“The combination of emotion, personal experience and consciousness tends to provide the perfect ingredients for a meaningful work of art.” (Kashya Hildebrand)
During her successful 14 year long career in finance, Kashya Hildebrand lived in New York, Paris and London. Visiting the museums and galleries of these art capitals ultimately led her to change careers. Kashya Hildebrand established her first gallery in Geneva in 2001 and, after stints in both Zurich and New York, is now operating out of London. Her internationalism and her plural heritage –Hildebrand has a Pakistani father, an American mother and a Swiss husband—are reflected in the gallery’s emphasis on global contemporary art. The artists represented, many hailing from the Middle East and East Asia, produce transnational work that often challenges the binarisms of East and West, modern and traditional and craft and art.
Kashya Hildebrand, director of the Kashya Hildebrand Gallery / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
Your artists come from around the globe, in particular from the Middle East, Iran and East Asia. Did you set out to establish a gallery specialising in global contemporary art or are you simply showing artists whose work you are drawn to most?
I most definitely show artists who I am drawn to but contextually I feel that the artists represent the eclectic, internationally diverse, global world we live in.
Do you think that art can play a critical role in forging more positive relationships between cultures or is this just naïve idealism?
I certainly do believe that art can play a role in bridging cultural divisiveness and feel that, by creating a high level of awareness and a platform for artists, we can bridge an important gap. Our recent exhibition RCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ in October-November 2014 featuring artists from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine illustrated this point to me given the warm reception the exhibition received.
RCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ / Randa Mirzas, Beirutopia series, curated by Aya Haidar / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
RCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ / Ayman Yossri Daydban, curated by Aya Haidar / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
RCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ / Yara El Sherbinis, Buzzwords in the foreground, curated by Aya Haidar / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
How does your own plural identity influence your selection of artists and shape the gallery’s overall vision?
Having straddled three continents over my life, I am well aware of what it means to live in an international community and also of the perceptions and biases that occur when one is isolated and living in a small community. The privilege of this platform has allowed me to maintain an open mind regarding our programme and to recognise the importance of having an international programme.
The work you show possesses both tremendous aesthetic appeal and craftsmanship even when the medium is recycled socks! Both beauty and craft are often considered irrelevant to contemporary art but your artists demonstrate their power.
The artist’s intent will always play a critical role in the selection process. There is, however, no doubt that I appreciate beauty and craft. Perhaps it was the exposure to oriental rugs at an early age… at any rate, I adore the works of Lalla Essaydi, Ghada Amer, Anish Kapoor, Shirazeh Houshiary, Farhad Moshiri and Idris Khan just to name a few and I would put them all in that same category. How wonderful when an artist can synthesise an important thought or concept and translate it into beauty.
Lalla Essaydi, Installation view / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
Abu Dhabi Art booth with Khaled Al-Saai in background and Lalla Essaydi in foreground / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
Abu Dhabi Art booth with tapestries by Ahmed Moustafa / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
Could you say a few words on what you look for in an artist and his or her work? And who were the first artists you showed in the original Geneva gallery?
I am always intrigued when artists are driven by their own passion and creativity and touched by their social and economic standing. The combination of emotion, personal experience and consciousness tends to provide the perfect ingredients for a meaningful work of art. One of the first exhibitions the gallery ever launched was of Farhad Moshiri in 2001.
Calligraphy continues to play an important role in the work of many contemporary artists from the Muslim world, as witnessed by the gallery’s current show ‘Memory of a City’ of Khaled Al-Saa’i’s work.
It is such a privilege and honour to host the exhibition of Syrian artist Khaled Al-Saa’i here in London. We have followed his practice for the last nine years and have seen the most incredible evolution of his work. The more classical modern form of calligraphy painting has recently been replaced with extraordinary mixed media interventions reflecting the contemporary moment. The reference to protests, demonstrations and graffiti reveals the current socio-political unrest in his homeland. The titles he attaches to each work are also extremely revealing, expressing his own pain and concern.
Khaled Al Saai / Inner Journey, 2014, mixed media on paper, 50×70 cm / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
Such artists reveal the depth and breadth of calligraphy-related or inspired work. This type of work is greatly prized in Iran and the Arab world, but does it have equal success with European collectors?
Clearly this work is coveted in the Middle East and recognised as important within their classical modern art history. With that being said, there is a graphic contemporary reference point that the artists seek that also has some Western appeal. The varied media of such work such as sculpture as well as mixed media also bring a new energy to this genre and are appreciated by Western collectors. For example, when an artist makes their first pilgrimage to Mecca, the work then reflects this seminal moment and is suffused with a new contemporary perspective that can be extremely powerful.
If the West conceived of modernity as a complete break from the past, many non-Western modernities translated traditional elements through the prism of the changes that modernity brought about. Much of the work you show is innovative while also integrating elements associated with pre-modern artistic traditions. Why does this combination intrigue you?
This combination intrigues me because it reveals the fact that all art is grounded in classical art history and has reference points that provide a solid foundation for an artist’s development. Given our presence in the Middle East over the last nine years, it has become clear to me that in order for collectors from the region to feel comfortable with the contemporary art movement, they must have some reference points. I find this perspective helps create the narrative that allows one to travel to the present day.
A Hidden Order, installation view / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
Did your professional background in finance help you with the daunting task of establishing a gallery or did you nonetheless have to go through a process of trial and error?
My successful finance career potentially left me feeling too confident when I first started my gallery. Trial and error is indeed a wonderful way to describe the journey. After more than 13 years in this business, I do feel that we are getting closer to defining our gallery programme and to reflecting the spirit of our vision. The fact that financial markets are often driven by exogenous forces and commodify certain assets is similar to the art market so for sure there are some similarities.
Nobuhiro Nakanishi / Layer Drawing, Light of the Sunrise 1, 2012, Mixed Media on Sculpture, 28,5x31x198 cm / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine
Katherine Tzu Lan Mann, installation view / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery
The Kashya Hildebrand Gallery has been open now for over a decade. What do you consider to be its biggest accomplishment and how do you see it evolving from here?
The biggest accomplishment is to have put together a wonderful team of dedicated and passionate individuals who are driven to present a creative and insightful perspective. My colleagues are just as important as the artists who help drive this vision and perspective.
I thank you so much. IAM wish the gallery much continued success and hope you will keep us posted on your upcoming shows.
Thank you for giving us this wonderful platform!