Unlearning as a practice of growth

A conversation between Heba Y. Amin, multi-media artist, researcher, and lecturer, and Adama Sanneh, Moleskine Foundation CEO.

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Creativity Pioneers


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Adama Sanneh: Hey Heba, good to see you. How are you?

Heba Y. Amin: Nice to see you too. I’m good. I’m good.

[AS] So as you know with this podcast, we use it to kind of explore the boundaries of this idea of creativity for social change.

This is something that is within our mission is Moleskine Foundation. But we still don’t know fully what that means. So we use those moments to kind of have, again, potential exploration and wandering around those concepts, and as a compass to our concepts, we use words.

And so we always ask our guest to think about three words that come to mind when you think about this idea of creativity for social change. So if I ask you, what would be those three words?

[HYA] I believe my three words were and now you’re putting me on the spot because I can’t even remember, I believe my three words for you were re-learning, intervention, and subversion, that correct?

[AS] No, this is subversion and intervention, absolutely, because when we were chatting before you had unlearning and re-learning, you choose the other word.

[HYA] I mean, actually, you’re right. Those are two different things unlearning and re-learning and a topic that’s really kind of at the forefront of a lot of our discourse right now.

But, yeah, and subversion and intervention also somehow go together.

[AS] Well, you that you say another one at a time that it was “strategy”.

[HYA] Yeah, I mean, I guess the whole point of choosing those words is that we’re kind of really at a moment of reflecting on what does it mean to be an artist right now in this crisis moment, during this pandemic? I think when we first several months ago at the start of the year when we were all quarantining and we had the kind of initial shutdown, I think so many artists were suddenly questioning what’s the point of what we do today and especially in this context of crisis and what is the point of exhibition-making? What is the point of the cultural work that we do? And so I think it was just really a moment to kind of rethink these structures at this time. And I know that’s something that kind of, you know, I sat with for quite some time and really thought about because I think everything was suddenly put into a question about the work that we create, the lifestyles that we live, the who is it that we’re working with? where the people that we’re reaching? What is the relevance of what we’re doing? Is it urgent enough at this crisis moment? And so I think those words really kind of speak to this idea of there seems to be a consensus that we need to do things differently.

And I’m kind of curious at the end of this, what if we do see the end of this, if, in fact, we take that as a learning opportunity to restructure these, you know, these systems that we’ve built up, not just kind of a general societal level, but even the responsibility that we have as cultural workers and as artists and really thinking about impact, I mean, and what role our work plays and all of that.

[AS] But I find it interesting that you went straight to this idea of systems and this moment where the concept of usefulness, in general, is coming up in an interesting way. What constitutes something that is useful and it is not useful in a moment of crisis. So I guess my question, it’s a very basic and broad one.

You’re an artist. You do art. But what’s the point of it all at this moment, even almost to a certain extent, beyond the system of making?

[HYA] Yeah, I mean, usefulness is maybe a bit of a strange way to put it in the sense that it’s the intention is not necessarily to put the kind of utilitarian value to what it is that we create, even though there’s a lot of artists whose incentive, including mine, is the support of the ideas to have an impact or some kind of effect, but really more what role we play just even as global citizens in this context. And are we complicit in this kind of apocalyptic scenario that we find ourselves in as artists? Of course, there’s the work that we make, but there’s also the kind of culture around the work that we make. The exhibitions, the Biennale is the traveling, the residences, the funding. There are so many complex parts to being an artist. We’re not just working hermits in our studios completely disconnected from the world. We play a part in the world economy. And so I think for me it was really about questioning all of that and not just what kind of impact does my individual work have, you know, who does it speak to? But just really what role do I play as an individual in that kind of complex infrastructure?

[AS] But that’s very clear, and because it also posed like a new level of responsibility open in crisis, there is this is, I guess, elements of deciding where the citizen, where the artist starts with a citizen starts. What was the level of responsibility that you have as part of the collective system?

I think this is an interesting question. But I still wonder, though, because you talk about the impact and the fact that your work speaks to somebody or has a name, and the word impact is always like a word that is quite complicated, quite loaded. So, you work at the nexus between art, education, history, politics.

So somehow how do you conceptualize all those elements in your work and how do you conceptualize your role in this?

[HYA] Yeah, I mean, I guess I’ve chosen to kind of go in that direction with my work, and that’s just one of many ways and one of many strategies within kind of the art world. And for me, it kind of I realize that I think my positioning as a woman from the global south that in many ways the work that I do is actually a coping mechanism for myself.

First and foremost, I’m dealing with issues that affect me greatly based on my identity, based on where I come from, based on where I’m currently living. But then kind of more broadly, trying to address these broader topics that involve many components. And kind of many different perspectives. I became a kind of interested in how to kind of bring nuance forward to complicate political stories and issues that are relevant to us today. And so that means approaching it from various directions. So that means, you know, engaging in kind of educational formats. That means making my work but attempting to kind of go beyond the art world or kind of the exhibition format. Something that I’m very kind of attentive to and interested in is intervening in the media sphere. And so this is where I’ve become a kind of more interested in tactics of intervention and subversion is how do you cross those barriers that are often kind of defining you in certain ways and try to push narratives in different directions? And, you know, sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed enormously. But for me, the point is to get narratives out there. And that’s what I’ve become preoccupied with as an artist, I guess.

[AS] So you talked a little bit about this urge and working in these in these various and multiple ways stars from personal experience or stars from a personal need. You are Egyptian. You did spend a lot of time in the US. Now in Germany, you travel all over the world. But where this urge started from.

[HYA] I mean, I think it has a lot to do with living between cultures, it has a lot to do with the education that I received, which really touches on this kind of issue. In this word, we address at the beginning of this idea of unlearning and re-learning. I had a very Westernized education. I went to an American school in Egypt and then proceeded to continue my higher education and America and the United States. And there was a lot of unlearning that I had to do with the dominant narratives that were taught to me. And it wasn’t really into my adulthood and into a kind of deep into my research, into my artistic practice, that I was able to kind of research and dive into these narratives in ways that, you know, suddenly, suddenly it was a sort of awakening. I mean, wait a minute. I mean, this is a very kind of one-directional narrative that I’ve learned. And I think in recent years with the digitization of a lot of historical documents and archives and access to information in general, it’s something that kind of opened up the ways in which those of us who come from particular Regions are able to investigate historical material in ways that we weren’t able to before, in ways that we didn’t have access to, let’s say, colonial archives that exist in Europe or archives that exist in our own countries because it’s so difficult to get permissions to access those.

And so I think the impetus for me really came from that. I was educated in a particular way that was at a crossroads and in conflict actually with my own history and my own identity, and that somehow my artwork became a way for me to come to terms with that. I mean, I’m then able to kind of explore these two different sides and have an opinion about it, because I know both of them so well. And so I think that’s really for me what my work served, the purpose it served really.

[AS] Can you give us an example of that?

There’s one of those moments where this critical gaze started rising, where those contradictions or those apparent contradictions started to manifest somehow.

[HYA] I mean, I don’t know that there was necessarily I can pinpoint, like, singular moments, because I think my awareness grew over time, through my studies, or through my art practice. And on the one hand, experiencing politics as a Middle Eastern and kind of living in the countries that are imposing a certain politics.

And so I don’t know if I can pinpoint a particular moment in time. But just to give it an example, from a research perspective, just the ways in which researchers from the region often had difficulties accessing certain colonial archives. You have to get permission to enter the physical space that is this archive to kind of dig through. And oftentimes researchers from let’s say from Egypt just to kind of speak to my own experience, would go to institutions abroad and ask for permissions and wouldn’t be granted those permissions so they wouldn’t have access to their own historical narratives. Those narratives were controlled and there was a reason that they were controlled. And so I think now with the kind of opening of information on the Internet and particularly the ways in which institutions are opting to kind of open up their archives and digitize all their material for preservation, now, suddenly we have access to all of this content that we never had access to because we don’t have to go through that bureaucracy and get those permissions anymore. And so, in a way, we’re kind of learning our own history from scratch.

And I think this is a discovery that many artists from the region have made. And I think we’re just at the beginning of that.

And so there’s real learning that has to happen from our own perspective, and especially those of us who come from the colonized world where we’ve been kind of indoctrinated with these very particular narratives of our colonizers. And now we’re unlearning that and really learning the histories that speak to us. And so I think artists are kind of at the forefront of really kind of putting that forward into kind of a mass discourse, basically.

[AS] It’s interesting that I hear you saying almost that part of this urge starts from this contradiction, this clash of narratives that are still part of you, but somehow, they don’t add to each other. If you do not exercise a critical gaze about what is happening, there’s a lot that you said that that I found it extremely, extremely interesting.

But the first thing that I want to ask, though, because you use now, you know, subversion, intervention, unlearning. Somehow these are all words that presuppose an idea of a power or potential of a center of a system. To a certain extent almost become like a faculty member of the world where there is a clear power.

And then you can choose to subvert the already existing system or not.

Is it like that? And if so, what is the power that you try to subvert?

[HYA] Well, I mean, initially, one might think that I’m approaching it from this perspective of having had a Western education and living in the Western world, in the United States and Europe.

And so basically, I’m fighting these dominant narratives that have an impact on where I come from, basically, that our narratives that even have very tangible impacts on foreign policy and politics. But when I started to kind of dig into a lot of these historical narratives, I discover that, in fact, we ourselves in the region also don’t know these narratives. These a lot of these narratives have been erased from our own histories.

We aren’t as well versed in our own history as we are in Western histories. And this is a transformation that’s been happening for a very long time now in the education systems across the world, I would say. And I guess the place that I positioned myself is that I have an understanding that I’m neither part of this nor that I’m somewhere in between. I’m not comfortable in either of those cultures. And yet I have something to say about both of them.

And that’s really an advantage, I think, that I have, especially as an artist, to speak to these different perspectives and to kind of force people to question them in ways that maybe they haven’t had the opportunity to see these other perspectives. So but I really pick these narratives that are quite difficult and heavy and not easy to kind of discuss and in mass media. And I’m often drawn to them because of this media perspective. I’m often drawn to them because I see the ways in which media doesn’t have the ability to bring nuance forward. And basically, when we’re talking about contemporary conflicts, know the ways in which media just kind of puts forward this very one-dimensional narrative, which, of course, any conflict does not has multiple sides. Right. And so I think for me that in this age of social media and the ways in which we’re constantly being bombarded by narratives, I’m drawn to the ones that I feel like I can add more content, to add more nuance to it, complicate them trying to try to provide a more of a historical, more robust historical context in which we can understand what these moments of crisis that we’re living today are because they’re often put forward by the media in a sort of void as if they don’t come from historical context. So that really is my interest as an artist.

[AS] But in your work, because something is interesting, you work you move a lot between history and contemporary art and then you figure out ways to kind of make everything relevant.

So I’m still wondering, well, first of all, if you can give us one example of this practice. Every time we chat, I’m always fascinated by some new historical facts that you come up with. And I remember once we were together and you were telling me that you were investigating a pyramid built by the Nazis in Egypt. And I’m like, what? What pyramid? And as I like this one, you have so many different elements, historical elements that you managed to dig out and then reconsider. Can you tell us maybe one example and how you approached him?

[HYA] Yeah, I mean, I guess I’m very drawn to quirky stories, and I think that’s maybe what sets me apart as an artist is the way that I narrate stories and what I’m drawn to. It reveals a bit of my personality, I guess. But in fact, I’m interested in kind of using these quirky stories of allegories. And especially I said a little bit earlier, this idea that I’m interested in complicating very complicated narratives. Right. I’m interested in how do we dive in and really have a discussion about narratives that are often very polarized and often very difficult to have a kind of productive discourse about. And so this idea of and maybe one of the strategies that I use as this form of intervention and subversion is humor. And that’s something that I’m increasingly conscious of, that hopefully, you know, my work gets funnier and funnier as I can make more work. But the idea is that I try to find these kinds of hooks as an entry point into a kind of complicated historical narrative.

So one good example is a very I mean, and most of my work is years and years of research that I’m kind of accumulating data and images and reading material and historical documents. And what my role as an artist then becomes is how to piece those things together and present them in a way that’s not just about putting documents forward, but it’s a way that I’ve kind of embodied them. I’ve digested them and put them back out in a way that might be different and might force or might cause people to see it differently. And so, I mean, I have multiple projects like this, but one good example, and because it’s kind of a work that’s at the forefront of my mind, I just launched a book about it is about a stork that was captured in Egypt in 2013 and accused of being a Zionist spy and because it had an electronic device attached to its body. And this story was fascinating, and it went viral in the media. And I often kind of go after these viral stories, but I’m much more interested, not necessarily about the story itself, but this phenomenon of why something like that picks people’s interest. Why do all these international media outlets feel the need to write about this stork that was captured and accused of espionage? I mean, there’s a reason that’s interesting, but often it ends there, right? And so I became interested in. Well, but what are the conditions of paranoia that would cause a bird to be accused of being a spy? And in the process of investigating that, I unfold this entire narrative that becomes about drone warfare and the kind of aerial surveillance of the region and how kind of the quartering of the Middle East under colonialism. And it’s all through this bird’s eye perspective and this idea that you know, not trusting and being a bit skeptical of anything in the sky actually comes from somewhere. And so we begin to understand than people’s behavior in a contemporary context that it’s linked to almost over one hundred years of infrastructure that’s being built under this kind of hierarchy, under violence, under colonialism, under imperialism. And that then becomes a way to explain all of that. It becomes an entry into understanding that better.

[AS] You know, when you talk about this, you know, I just keep thinking about this word of impact that is somehow connected to again, to the question, what’s the point of it all?

In a sense that obviously I hear a lot of elements of criticality or reconsidering or unlearning.

But the artistic practice, you know, you could do it in various ways. You choose the artistic path to do so.

Why is that what do you think is what do you think, Art, allow you to do that other practice wouldn’t allow you to do?

[HYA] I think that’s a really great question because I think art has this ability through a kind of esthetic understanding, through a narrative construction to draw people in personal ways. And putting forward an art exhibition about this topic is a very different thing than writing an academic text about it, which I also do and I think is also important. But they function in very different ways and they reach people in very different ways. And so you know one thing that I’m very conscious of is that people can come into one of my exhibitions and enjoy my work on a purely esthetic level. But my hope is that I can reach them and on other levels as well and kind of force them to ask questions that may be otherwise they wouldn’t have asked. But already reacting to kind of the esthetic aspect is already something. But I’m also conscious of the ways in which art practice and art allow you to get away with things that you wouldn’t in other fields. So, for example, the way that I conduct my research and only now, I mean, even the artists have been having had kind of these research practice-based approaches for decades. And only now people are really coming to terms with it and is it really being addressed, especially in academia, as a legitimate practice of research that in fact artists actually provide knowledge production, they’re not only reflecting.

And so one of the things that art allows you to do and for me, really, my research is driven very much by visuals, but I’m doing legitimate research.

And so one thing that allows me to do is kind of step away from this very rigid, kind of rules that the academy has put forward with how research is to be conducted. And it’s not to say that’s necessarily wrong, because we do need that scientific rigor, but it kind of opens up the possibility for accessing different things that may be such a strict format doesn’t allow.

But then the other thing, too, is that you know, coming from Egypt and countries that are similar, where it’s risky and it’s actually dangerous to talk about politics, to be open about your opinion about history and politics. Somehow, in many ways, art goes under the radar. It’s somehow allowed within the art world. There’s a way in which you can nurture a discussion around politics that you can’t in media as a journalist or you can’t as a human rights lawyer, or you can’t as a professor. And so it provides this other space that until now is OK to kind of express some of these things. And then lastly, I think it’s also just that it’s pretty open to format. So I can do a physical exhibition, I can do a film that screened in a cinema, I can do a performative intervention in public space. And I’ve become increasingly interested in how to kind of break out of the gallery walls, how to break into these other systems, into academia, into media, into these other spaces, and kind of instigate a discussion that way. So I think what I’m finding is the power of being an artist is that I just have a lot of flexibility.

And that’s allowing me to explore these things in ways that I wouldn’t in other fields.

[AS] You are also an educator so I’m quite interested to explore that space between art and education. I mean, in your practice as an artist and your practice as an educator. Because in your practice, I hear a lot of things that if you remove the art aspect of it, we stress some essentials that they came out today. Funny enough, would be in the ranking of 21st-century skills for any corporation of the planet. And it’s quite funny. Basically, is creative doing and the capacity to think creatively. Problem-Solving it’s about critical thinking and expressing critical gaze. It’s about a change-making attitude and being aware that you can create certain changes in the world and or in the environment that surrounds you. It’s about responsibility, it’ about self-awareness, is about knowledge. So all those skills are skills that when you attract that, you can see the inner ranks of the World Economic Forum’s where to say like this is what the world needs or like Unesco, this is what the world needs. But somehow these things remain often hidden. You know you are an artist and you live on a different planet. I’m glad that you exist, but nothing more than that.

But you that are able to explore that space in between art and education. How do you interpret that? How do you think that you can transfer some of those learning and experiences in building new skills in your students?

[HYA] Well, you know, I come from one of those countries where if you’re not a doctor or engineer, you’re a complete failure, but only to discover that, in fact, the world, in general, has this outlook and this idea that in a capitalist society, if you’re not making a ton of money, then you’re doing something wrong. And I think, Art, there are certainly artists who are making a lot of money. But for me, that’s not my goal. And I think there are some actually really important skills that we learn as artists. And it’s something that is very much needed in our contemporary context. I think the ways in which universities are increasingly becoming more like businesses and the ways in which we’re increasingly becoming censored in societies around the world, critical thinking is a skill that not many people have anymore, and it’s a skill that needs to be learned and taught. And this is something that you learn in art school. And so I think as an educator and again, I don’t think I have a very clear place where I exist, whether it’s academia or the art world or politics or whatever. People often have a hard time placing me. And I think it comes from this experience that I had growing up of not being part of anyone's culture, having an education that conflicts with my culture, and living between geographies. And so I just became accustomed kind of to being an outsider in every context that I’m involved in. And so I think I discovered that my strength is the clarity that I have and being able to relate that as an educator and the tools that I think are valuable coming from creative practice and how we desperately need that today, and especially in dealing with a world that’s leaning towards the sort of in a fascist direction, a world that’s becoming more oppressed and tools that are being used against us and quite horrific ways and are, in a way, our helplessness in combating those. And it really comes from the fact that we’re unable to question them in the first place. And so I don’t know. I see this as something, you know, I always joke around about radicalizing my students. This idea that, like, we can’t be comfortable in the situations that we’re living in, we constantly have to be questioning them and we constantly have to be provoking and we constantly have to be taking risks as artists because we also come from these positions of privilege if these are the fields that we’re pursuing. And so I think I think it’s a legitimate thing to ask of artists or at least to ask of artists who are learning to be art students who are learning to be artists.

[AS] When you speak, it comes to mind a little bit what Bell Hooks was saying and wrote in his book, Education as a Practice of Freedom. And basically the way you describe it is somehow ingrained in this idea.

I have to ask you something. And it’s about because at some point you say you talk about technology and you were using the idea of technology as you were saying it opens up new possibilities that allow your practice to flourish, but, you know, besides your practices allow you to start to interrogate yourself and interrogate the narratives that were presented to you. And without that, it would have been virtually impossible at the same time. We often discuss and you often spoke in your work about the “fascist side of technology”, and we always laugh about this word techno-fascism.

[HYA] That’s a good word in a sense because it makes a lot of sense.

[AS] I speak about this, the ambivalent nature of technology. How do you reconcile the two ideas and where is the balance? And on top of that where do you place yourself?

[HYA] With respect to that, yeah, I’m going to throw another word at you that I really like, which is “digital authoritarianism”. I think it’s similar to techno fascism. And that’s this idea that, of course, technology is a double-edged sword. It has a lot of emancipatory capabilities. Absolutely. And has advanced us in many ways that I think are positive, but as well as negative. But we have the capacity to be able to question those things and play a role in how those things are structured. I mean, I think technology it’s hard to talk about technology as this kind of umbrella thing because there are so many directions. But we cannot also extract the ways in which a lot of advancements and technologies are often developed in a military context. And as such. And we often see technology as this kind of. You know, a system that kind of exists on its own and is somehow autonomous and makes decisions through algorithms and things like that, but we need to somehow reconnect the ways and the context in which those technologies are developed and then how these systems of power and hierarchy are being inscribed into them. And so this isn’t something that I’m very preoccupied within my own work. And this is what drives a lot of my historical research, which is looking at where the gazes of power are inscribed into technology. So, for example, looking at the history of photography and the ways in which photography was being used to put forward a very particular ideological agenda. And my role as an artist is always questioning using these tools. Can we, in fact, extract them, extract those narratives out of them today, or am I still kind of imposing the same color, that same colonial gaze by using the tool that was constructed in that context? And so that’s something that I’m very much interested in questioning. And I think it has really come to the forefront, especially now during the pandemic, during the current pandemic, because we’ve become obviously so dependent on technology. You and I are having this video chat online and ultimately, we need to question, but who is who owns these things? Who has the power to censor us if we say the wrong thing, who has the power to eliminate some of these platforms if something doesn’t go according to how they want it to go? Right. And these also have these are political economies. They have political agency. And so these are all things that we need to understand as we become increasingly dependent on them. They are not neutral by any means.

Politically, they’re not neutral. And so, on the one hand, I acknowledge my own dependency on them and the importance that we’re able to have this conversation online, but without being a little hesitant and a little critical of, in fact, you know, what is the platform that we’re using and what agenda, what ideological agenda do they have at this time? And so I think that’s something that we’re not really accustomed to questioning so often because we don’t really know how these systems are built and we don’t really know where materials are mined and we don’t really know who is actually digging the minerals that make our phones and our batteries and all these things we don’t like. Trace it to where it begins.

And by not questioning it, we’re giving up basically any power in having an opinion about it. And so this is something that I’m interested in always raising in my work is forcing people to actually question the tools that they’re using on a daily basis and how they then become complicit in these politics that we’re attempting to critique.

[AS] That’s probably now there’s even like a tighter connection of this in the sense that compared to a few years ago when you had it to the media and or any other technological tool that has a clear center and definite clear sentences, that there is a clear ideology behind it. And then you can decide between this and that, that that now with technology, the way it is built now with social media is on and so forth, there is somehow an algorithm to speak to you. That and the conversation about the complexity of a system that is diffuse and goes into transforming the reality that each individual at the personal level is able to process and is able to create to the point that actually this is not only a method of access to information, but it also goes to changing our biology that makes everything even more complex to face. And in a way, some of the features that you were telling us about in terms of, again, criticality and capacity to build a critical gaze become even more important. But it becomes even more and more difficult to exercise, because if we don’t have a base of what reality is common knowledge and a common understanding of what realities of what real and not real is, then it becomes quite tricky.

[HYA] Yeah, I mean, absolutely. We can’t purport to be free societies and then give up our agency and decision-making and kind of perpetuate these very, very problematic systems of exploitation that’s happening elsewhere or, you know, or destroying our environment and speeding climate change. So I think we’re really at a crossroads. And I think this is something that younger generations are starting to understand because their future is at stake and it’s becoming very, very visible. And so, again, I think one of the few places in which we’re really able to kind of dove into that and kind of break that apart and really question those things is an art school, which essentially is kind of how that is the purpose of art schools in many ways. But it’s proving to be increasingly important, especially because universities are going away from that kind of critical thinking approach and merely because it’s so tied into Kabbalistic and a political system. And so what can we, as educators in the art world, do to educate young people to kind of spread this, you know, this approach to society, basically.

[AS] So somebody is listening and want to embrace your three words: subversion, intervention, and re-learning. Where he should start from?

[HYA] You mean in terms of what do you mean if I want to embrace this tree, this tree action?

[AS] Yeah, they’re like, is there an action that comes before or is there an adviser you give? Is there an attitude to this day? A practice? What is there before I decide to delve into these three concepts?

[HYA] Yeah, I mean, I think in many ways the road is being paved for us already where we find ourselves right now at a crossroads that is not sustainable. And the crisis of this moment is becoming ever more clear. And so I think that already and presumably a lot of people are interested in changing the way that is changing the status quo. It’s clear that what has been kind of transpiring for decades is not going in a good direction. Let’s be honest. And so and so I think it’s a willingness to change. But I think for many people, it’s a matter of survival. And so if it’s a matter of survival, then we need to kind of urgently come up with new skills that allow us to survive and allow us to perpetuate that change. And I think it’s a time where we have to take risks. Unfortunately, that’s where we’re not in a comfortable place. We have to take risks, and especially those of us who are more privileged and are in a position of comfort should be at the forefront of that.

And I guess my proposal is that perhaps art is one way to do that, and not necessarily because I think artists are all mighty or anything like that, but it’s just a matter of creating a different perspective in a different way of living because ultimately, I think art is not just about creating objects. It’s at least for me, it’s really a way of thinking. It’s a way of embodying. It’s a way of living. It’s you know, it’s the lifestyle that I choose. It’s the way that I choose to engage with the world. And ultimately, I’m an artist one hundred percent of the time, not just when I work. And then you shut that down. Right. So there’s a way in which I choose to engage with the world. And, you know, I don’t know, perhaps somehow that people can learn something from that. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how to say it without it sounding like something arrogant, because that’s not what I’m trying to say. I’m just trying to say that it’s clear that we need to shift the way that we think and the way that we engage with society.

And art is the tool was one of the tools, that’s why it can be one of the tools, or at least it’s a space where people are attempting to do that, as opposed to many spaces where people are unable to do that, don’t even have the option to do that. And so so I think that’s something.

[AS] Very clear, Heba, thank you so much.

[HYA] Yeah, thank you.

Artist Heba Y. Amin (b. 1980, Cairo) is a Berlin-based multi-media artist, researcher, and lecturer who looks at the convergence of politics, technology, and architecture. Her works and interventions have been covered by the New York Times, Guardian, Intercept, and CNN, among others. She has had recent solo exhibitions at the Mosaic Rooms (London 2020) and the Center for Persecuted Arts (Solingen 2019) as well as the Böttcherstrasse Prize Exhibition (Bremen 2018), 10th Berlin Biennale (Berlin 2018), 15th Istanbul Biennale (Istanbul 2017), 11th African Biennale Photography (Bamako 2017), and 12th Dak’Art Biennale (Senegal, 2016).

Amin is the co-founder of the Black Athena Collective and a current Field of Vision fellow (NYC). She also has an extensive repertoire in public speaking and was recently awarded the Sussmann Artist award for artists who are committed to the ideals of democracy and anti-fascism. Furthermore, Amin is one of the artists behind the subversive graffiti action on the set of the television series Homeland, which received worldwide media attention.

This conversation was recorded as one of the Episodes of “Creativity Pioneers”, a podcast by the Moleskine Foundation.

As the Moleskine Foundation’s vision is to inspire a new generation of creative thinkers and doers, this podcast aims to equip all of us with new perspectives and unconventional ideas to amplify our creativity, critical gaze, and imagination.
We engage in conversations with unique creative minds from all over the world, to explore and expand our understanding of creativity and its transformative power.
Each episode sparks from a selection of 3 keywords, chosen by our guest speakers. They serve as a compass, helping to orientate the conversation through art, entrepreneurship, literature, philosophy, politics, and social activism.

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Creativity Pioneers

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