Hannah Habibi Hopkin’s work explores gender, religion and identity. Current her work turns traditional concepts of embroidery, as a romanticised pastime for a docile woman, into a ‘weapon of resistance’ against gender constraints. Hannah’s work has been shown in the UK’s major cities and is owned by a large number of international collectors, representing a very broad spectrum of society. In 2011 Hannah won the 3FF Urban Dialogues Artist Award for her works “Illumination” and “Chasing Paradise”. In 2012 she was short-listed for the Mica ‘My Place On The Isle’ Best British Emerging Artist Award. Her work received a special mention from the judging panel which included The Times Chief Art Critic Rachel Cambell-Johnson, Curator Venetia Porter of The British Museum, Professor Ben Quash, and Sotheby’s Middle East Director, Roxane Zand.
Hannah Habibi is a BIG DEAL. The Times recently described Hannah’s work as “Thought-provoking” whilst The Arabist Magazine called the work “immensely refreshing“.
Crucible Magazine explained: “She takes as her subject scenes from the typically ‘enigmatic’ Middle East and North Africa and transposes them into a familiar Western form: Pop Art. Her subjects are suddenly remarkably familiar. This gives her art an almost universal quality rarely achieved by those who take the Middle East as their subject. Beyond its appeal to the intellect, Hannah’s work also appeals to the heart. It is funny, attractive, and inherently playful.”
At Outburst we love art and were VERY excited to connect with Hannah Habibi Hopkin a London based artist who graciously agreed to answer some questions over email about her work.
1) Who are you? (tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do)
My name is Hannah Habibi Hopkin, I’m 30, I’m a visual artist and I live in London. I paint, draw, sew and sculpt, and my work is predominantly described as ‘Pop Art’.
2) Where does your inspiration come from?
Despite first appearances, I am absolutely not a religious artist; I’m not directly inspired by faith. I’m inspired by identity and the way in which it is defined/ or not defined. “East/West”, Insiders/Outsiders, the venerated/the inferior; I’ve spent a lot of time examining stereotypes, generalisations, dichotomies and universalities, and now I’m looking at how these issues have affected me personally. Gender is a big source of inspiration, and my work has always had a mischievous Feminist vein running through it. Feminism has been through the mill, but exploring womanhood is absolutely as important now as it has ever been, gender constraints are alive and kicking.
3) What have you learned about yourself through the work that you do?
Last year I began a series of needlework and it is having a profound effect on my understanding of what it means to be a female artist. Sewing is rarely viewed as art; rather as a homemaker’s skill. This perceived inferiority ignores the fact that embroidery endures as the predominant outlet for female expression worldwide. Embroidery has long been associated with an idealised perception of the female, but embroidered art is now emerging as a ‘weapon of resistance’ against gender constraints.
I recently created a work in response to pressure I felt to conform to ideals of womanhood. The act of creating this piece was destructive: I took items of home ware and either cut them up, obscured or rearranged them. With the reassembled pieces I created a wall hanging reading HOME SWEET HOME, the most common, innocuous sentiment one might find on a cross stitch. The process itself, as well as the final piece, reflected the act of conformity and the moulding of the self into a palatable form. And it helped me come to terms with the fundamental truth that women simply must not define themselves by others’ standards, either as artists or as human beings.
4) What are the pros and cons of your ART?
I suppose that the hardest thing is that you lay yourself open for all to see, which can be daunting and difficult, especially when you have poured your heart into something. But the flip side of that argument is that the process itself is very cathartic, and the end result can be really impactful.
5) How do the many pieces of your identity enrich your art?
My identity absolutely informs my work; my identity as a woman, a feminist, a Brit/Londoner, a Muslim, a hijabi (now ex-hijabi), a sister, a lover… My own experiences and emotions underpin it all really…
6) What is the biggest feedback you get back from people?
The bold feminist themes in my work coupled with my portrayal of women in burqas and niqaab have proved controversial at times, but what’s interesting is that I have noticed a change in this ‘feedback’ over the last few years. When I first started painting the Lichtenstein-esque niqaabis a lot of people found them shocking, and struggled to disassociate the images from feelings of threat or repression. Now, 3 years on, I feel that people are far more thoughtful when considering the issues; most people seem to appreciate that clothing is not a clear cut demarcation of freedom or oppression (or sexuality and modesty for that matter). I get really great reactions from Muslimahs all over the world too, and that is a wonderful boost, unfortunately I don’t always get the same positive vibes from the brothers, so the struggle continues…
7) Why did you choose this form of art to express yourself?
I come from a theatrical/TV family, so the child in me loves all kinds of performing. But I must have a pair of duelling demons sitting on my shoulders, because I’m also easily embarrassed and pathetically shy sometimes! I don’t think I purposefully chose this art form, but I do suppose that this why visual art works for me- I can express myself unselfconsciously, and devote myself to it free from other constraints. The process is generally a solitary one and so you don’t have to expose yourself to others until you are ready to be seen… but then again you never feel ‘ready’ do you, you just take the plunge.
8) What is the most played song on your music player?
My iTunes list says it’s Lay Your Cards Out by Polica, but it’s not intentional! I try not to rinse songs to death… it’s like eating your favourite chocolate over and over again, eventually it makes you sick.
9) What`s your favourite piece of clothing?
I don’t have one, but I wear the same jewellery every day if that counts? Fingers full of rings…
10) When was the last time you laughed really hard?
A few days ago when my grandmother’s cat brought a living mouse into the house and let it go.
11) What do you Outburst about?
It’s easy to sound like a Miss World contestant answering this question! Sexism, racism, political corruption, war… I get very angry about patriarchy and its prejudice. I’m pretty disillusioned by my society and disappointed in the men of my generation who seem to be living by complete double standards.