10 Minutes with Adia Wahid

Born in Pakistan, Adia Wahid today lives and works in London. Initially trained as an economist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Wahid went on to pursue a BA, at Chelsea College of Arts and Design, and an MA at the Royal College of Art. She has exhibited in London and the wider UK, France and Switzerland, with her first solo show at Alice Black in 2017. In 2020 Stellar International Art Foundation has selected Adia Wahid for representation and support. Upcoming 2020 events include an artist talk for Stellar International Foundation, group shows at the Freelands Foundation and the Milton Gallery. Her work is held in private collections and in a public collection at The New York Presbyterian Hospital. 

Her drawings and paintings can be described as diagrams doubled over other diagrams, in search of yet another level of diagram that never quite knows which time it is in. Time and cultural syntax are spliced together, but spliced in ways that leaves gaps or striations. Wahid is absorbed within discrete histories such as carpet and textile weaving, cuneiform writing tablets, mathematical syntax, computing, coding and painting. She is fascinated by the proximity of the technological and the aesthetic whilst trying to find forms capable of extending the limited experience of what lies in-between. 

For Open Space’s seventh week of ’10 Minute Interviews’ Huma Kabakcı invites Adia to talk about her cultural and artistic background, her influences, biggest challenges, how she sees food as a connector and more.

Phantom Prayers (2018)
Oil on canvas, 170 cm x 140 cm
Photo Credit: Tom Carter
Courtesy the Artist

How has your practice evolved based on where you come from and where you are living now? What has influenced your work the most? 

Coming from Pakistan, I had a visual vocabulary based on Persian, Moghul and Indian traditions of craft, colour, textiles, carpet weaving and patterns – all interwoven into daily life and culture. I grew up in Karachi, the most cosmopolitan city in Pakistan. It was very different, both visually and culturally from what it is today. Modernist architecture sat sympathetically interspersed with colonial and Mughal relics. I left Pakistan at the age of eighteen, I spent much of the 1990s in the USA, UK and Singapore before moving on to South Korea for nearly a decade and I have been living and working in London since the early 2000s. 

Trained originally as an economist, my approach to making brings together different traditions from the East and West. My research in economics and the places I have lived in led to an understanding of uneven developments along economic, political and socio-cultural axes. This constant flux has blended and morphed who I am with different time spheres and cultures. I always see myself as both an insider and an outsider at the same time, having a presence with an absence. I often wonder about the questions around identity and it is difficult for me to answer.

When You Make Sense I Feel (2020)
Fitzrovia Gallery
Photo Credit: Tom Carter
Courtesy the Artist

How does cultural appropriation play a role in your work and practice? 

The time I spent in South Korea had a profound effect not only on the methodologies I employ within my work but also in the materiality and my visual aesthetics. It was in Seoul that I discovered the Dansaekhwa movement and its artists. Dansaekhwa came into prominence in the 1970s. It was both, a political statement – (a rupture in the traditions of the past, the painful experiences of colonialism, Korean war, separation of North and South Koreas) as well as an aesthetical choice.

The Dansaekhwa movement is different from western modernism and minimalism. Here the emphasis was on going back to nature and traditions by accentuating the meditative and physical properties of the materials and methods such as color, Korean rice paper, canvas, and repetition, unique to Korean culture. The artists’ concerns and anxieties of the modern and the contemporary, were sensitively played out in a language unique to their environment. For example, within my own practice where the making is centred on drawing, I have constructed unique drawing tools which are repurposed and deployed in the making of the paintings. This investigation into tools as prosthetics or adjuncts to aid humans throughout our history and the linking of (the hand, the loom, punch cards, computers, repetition, language and algorithms) their use, re-use and misuse has been instrumental in the creation and the language of my paintings. There is a conceptual play on humans as half man and half machines and whilst automation of labour and intellect now governs almost every aspect of our lives, we are forced to contend daily with technological and recently biological glitches. I am equally fascinated by the effects of these technical glitches as I am by their counterparts found in human error.

What has been your biggest challenge? 

Not having enough hours in the day. Studio time is an everyday practice for me, but so is mothering and running a household – a daily occupation, and importantly, they both take place under forces at work that emanate from far beyond the studio, home, neighbourhood or even city where one lives and is based. 

What does diversity mean to you? 

I find notions of diversity and race really problematic – not because of the politics of it but because in this day and age, these ideas should have been obsolete. We should have already arrived at a fairer and more equitable world. Technology was supposed to be the great leveller but sadly that has not happened. On the one hand we have to click on images of bicycles or crossings to ‘confirm humanity’ whilst on the other we have to fill out ethnicity and race on a job application form. It is a time warp.

Grid Preset, Blyth Gallery
Photo Credit: Tom Carter
Courtesy the Artist

What do you love to do in your free time? 

I love cooking and having conversations around the dinner table. I have cooked all my life even as a kid and I am really happy that all my boys can cook. I have compiled my own recipe book, updating traditional Pakistani and international cuisine in a coherent format. It’s a long standing argument amongst my sons on who will inherit my recipe book.

If you could collaborate with anyone living or deceased, who would it be?

There are so many I would want to collaborate with – Anni Albers, Mira Schendel, Eva Hesse, Bia Davou, Ada Lovelace, Gego, Kader Attia, Anri Sala, Francis Alys. Maybe I still have time to do a collaboration with the last three on the list. My initial response to an artwork is always instinctive – I am drawn to intensity, materiality, research and absurdity.

What are you working on at the moment?

I normally work on two or three projects at the same time: my ongoing research project as well as smaller projects that are informed by the main research. The main research project aims to develop process-based methodologies which investigate and re-contextualise repetitive patterning, human and machine glitches and algorithmic rituals compatible with our notion of systems and rules. Abstract diagrams emerge from the work, either through repetition of a system or through solving spatial and scale arrangements. The glitches are incorporated as part of the process. 

My new project investigates mental health and the alternate states of reality, created by the recent, global biological glitch and the ensuing excessive dependence on technology. I aim to translate a 2D enquiry into an expanded 3D installation interacting more directly with the viewer and the space. The recent lockdown has produced collective states of anxiety devastating the elderly and the BAME population disproportionately, marginalising them further. I am extremely excited to have finally launched Table.Adia, arts and cultural engagement over food and conversations. This will be an ongoing initiative bringing together different creative practitioners and building a supportive community.