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Amina Hassan

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Where are you from and what do you do?

I grew up in Germany in between the Protestantism of my mom’s family and the Shiism of my father, with Germanized customs picked up from Huguenots and Ashura at my father’s preferred mosque. When we moved to Beirut three years after the 2006 war, it was the first time that I got a visceral understanding of what it means for politics to cross a life. A nauseating, never-ending line of lives crossed or crossed out. I am very attached to my family and to landscapes I inhabit or grew up with, but I feel detached from context. Apart from relating that to moving back and forth a lot, this lack of a center or context is a symptom of globalization, which is why I don’t enjoy writing about myself as situated. I mostly write and work for the stage, I’ve always been very passionate about the theater. It’s a discussion room, a space that can hold a multiplicity of voices, dissonance and even inconsistency. And there’s something about the fact that you can’t just pause and replay a live show that electrifies the body and sharpens the mind. Apart from plays, I love writing WhatsApp messages, all kinds of letters and shopping lists. 

 

How'd you get into writing? Is there a specific moment -- or a series of moments -- that you can turn back to and say: "Aha, this is when I decided I want to become a writer"?

It was my grandpa on my mother’s side who cemented my interest in the act of writing. My grandpa has a lot of respect for the physicality of old books, which he collects to this day. His workroom is full of books. When I was a kid, my grandpa would often go up to this workroom to play Solitaire or write an essay about Huguenots on his computer, surrounded by aging books. This silence seemed both noble and threatening to me, and I would often sit down next to him and wait for him to speak again. One day, I felt like the silence had been going on for a bit too long, so I said: “Grandpa, let’s write a book together.” From then on, we often wrote together. We would draft small poems or children’s stories, which he then typed out. The most exciting part of these writing sessions came at their very end, when my grandpa and I would browse the internet for images to attach to our poems. On some days, my grandpa was not in the mood to write with me, but most of the time, he was. The rhythm of looking for a closer rhyme or a prettier clipart followed by the flow of words popping up on the screen stayed with me, and it is what makes me come back to writing. 

 

What does being "youthful" mean to you? Do you believe in something like a "writerly" responsibility to shape your community? How do you navigate the space between artistic expression and political correctness?

It’s a rare good to feel youthful in a world of work and shitty pay and being expected to love and feel “at home” in the workplace. But “teen spirit” is a real thing that is missing and needed to affect the political sphere. The refusal to ironically put things into quotation marks is the basis of aching for a world that is more just. People who make a joke out of everything prophylactically distance themselves from their words and the potential of them to be taken the wrong way, when embarrassment is crucial to know more about one’s own relationship to ideology. As for writerly responsibility: I do believe that art can act as a middleman between politics and people, or that it at least reports back to us our relationship to the ecological world and money. The term “responsibility” makes me think of more liberal spaces though, spaces that claim to be safe, yet bully people into submission over things like the wrong choice of words. This is not to say that I am not for treating those who surround me with care and respect. But I think that people overestimate what words are capable of doing, and that avoiding risk at all cost sucks the blood and life force out of art. The world is an unsafe place, and linguistic measures can’t erase the potential of misunderstanding one another or hurting. On social media, we are surrounded by awareness campaigns and ads, and the fact that the habits of micro-managing words and social contacts has bled into our understanding of art and making art upsets me. Art relies on funding and is therefore closely linked to the whims of the market, but it is my belief that art shouldn’t be fixated on moralism. The art that tends to interest me acts like a sponge in relation to life, soaked with the abundance of relations that both transcend and sharpen within the confines of itself. 

 

What would you want your body of art to do in the spaces it occupies/sits in? How does the way you write relate to the way you move through life?

When first reading the question, the word “occupy” stood out to me, because it is true that my body of art is always going to count less than other bodies of art. I like the image of my work as a squatter or home- wrecker, but this is precisely the problem with how we conceptualize art and what it does. I would rather explore who funds the space that I want to occupy, and if there are ways of marking this space through means that are different from “occupation.” I want to shine a cold light onto the space that is carved out for me against the backdrop of dominant culture, I want to make visible those who have sovereignty over spaces and interpretation. Language has a tendency to tell on itself through what it leaves unsaid or obscured. My work is dedicated to teasing out these “deeper” meanings.

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