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In conversation: Delnara El

Joana Alarcão

In this interview delve into how the artist, Delnara El, navigates the polysemy of "migration" and uncovers new layers within our multicultural world. Through dynamic perception and a rejection of settled norms, migration becomes a tool for re-actualizing the "mental map" of society. Nomadism, as a conduit for cognition and estrangement, infuses her art with fresh perspectives, leaving space for reflection and understanding.

20 March 2024

How the artist works with the polysemy of the concept of "migration", searches for new facets of a multicultural and multiethnic world community. Dynamic perception, the rejection of settled life, migration - in her artistic practice, these are tools for the re-actualization of the "mental map", a way to see more clearly, resetting again and again the automaticity of perception. Nomadism as an instrument of cognition and estrangement, a hormone of fresh perception, transferred to the field of art, allows you to leave room for a miracle, for the manifestation of life itself.

After the start of the war in Ukraine, reflections on painful events appear in her artistic practice. Delnara is a research-based artist who approaches historical and political moments through the lens of the natural world.

Can you start by giving us an overview of your practice and what steps you took to become the artist you are today?

I was born in Ukraine and graduated from the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture with a master's degree. However, I've always dreamt of traveling and painting, being captivated by the theme of travel journals, to which I have dedicated many years of my life.


I'm a global nomad, and this lays the foundation for my work. Since 2014, I have been living and working in constant travel, visiting over 30 countries in Europe and Southeast Asia. Since 2020 (the pandemic halted my travels), I have been predominantly living in Turkey. This experience and deep familiarity with different cultures have provided the basis for my artistic exploration.


I am an artist engaged in research, approaching historical and political moments through the lens of the natural world. The war in Ukraine has also influenced my creativity and changed it.


Delnara El work
Impressions of War by Delnara El. Image courtesy of  Delnara El.

In an interview you had with Artfinder, you touched on the intersection of your art and travelling. How do different cultures and landscapes inspire your artwork, particularly in the context of migration and multiculturalism?


Deep familiarity with different cultures allows one to see the world in a broader, richer way, shedding the automatism of perception and revealing many other facets of different objects and phenomena. After all, something in your native country can mean something completely different elsewhere. This variability gives a sense that everything is possible. As for migration, it is interesting to consider it in the context of the human world as well as the world of plants. It is a very deep topic, and life in continuous travel provides an interesting experience.


I connect my artistic practice with post-colonial discourse. I focus on the borderline meanings, the amphiboly of the colonization phenomenon, as the negative connotations of this mechanism, associated with a shameful past, violence, and aggression, obscure its fundamental driving force, which lies at the origins of life spreading on the planet.


A necessary condition for my work is finding parity and equality of mutual intervention - natural and wild, cultural and biological. Humans are by no means the only organisms capable of migration. Exotic plants, overcoming vast distances, populate the temperate latitudes of Europe, destroying biodiversity and forcibly altering the stable ecosystem.


If you look closely, it becomes clear that colonies, in their turn, colonize their metropolises, giving rise to a "reverse" colonization effect. Colonization is a "road with counter-movement," a dialectical form of relations. For example, the colonization impulse in Southeast Asia has been mastered by the population and integrated into the system of economy and biopolitics.


What truly distinguishes humans as participants in the migration dialogue are cultural markers, indigenous traditions. Unlike other biological species, human diversity is primarily due to culture. Intercultural interactions are a multi-expositional, ornamental network in the geometry of which equal parts of politics and aesthetics are interwoven. According to Jacques Rancière's theory of "the distribution of the sensible," the "partition of the sensible" becomes the main principle defining the possibility of intercultural dialogue.


The paradox is that, according to the stable Western European canon, we study the object in isolation, in stasis. To traditionally study, it is necessary to stop, immobilize, preserve, that is, deprive it of all the most important signs of life. Therefore, in my artistic practice, I strive to present cultural ornamentation in its specific chronotype, accelerated, and complicated by digital mobile communication.


In the virtual digital field, we have access to everything. The demanded exoticism, the multicultural picture of the world, is unified by a digital code. As Jean-François Lyotard wrote, "objects and their content have lost their meaning. The only thing that matters is whether they are 'entertaining'." The cultural industry has radically restructured the aesthetic experience: it no longer matters what it is about or where it leads; it is important in the end to get a cool story. The outlines of the world blur in following ready-made landmark routes.


Movement within these routes can take various forms of control over space - ethnic, social, aesthetic, and virtual. As an artist, I am interested in their removal, in a Hegelian sense, in achieving "comfort in nomadism." This is especially difficult, as our culture is simultaneously our eyes.


Dynamic perception, refusal of sedentism, migration - in my artistic practice, these are tools for reactualizing the "mental map," a way to see more clearly, shedding the automatism of perception again and again. Nomadism as a tool of cognition and defamiliarization, a hormone of fresh perception, transferred to the field of art, allows leaving room for wonder, and the manifestation of life itself.


Delnara El Work
Impressions of War by Delnara El. Image courtesy of  Delnara El.

Your artist statement highlights the concept of migration as a tool for re-actualization and fresh perception. How do you translate these abstract ideas into tangible artistic expressions across various mediums?


This is a very interesting question, and I am still exploring various methods of artistic expression. I try to use different images, sometimes it turns out too straightforward, almost activist-like. But I also understand that some things cannot be interpreted by people who do not have similar experience or cultural codes. It is a very interesting challenge - to create not illustrations for news but a truly artistic work. At the moment, I am experimenting with different techniques, trying to incorporate an aspect of randomness into the method, as it is inherent in nature itself, which is the medium through which I try to convey abstract concepts.


Overall, my goal is to create artworks that not only convey the abstract concepts of migration and re-actualization but also evoke a visceral and emotional response in the viewer. By using a combination of metaphorical imagery, experimental techniques, and thematic exploration, I aim to create works that are both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant.


Could you tell us more about your process when creating art? How do you choose which medium to work with for a particular concept or project?


I work with various materials and techniques: watercolor painting, acrylic, monotype, cyanotype, photography, collage... these mediums have different characteristics and "speeds". Watercolor is the most sensual, slow material for me. I use it when I want to convey deep emotions. Monotype and cyanotype are unpredictable techniques, and I choose them when creating series, so to speak, in collaboration with nature. Collage is a fast and emotional technique that allows me to quickly convey feelings and reflections without losing anything along the way.


Work by Delnara El
Impressions of War by Delnara El. Image courtesy of  Delnara El.

Your engagement with nature as a lens through which to explore historical and political themes is intriguing. How do you navigate the intersection of the natural world and human events in your artwork?


In my works, I often explore the intersection of the human and natural worlds. Nature serves as a powerful metaphor for various aspects of human life and experience. For example, the piece "Life conquers death", with a mountain made of rocket fragments and a plant shoot sprouting through it, symbolizes resilience and the triumph of life over destruction. It speaks to the human ability to find hope and renewal even in the most challenging circumstances.


Similarly, "Internally displaced", featuring plants in a car trunk, goes beyond a simple depiction of plants. It symbolizes the human experience of displacement and the lengths people go to protect what is dear to them, even in the face of adversity. The story of people in Kharkiv saving their houseplants reflects a universal theme of caring for our environment and preserving a sense of home and belonging.


The series on plants disappearing due to war delves into the complex relationship between humans and nature in conflict zones. It highlights the impact of war on the environment and the interconnectedness of all living beings. By portraying the loss of plant life, I aim to evoke empathy and understanding for the broader consequences of war on both nature and humanity.


Overall, my works aim to convey deeper meanings and provoke thought about our relationship with the natural world and each other. They invite viewers to reflect on the fragility of life, the resilience of nature, and the universal human experiences that connect us all.


What can you tell us about the series of works you submitted?

"Impressions of War" is a thought-provoking series of monotypes that seamlessly intertwines the contrasting elements of nature's beauty, human habitation, and the haunting specter of war. These artworks serve as a visual commentary on the complex relationship between the tranquility of our natural world and the disruptions caused by war.

The central theme of this series revolves around the juxtaposition of three distinct elements: plants, houses, and anti-tank hedgehogs.

"Impressions of War" invites viewers to contemplate the delicate balance between beauty and destruction, highlighting the urgent need for harmony, understanding, and the preservation of our natural world in the face of war. This series is a visual testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring power of nature to inspire hope and healing even in the darkest of times.


Work by Delnara El
Impressions of War by Delnara El. Image courtesy of  Delnara El.

As an artist who has exhibited both in physical galleries and in digital spaces like NFT Art Rooms, how do you see the evolving landscape of art consumption and distribution influencing your work?


The digital realm offers new opportunities for artistic expression and engagement with audiences, allowing for greater accessibility and reach.


One aspect that has influenced my work is the ability to experiment with different mediums and techniques in a more fluid and dynamic way. Digital tools and platforms allow me to explore new artistic possibilities and push the boundaries of traditional art forms. This has led to a more interdisciplinary approach to my work, blending elements of painting, photography, and digital art.


Overall, the evolving landscape of art consumption and distribution has encouraged me to be more innovative and adaptive in my approach to art-making. It has challenged me to think differently about how my work is created, shared, and experienced, ultimately leading to a more dynamic and engaging artistic practice.


Your extensive exhibition history showcases a global reach, with shows in Turkey, Ukraine, the UK, and beyond. How do these diverse settings influence the presentation and reception of your work?


Having exhibited in diverse settings such as Turkey, Ukraine, the UK, and beyond, I have found that each location influences the presentation and reception of my work in unique ways. 


In Turkey, where I have spent a significant amount of time living and working, I have found that my work is often interpreted through a cultural lens that is shaped by the country's rich history and complex geopolitical context. Viewers in Turkey tend to relate to themes of migration, displacement, and cultural identity on a personal level, given the country's history of migration and its position as a crossroads between East and West.


In Ukraine, my homeland, the reception of my work is often influenced by the country's tumultuous history and ongoing political challenges. Themes of war, displacement, and resilience resonate deeply with Ukrainian audiences, who have experienced these realities firsthand.


In the UK, where I have also exhibited, I have found that my work is often viewed through a more global lens, with viewers responding to its universal themes of nature, humanity, and the human experience. The UK's diverse cultural landscape and cosmopolitan outlook provide fertile ground for exploring these themes in a broader context.


Overall, exhibiting in diverse settings has enriched my practice by exposing me to different perspectives and interpretations of my work. It has also highlighted the universal nature of art, which has the power to transcend cultural and geographical boundaries and speak to the shared experiences of humanity.


Work by Delnara El
Impressions of War by Delnara El. Image courtesy of  Delnara El.

In what ways do you hope your artwork contributes to conversations about social and environmental justice and awareness?


I hope that my artwork contributes to conversations about social and environmental justice and awareness by serving as a catalyst for dialogue and reflection on these important issues. Through my work, I aim to raise awareness about the interconnectedness of human and natural systems and the impact of human actions on the environment.


One of the ways I do this is by using nature as a metaphor to explore complex social and environmental issues. For example, in my series on plants disappearing due to war, I use the image of plants being uprooted and destroyed to symbolize the human cost of conflict and the fragility of life in war-torn regions. This invites viewers to consider the broader implications of war on both human and non-human life.


Additionally, I hope that my work encourages viewers to think critically about their own relationship with the environment and to consider how their actions can contribute to positive change. By presenting these issues in a thought-provoking and visually engaging way, I hope to inspire empathy, understanding, and action towards creating a more just and sustainable world.


What message or call to action would you like to leave our readers with?


I would like to encourage readers to consider the impact of their actions on the environment and on others, both locally and globally. Each of us has the power to make a difference through our choices and actions, whether it's supporting sustainable practices, advocating for social justice, or simply being more mindful of the world around us.


I also invite readers to engage with art as a means of understanding and addressing complex issues. Art has the power to transcend language and culture and can inspire empathy, dialogue, and action. By engaging with art that speaks to social and environmental justice, we can deepen our understanding of these issues and find new ways to create positive change in the world.

Cover Image:

Impressions of War by Delnara El. Image courtesy of  Delnara El.

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