What was your first experience with the arts?
There were many first times, but what immediately comes to mind is a Francis Bacon lithography in our living room when I was a three year old, that was repeatedly causing a stir. Every time my mother cleaned the house she would take it down and turned it around to face the wall. As soon as my father noticed he’d put it back in place. Other than that there was the constant talk about literature – my father being a poet – , the frequent museum visits from an early age, seeing calligraphy and the abstract Muslim aesthetics at my grandmother’s place, going to a school that was aimed at creative learning, and finally learning about the classics at the gymnasium. All of those experiences were first times that have influenced me in unique ways. I would not be able to tell which one was most influential.
You’ve studied in many places. Could you share something about those experiences: What were the most memorable lessons for you? Which approach to study arts and sculpture in particular helped you to find your style?
The most important lesson that I have learned was to always choose your own route and follow what drives you artistically. Nobody but you yourself can show you the way towards your own essence. Carefully looking at what humans have produces in different era’s has helped me understand and value their universal sign language. Therefore I strive to be at the same time contemporary and also somehow comprehensible without further explanation.
Which experiences besides study do you think made you the artist you are today?
I believe that it is the whole of all the lived experiences that form an artist in his or her specific idiosyncrasy. For example, I recently had an acquaintance with death. Months later I was somewhat shocked to find that this experience turned out to be visible in my work to a person who didn’t know anything about me. I felt exposed somehow, since I had not been aware of my nudity. It made me see that these experiences tend to seep into the work of an artist, whether they want it or not. Personally I do not pursue art as a form of self-expression per sé, yet at the same time I entirely allow for experiences to take their place in my work. Still, it might well be that, once a work is finished, I’m the one that is most surprised by what manifests itself.
I can state this: the experiences that life has provided me with until now, have led to the realization that I can touch upon something universal by channeling these lived experiences in the most direct way possible. And to me that is done by the power of suggestion, in a delicate rope-dance between what you know and what you unconsciously suspect.
You chose to pursue a career in art and found your atelier here in The Hague. Did you have more reasons besides it being your hometown?
The Hague is a town with a pleasant pace. It is close to the sea and has a good balance of culture and nature. Oh, and I happened to find love here, so what more can one wish for? (laughs)
To be quite honest, it was one of these things in life that was not premeditated at all. You choose your next holiday destination, but you rarely choose the course of major life events.
What was it like to grow up with a poet for a father? How did your family influence your choice towards the arts? Was it an easy choice?
Growing up with a poet as a father was not particularly easy. Literature, art, culture and religion were preached on a daily basis. While being infused with this powerful cocktail that was incredibly stimulating, I also grew resistant to certain parts of it (such as Dutch literature which I have not read until this day).
From my mothers side, art, music and literature were in high esteem as well. My grandmother from mothers side was the founder of the first Institute for Arab studies in the Netherlands and her husband, my grandfather from my mothers side (whom I never knew) painted and sculpted animals. When I was aged eleven my mother enrolled herself in a sculpture course just around the corner from where we lived. I happened to come along a couple of times, because I liked claying so much. It was there that I was given my first piece of stone to sculpt.
Now it may seem like my career as an artist was inevitable, but the choice for art was not easily made at all. One part of my family seemed to have a career as an intellectual in mind for me, whereas the other part of the family was urging me towards Nijenrode Business University or advising me to become a lawyer. As I was still undecided on the matter (although I was pretty sure it was not going to be Nijenrode) I moved to Sri Lanka for a year with eighteen years old, to distance myself from all the different opinions. There I was alone and had no one to rely on but myself. It turned out to be a very formative period for me.
After that year I had the wish to go to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, but following my fathers advice I decided to give university a try and enrolled in Philology – or Literature-science as they called it – at the Amsterdam University (UvA). But seeing that the main activity was to analyze beauty instead of creating it, I got incredibly bored and within a year I had traded uni for art school.
Why are you drawn to philosophy and why did ontology take the center stage your work? Is it the contrast of the circle of life — death and birth — or is it rather the nature of primitive laws like, for example, the ‘will to live’ that attracts you? And, if it is not too personal of a question, which personal beliefs are translated into your work?
I consciously steer away from venting my personal opinions through art. It’s not about me. Artworks might come into existence trough my psychobiography, but they aren’t based in it. So if there is any personal belief that I put forward in my works, it would be one about universality. My aim is to make something that is incorruptible. Undoubtedly my personal beliefs are in there somehow, but as I would go on and spell them out for you they would lose the power of suggestion. The key element of suggestion is a kind of uncertainty principle, where you can not determine the exact position of things, but you know that they are withing a certain range. This uncertainty enables the mind and the soul to work together in union, in order to grasp the essence of something. If one or the other takes the lead, this unified perception gets lost all to easily and things become either to cerebral or to full of pathos.
This is precisely what draws me to philosophy: while recognizing the impossibility of doing so, it aims to formulate an abstraction about human life and experience, through which one can reach a moment of profound understanding. Kenneth Clarke puts it well in his “Moments of Vision”: “What is too silly to be said may be sung” — and I would add: what is too subtle to be said, or too deeply felt, or too revealing or too mysterious, these things may also be sung and may only be sung. In other words, it has to be in the form of an abstraction that any truth is to be completely revealed.
What are personal favorites among projects you have made and exhibitions that you have participated in?
I believe that the best is yet to come! Favorite projects and exhibitions so far were: Creating The Zandmotor Pavilion for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, showing work in New York, the first of the OBEX series being inaugurated by Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, The Waxing being selected by Moon Gallery to be sent to the moon in 2022 in Collaboration with the European Space Agency and the project that I am currently working on.
Could you tell us more about your experience with production? How are your sculptures made?
My experience with production spans across a range of techniques, all of which are geared towards threedimensionality. Stone being my greatest love, most of my works are made in stone. I carve them myself. Apart from stone I also have fallen in love with the Hephaistian world of casting at some point and found an art-foundry that would have me as a resident. For over a year I learned about molding, casting, welding milling and patinating; techniques I frequently apply in my own works nowadays.
As for the production of sculptures in stone, I usually make a sketch on paper or with clay and use that as a reference. Once I have picked a stone and lifted it on the trestle, I start out with a large angle-grinder roughing out the global shape. Gradually I go finer and finer, using chisels and sanding disks. Once the shaping is complete I define the shape with a terrible amount of sanding and polishing by hand. The actual production of an idea certainly has its moments of splendor and its meditative qualities, but most of the time it is a painstaking labor.
I have come to believe that somehow the resistance of the material makes me respect it more. The harder the work, the more effort I put into getting it right. This conquering of the matter buys me extra time to journey to the essence of what I want to find.
To split stones I use an ancient Japanese technique that enables me to split the stone without drilling holes. This enables me to keep the rough surface as large as possible. The technique is very different from sculpting; much more direct. By splitting the stone I enter a field of tension between purpose and coincidence, opening up a dialogue with the material.
You worked with a fair share of galleries and clearly have a certain experience and understanding of the art world. What advice would you give to a person who is just starting his or her art career?
My advice would be to be conscious of who you are and of who you want to become both as an artist and as a person. Only if you change, your work will be able to change. Minor variations in your course may lead you to a completely different destination in the future. Pay attention to what drives you and follow that driving force, even if the outcome seems unclear.
What would be the next professional achievement for you? What is your dream?
The next professional achievement that I am working towards is creating a solo show. I see it as a possibility to decide on what is going to be taken forward and what is not. In order to do that I have to define what I have been doing in the last decade. So more than just an overview, I am working towards a synthesis of everything that I created. And, as I have always been the type for thorough investigations, this means seeking out the entire mountain of sketch-ideas and documenting what it was that i was looking for. I don’t suppose that I will dust off a bunch of old ideas, but I believe that one has to know where one came from in order to know where one is going.
I want to be able to create the monumental works I have in mind and to show them in the right places. What I value most in the process, is that I will be able to undergo the necessary personal and professional transitions in order to reach my full artistic potential.
Any new ideas or future plans that you would like to share something about?
Currently, I am working on an installation involving a sculptural triptych on either end of a room. Both triptychs will be modular and consist of two elements in different compositions. These two elements are both mirrored in the vertical axis, so one could say that it is just one single element with which I build a symmetrical and almost liturgical trinity, constantly echoing itself. At the moment I am working on the sketch model for it. As for my choice of material, I am gravitating towards Nero Absolute granite, but as I estimate that the installation must be at least 2,5 m high it will be a tour de force. It terrifies me and attracts me at the same time and I hope that, once it’s finished, it will do the same to others.
Interview by Ksenia Nunis, 2020