Art Speaks Louder Than Words: Amani Haydar Interview
2018 was a big year for Amani Haydar. As a lawyer, Bluethumb artist and Archibald Prize finalist, Amani has gained growing popularity and respect for her paintings and illustrations, which frequently depict women expressing bittersweet emotion. Her self-portrait, ‘Insert Headline Here’ was a finalist in the 2018 Archibald Prize and her painting ‘The Plight of the Victims’ was a finalist in the 2018 Law Society of NSW Just Art Prize. At a crucial time for movements concerning women rights across the world and clear cultural and social disparity, Amani’s inspiring story is essential to be heard.
Despite an interest in drawing and painting that spans across her childhood and high school studies, Amani Haydar went on to pursue a career as a lawyer and, for a while, was not able to make time to develop her art in a consistent or disciplined way. “I had my first child in 2015, and while I was on leave I began to draw and paint in the evenings as a way of unwinding and expressing myself,” Amani explains. “I started sharing that work on Instagram. I found that people were connecting with my pieces and that gave me the courage to make and share more work.”
Amani’s personal and social context has been an expansive source of inspiration for her work. Sadness and emotion is balanced in her figurative works with an underlying sense of resilience and hope. “Whilst women have historically been objectified in art, I try to create figures who are expressing emotion and femininity in a bold and unrestrained way,” says Amani. “There has been an outpouring of stories from women describing exploitation and violence over the past year but there has also been a display of strength and bravery in the way that women have shared those stories collectively in the #metoo movement and otherwise.”
Having lost her mother to domestic violence in 2015
and her maternal grandmother in an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon in 2006, a sense of loss and grief from those events informs Amani’s art. She also speaks, writes and advocates on the issue of violence against women. By entering the Archibald Prize last year, her self-portrait Insert Headline Here was her way of honouring these women and drawing attention to the ways in which women’s lives are impacted by trauma and violence. Centred in the middle of Insert Headline Here sits a Fairfax photo taken in 2006 of Amani’s grieving mother, which circulated the news upon her death. By printing the photo out and incorporating it into Amani’s self-portrait, she took back her personal story. Feelings of loss and despair consequently meet with bold colours and tones that signify strength and hope.
Amani Haydar with her most celebrated piece, Insert Headline Here. This artwork was Amani’s way of reclaiming her own story from the headlines. Credit: Jason McCormack
Painting mainly with acrylic paint
on stretched cotton or linen canvas gives Amani the flexibility to work from home. “I also paint on paper, especially for my smaller works and I enjoy the textures that can be created on paper.” Amani’s work shows depth with collage, charcoal, ink and pencil in a variety of pieces. Her illustrations, which have been featured in online news articles
, are made traditionally before being scanned at a high resolution.
Fearless in Blue IV is similar subject matter to Amani Haydar’s illustrations featured in various online articles.
Amani’s journey as an artist has dramatically evolved over the past year. From her first pieces, which were small and humble, Amani began to experiment with larger formats and mixed media. “I have pushed myself to focus less on the outcome and more on the process in order to free myself from doubt and overly critical thinking,” Amani explains. In turn, her approach to painting figures has clearly broadened. “Sometimes they are quite minimal, stylised or abstract; other times they are more realistic. I enjoy work that is meaningful but I also appreciate art that is vibrant and decorative. For me, the perfect piece has both of those elements.”
With a collection of small works and no idea what to do with them, Amani turned to Bluethumb to bring her career as an artist into being. “I decided that selling them through an established website would require less admin on my end and would allow me to start learning about the industry. It took a while to work up the confidence to share my work with the public and being able to upload and sell pieces in an easy and streamlined way meant that there was one less barrier to worry about.”
Being an artist allows Amani to tell her stirring stories and connect with others. Many of her collectors have connected with the messages in her work – a connection that Amani describes as invaluable. “Art is a powerful tool for self-expression and communicating ideas. It feels natural and free and yet it has allowed me to engage with difficult topics and contribute to important conversations.” While a lot of Amani’s work centres on violence towards women, she has also contributed to the All We Can’t See
project, in which artists were invited to illustrate incidents from the Nauru files, resulting in a gut-wrenching but powerful collection of works.
During her time away from the canvas, Amani is a keen freelance writer. With a talent that clearly stretches over several disciplines of creativity, she has recently been on a panel at Sydney’s Feminist Writers Festival
running from 1 – 3 November 2018. “It’s a fantastic program with a wide range of speakers,” says Amani. “It is quite the honour to be involved alongside so many great writers.”
Amani Haydar is far from the finish line and has even bigger plans for 2019. As a resident at the Bankstown Arts Centre in a pop-up art space called Incubate Artists Studios, the work she has produced during the time of that residency has been exhibited since 2 January 2019. “I am also looking forward to continuing to challenge myself by entering art prizes and I aim to have my first solo show at the end of 2019 – although I can’t give away the details of that just yet!” Browse Amani’s portfolio here
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