Vibrant, intricate, and all-consuming: these are the first three words that come to mind when viewing the artworks of Hana Amani.
For our latest artist profile, the Sri Lankan-born artist speaks candidly and introspectively about her creative process, inspirations and visions for the future, and gives us a glimpse into her current Vancouver home-slash-studio space…
First of all, please introduce yourself to our Scout readers: who are you and what do you do?
As more time passes, the concept of identity has become more elusive to me. The person who I was a year ago has changed in many ways. For now I am an artist/visual creator. I am a daydreamer and use my practice to understand the world around me. Art and music impacted me greatly growing up. It’s how I understand and visualize the human condition that I exist in. Nothing can excite me more than the ability to teleport an audience into another world or state of mind. And that is what I strive to do. I explore mythology and how it’s impacted our visual history and contemporary culture.
My recent work focuses on the raw and untamed nature of the feminine unconscious. From a young age I had decided that I would never adhere to the traditional cultural expectations of me and so have always been a bit of a loner in many ways. This polarizing life choice left me to really ask myself what kind of woman I chose to be, and so this exploration and question has transformed into my practice. I like to question and speculate on alternate ways women may occupy agency in our society.
When and how did art enter your life?
Art has always been an intimate part of my life. I was quite lonely and reclusive growing up so art was my escape. I wasn’t particularly fond of talking as a kid, so I would draw to express myself. Music also played a role. My parents would always be playing music. I remember long car rides along the Sri Lankan coast and tea plantations listening to Sade, Pavarotti, Enigma… the playlist was endless and versatile. To this day I can put on music and disappear for hours in my head just imagining and formulating concepts or ideas.
Islamic art was also very influential to me growing up. I remember my mum doing a lot of Islamic calligraphy; she would give me water colours and so I would paint next to her as a child. I was also exposed to a lot of diverse religious iconography as a child. Sri Lanka is an island of many gods and so from a very young age I understood the power art played in the context of religion and human morals in relation to its utilization of art and mythology.
How has its meaning or significance evolved for you, over time?
In the beginning art was more of a way to escape. As an adult, it’s my way of life and an instrument for critical thinking and growth. For me, art is more than an aesthetic portrayal or measure of beauty. I see art as a tool to provoke and speculate ideas, materialize emotions and evoke change.
I also enjoy the retelling of mythology through the vernaculars of genres like science fiction or anime. The re-imagination and dynamism of our lives through a more speculative lens interests me.
Essentially, art is continuously transforming in my life, but it’s also an anchor. Art is a way of being and purpose. It keeps me alive and my fire going…
What is the art-making process like for you?
Making art is an extremely emotional process for me. It’s where I’m most vulnerable and really unleash my feelings and deepest feminine desires. It’s also an unpredictable state of consciousness that runs on its own terms. Creating something for me is almost like what I would imagine having a baby is like. It starts off as this microscopic idea/ life form that spends months growing inside of me and then one day it comes out. Every time I work on a long project I feel like that: like I’m carrying a thought that will one day find itself in the world and start to formulate an independent life and identity. Maybe it will even exist longer in this world than I will. I am just a mortal body that can give life to an idea that will hopefully create change in a positive and beautiful way.
What about the process comes most naturally to you, and what do you still need to work hard at?
What comes most naturally is the desire to create. Creating has always been like an obsession for me. I become deeply depressed or profoundly restless if I am not creating. I also don’t give up, I can get very intense with an idea or project and feel quite tormented if I do not see it through, that commitment helps.
I need to work at letting go and being in less control in both my life and practice. I can become very attached and hyper critical of my work and this can sometimes limit other areas of experimentation and growth. This year has taught me that immensely in both my practice and personal life and so I have now consciously begun to detach from my old ways of approaching my creative process. I now wish to create in different mediums and do not wish to be in so much control of the outcome. I have developed my techniques over the years and now feel very in control of them but I value cycles of transformation such as death and rebirth and now want to experience that in my own work. I wish to renew my vision and feel something raw and new. Like a snake shedding its exo skin……
“I think in a way it’s a very exciting, enchanting, and liberating time to be a woman of colour. If anything, I do attribute a lot of my growth as an artist to Vancouver, in the sense that it gave me the space and safety for the most part to grow. I feel like it’s a time where women of colour in the arts really need to take the lead and initiative and create communities for more storytelling.”
For someone viewing your artworks without knowing the context or story behind your inspiration, what sort of experience do you want them to have?
Ultimately, I want people to feel connected and curious. I explore a vast array of mythology and iconography when I create concepts and so there’s always something that will resonate with someone from diverse cultural backgrounds but I guess, if I had to narrow it down, my aim is to create art with an atmosphere of timelessness. I want to connect to people through emotions that are innate to us all and could be felt in any given point of the human experience – like melancholy, or sexuality. It has always been both a gift and curse that I can feel peoples’ vulnerabilities and pain deeply. I see their energies in a very human and naked way. I want my art to both reflect and encourage that awareness of emotion.
As an art viewer/consumer, what resonates with you and what do you want to see more of in Vancouver?
I want to see more artists who live their lives without censoring their passion, fire and dynamism in fear of fitting into the rules of contemporary art or trying to fit in to what institutions or galleries think what art should be. I feel many artists are held back by this because sometimes there’s a fear of acceptance in these spaces.
I want to feel these energies of higher frequencies. I think this city lacks the spirit of the artist in general. It lacks sensuality, raw retaliation, and fierce passion. I don’t resonate with much here to be honest… I also believe that the arts and culture realm has to have more intersections in this city, I think art has always in a way been boxed off into it’s own niche circles in the city and that doesn’t allow a city’s culture to naturally grow. There is so much more life and culture that could thrive in this city but I think it’s being held back. We should not be afraid.
I feel like the majority of dialogue around being a woman artist has been centred around its disadvantages, which is obviously important to address. However, I want to flip the conversation, and ask you: what are the advantages of being a woman in the arts – in your case, specifically, a Sri Lankan woman currently living in Vancouver? And/or what do you think could be the major advantages, and what do we need to do in order to get to that point?
I think in a way it’s a very exciting, enchanting, and liberating time to be a woman of colour. Women – especially women of colour – have been so written out of the art history books that I believe now is the perfect time for a renaissance of women in the arts. I believe there is so much built up tension, anger and emotion that needs to be expressed and heard.
As a woman in the arts I try to enable that way of thinking. I do that by going against my expected cultural norms and by questioning and striving for more agency in my identity as a woman. I also really do believe that our society is in need of a collective feminine healing and I do see this as an advantage. I think there is something to be said about and explored through femininity and healing in the arts and we need it now more than ever. We need a powerful gentleness and tenderness in this world right now, we yearn for it.
I saw an IG post of yours that made reference to the water themes that have been prominent in your recent artworks, and saying that you finally felt ready to move on from this phase. What can we look forward to now that you’ve resurfaced, so to speak?
My water collection was a deep introspection into personal life. My life changed dramatically in many aspects and for seven months during this transition I immersed myself into what I would call an aquatic or womb-like state of mind. I built a world to understand and explore my deepest insecurities, fears and transformation. At the time I felt like I was drowning and needed to learn how to swim deep into my own abyss. Each piece was like a poetic metaphor and chapter of the times I was going through. It helped me create something beautiful and lyrical with the chaos around me. I knew if I didn’t funnel that energy the right way I would instead become self-destructive. I have always been a very primal and instinctually driven person, so I know the vulnerability a person can fall into – especially people who are creative and sensitive – if they do not learn to protect their energy. I have my own self-destructive tendencies, as we all do, and I know what I care about most deeply is the emotional experience I inherit from people or memories and so needed to funnel that time of my life in to energy that would transform me. I needed my old self to die in order to be reborn.
I like that you chose the word “resurfaced” particularly. I have metaphorically spent a lot of time underwater, haha. I do feel that after my water collection I have withdrawn back into my hermit state of mind. Since the pandemic started I was on a creative overdrive. I was determined that it would be the most creative time in my life as I innately thrive in chaos and moments of deep disruption. However, this is the first time in a long time I feel like I still need to be silent for a little while. I am still reflecting on the changes in my life and have now been immersed in ideas of resurrection and transformation. If anything the pandemic taught me was that I have an energy of resilience and will stop at nothing to persist in my vision but that I need to learn to protect it and not let it be shaped by nihilism or limits of reality during the pandemic.
What new themes are you excited to explore in the future?
The pandemic has got me thinking about the lack of emotional connection a lot of the art we are engaging with possesses. From the sterile environments of gallery spaces to the exclusiveness and pretentiousness that the art world can bring to the audience experience. Something I would be interested in is recreating gallery experiences with a more human and emotional lens. People are craving interaction and want to simply feel something. If that’s one thing I’ve learned from my own art-making is that I really focus on giving my audience an array of emotions to feel, whether it be a vulnerability, a feminine softness, darkness, or simply a feeling of something sensuous, mysterious, and primal. I want to enable the audience to use these links with art as a catalyst into coming to connect with their own personal lives and emotions.
Society has been forced into such a disconnected state. I want to challenge that. I want to create experiences that give people the power to have agency over their own dreams, fears and collective healing.
What I am most excited about exploring is unleashing my intense and dark feminine energy into the world around me. This energy has been dormant for a long time but now I’m ready to let it come forth in all its thunder, rage, sensuality, and passion! I am ready to resurrect in full unforgiving and audacious force. I was hurt this year and went into a shell that was luminescent, beautiful, black and could be eternal… But I am ready to resurface, I am ready to breathe deeply, see light and create.