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JustHere | November 29, 2017

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Artist encounter. How Hana Al Saadi’s snails took her to Damien Hirst


Photo courtesy: © Damien Hirst/Science Ltd., All Rights Reserved, DACS 2014

JustHere speaks to Hana Al Saadi, winner of Damien Hirst Challenge, about an experience she will never forget.

When Qatar Museums Authority held internationally renowned artist Damien Hirst’s exhibition ‘Relics’ in Qatar later last year, they also announced a challenge for aspiring artists.

The challenge was to create a painting, an image, a sculpture, or multi-media piece based on the artist’s exploration of life and death.

The prize: A free trip to meet the artist in his studio at Gloucester in London.

When Hana Al Saadi received an email from QMA announcing she was the winner, she was, “shaking with shock. I kept reading the email to confirm that I was the winner.”

Hana, a Junior Year student at VCUQ, studying Painting & Print making, has always been a great admirer of Damien Hirst’s works. During his official visit to Qatar, she managed to come face to face with the artist once.

“We barely spoke for a few minutes during which I introduced myself to him. But even in this short meeting, I liked his personality because he was extremely friendly.  So when I heard about this challenge, I was excited as I wanted to meet him again and see his studio.”

On the trail of a snail


Her submission was titled Snail Print Factory – a piece of installation art that explores three important stages of the natural lifecycle: eating, mating and reproduction. All this documented by slime trails left behind on paper.

Hana says her first choice for the project wasn’t snails. It was ants.

“The idea was to fill a box with ants. Place a sheet of paper containing sugar around the box, with ink smeared on it. The ants would move about to feed on the sugar and leave a print on the paper. But collecting ants was difficult. They are so tiny and fast.”

“Snails are easier to work with. They are slow, and didn’t require ink to leave a print. They naturally left a slime trail. After discussing this with one of my professors at VCUQ, I submitted my idea.”

Winning this challenge has helped Hana learn and explore newer techniques of art, and understand the artist better.

“I had read a lot of articles and interviews with him, and always thought he was unapproachable. But upon interacting with him, I was surprised by how friendly and humble he was. It was easy to hold a casual conversation with him. He has a good sense of humour. He knew a lot about Qatar, and our culture. When I had lunch with him, he made sure the food was halal.

“During the visit to his studio, he showed me a glimpse of his upcoming work. And when I saw his assistants at work, I didn’t realise how much hard work goes into one piece of art.”

Art should provoke


Though his works are often a topic of controversy, she loves his unconventional approach to art.

“His works are shocking, unpredictable. It makes you think. I thought his painting with butterflies was beautiful. But even the ones that cannot be called beautiful are amazing because they are thought-provoking, like the ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’ which had the preserved bodies of a mother cow and calf, cut into half, in a box.

“I know his works are often regarded as controversial, but for me, as an aspiring artist, I don’t want my work to just be an object of beauty. I want my work to evoke strong reactions from people, both positive or negative, just like his.”

At the end of her dream trip, the one thing that she takes back from this experience is “modesty”.

“Despite being a world-renowned artist, he is very down to earth. This experience has made me want to become more like him as a person.”

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