city’ referring to Cairo. Mai Serhan, 2012, Jadaliyya article http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/7870/huda-lutfi_the-artist-and-the-historical-moment
[3] The Daily Egypt News, January 16 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOMBTdcmcnA

Interview: Bisan Abu-Eiseh


Bisan Abu Eiseh : Screenshot from video victory land 2008

A gentle soul with a creative mind, Bisan Abu-Eiseh was our first CAF Scholarship winner. He is now studying for his MA at the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. CAF caught up with him to see how life has evolved for him and where he is planning to go next. Here are some summaries from our conversation.

How are you enjoying London?
I am enjoying London very much, I have been a visitor here (London) before and have always been fascinated by London; it is a city rich of resources, culture and art amongst many other things. Despite still enjoying everything the city has to give, It is only after living in London I realise the difficulties and the daily challenges it throws at you to cope with the city. I am learning to arrange my life to suit the fast pace.

Do you feel like your time in London has impacted your art in anyway?
I can’t say that after 6 weeks it has already changed, but lots of things are going on as the whole atmosphere is very motivating. Also, the fact that I come from a different culture and circumstances is beginning to impose a lot of comparison in my mind of the place I am coming from. Things are evolving and in terms of art it’s really very stimulating.
I am seeing lots of art in London more than in my country, but in my country there are more topics to  speak about, so combining these two things together is giving me an exciting feeling in my head; I hope I can translate them into something visually rich.

How did you find out about CAF?
While I was working on my degree show I very much taken with the idea that I wanted to do an MA.  I quickly realised there are no postgraduate degree programmes for art in my country and it became very important for me to find out how to carry on with my education. Also as I have been to London before and seen the art scene; I grew to like the atmosphere that accompanies it.
I started to ask about what kind of university and course would be good for me. My director (of his previous degree, which he completed in Ramallah), who is part Palestinian and part British was very helpful with helping me find a direction. Everybody was circulating the CAF Scholarship as there are not many opportunities for scholarships and I got my (information/knowledge of CAF) from my administrator. It seemed too far-fetched for me as it (the Scholarship) was open to everyone  all over the Middle East, but I just went for it and here I am!

So is the application process quite an intimidating one?
It was a very important time for me and I waited for the answer day by day. I had been accepted to Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design before I applied for the CAF Scholarship. If I didn't get the scholarship it would have been impossible for me to study here as I wouldn't have been able to afford it. This scholarship changed my life it covered all my tuition fee part of my living costs.

Have you got any advice for those applying?
It’s really not easy to answer this question. Usually motivation is happening through media (you are drawn in by what you see).  It is about confidence and willing to take the risk and challenge. If you want something you have to fight for it, you have to go for it. I really wanted it and there was no other way. If you want it you will do it, but you need to see it there in order to go for it.

What do you see yourself doing after your MA?
It really depends I believe that lots of things are going to happen to me in these 2 years. My thoughts are going to develop and expand. I may consider doing a PHD, it depends on the opportunity. It really depends on how my career will develop as an artist.

Would you like to stay in London?
I have to have a reason to stay in London and again it is dependent on where my career will take me. I feel that by living In London you are doing an MA in itself, It is a challenge and there is so much to learn!

What projects are you working on at the moment?
What I’m working on is very much connected with archives.  Basically, I had 2 experiences with archives one started 4 years ago in 2008. I started to research the houses demolished in Jerusalem. In 2008-2011, I started to convert my knowledge into a visual form, I started to collect objects from demolished houses and presented them. I presented them with captions about what the space is, the name of the owner, the number of people displaced and the date of demolition. This was all presented in the Art Blast Istanbul exhibition 2011. http://arted.org.au/art-blast-2011-network-pd/
Byatt Bytoot Playing House 2008-2011, Archive Piece 
Second Archive: Later I found a collection amongst my father’s belongings, a collection of letters and images from 1980-85, which were exchanged between my father and mum and other relatives, while my father was in prison for political reasons. I entered into a world that no longer exists for my generation; lots of things have changed such as my parents relationship was outside the circle of formality like marriage or engagement. When I compare that to today it was a big taboo. Also I came across lots of stories, like the story of my name; my father named me after a song, a song about the city of Bisan.
Because of this encounter (being able to connect with his parents past) I felt that I was born 3 years before I was born. This collection covers an era that wasn't covered with my history because as Palestinians we are not very good at taking care of our narrative, and I feel it is my purpose to bring in a strong narrative.
Why I feel nostalgic for something I didn't live through? This is why I have particular interest in this archive. I wanted to project an alternative archive in my context. I want to look at an archive as a way of analysis. Not as a history and not to document but to project and look at a better future. I want to evoke conversation and discussion as to where we should go.
I’m not looking for answers; I am looking to ask the right questions. Maybe we feel we have a strong sense of being defeated, it’s a fact that we are coming from countries of underdevelopment and it is taking a long time to develop and it seems people aren’t asking the right questions. Lots of people are expecting artists to act like profits but I’m a normal person and I want to speak out just like other artists and human beings.

Playing House 2008, Archive Piece
Do you come from quite an artistic family?
Yes! My mum is an artist in cooking! My father is a theatre actor, director writer. So I have received a lot of support from them.

What did you do your undergraduate studies in?
I did two undergraduate degrees; IT and Visual Contemporary Arts. When I went to study IT I didn’t know what IT was! I was curious and also I just thought it was a good idea to do a degree so I would get a stable job. Then I graduated and realised that I couldn’t do an office job. Ever since I was a kid I was looking for a way to express myself I tried music and theatre, then I decided to do diploma in graphic design. I then joined photography and drawing course, I then found the Ramallah Art Academy and after applying I managed to get a Scholarship to do a degree in Visual Contemporary Art. I went to the first lecture and it was about the history of art and before the lecture, art to me was just about painting and photography. The lecture made me realise that I have a strong passion for art, since then I have never looked back. After one week of learning what an installation was I made my own! It wasn’t good but it was mine and it was accepted- it felt good.

Is there any particular artist you like?
Joseph Beuys : because he went beyond the gallery and the norm notion of art. He went beyond activism in order to spread his ideas everywhere, revolutionary ideas, through his ideas of how to conduct his life fascinate me. He never disconnected himself from the art work, and he never disconnected his art from his life: art and his life were interconnected.
(Example)He occupied Dusseldorf Academy in Germany and saw this as art. The picture (that was taken) of him being arrested, he decided to frame and sign it and put it in a gallery.

What are your views on censorship for political reasons?
My art is a reflection of my reality. I don’t think its right to avoid being political because of possible censorship- I do what I think about.
Those artists that cross censorship lines didn’t’ do it to be named ‘rebels’ they were just honest. This is a way of revolution. If we look at the example of Picasso, he suffered a lot from the war and his life was impacted by other socio-political events. He found through art who could express his true feelings, art and creativity was his outlet. This is something I really believe in, honesty as an artist.

How did you feel when you were awarded the scholarship?
I got paralysed! I needed water and I couldn’t stand. It made a dream come true to be here and carry on my education. As I said before ‘If I didn’t get the scholarship it would be impossible for me to study here because I can't afford the expenses, it would have been very difficult.  I have to say that this scholarship changed my life…’
Please tell us what you think about scholarships in general?
We are from countries of underdevelopment and if we don’t take care of our education then we will never make a change. So it’s very important to take care and offer opportunities for education to develop lots of youth who are seeking for better education and who will be able to make a change in their societies. Also I believe that education isn’t for the elite, and that’s why it’s very important for people who can’t afford studying in a country like England to be funded.

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CAF Panel Discussion