Suldano Abdiruhman Discusses The Balance Between Work & Play in her Artistic Practice
AS A COLLECTIVE, WE WANTED TO TAKE TIME TO HIGHLIGHT THOSE THAT ARE DOING THE HARD WORK OF PURSUING THEIR OWN CREATIVE AND ACADEMIC GOALS, WHILE ALSO PAVING THE WAY TO FURTHER THE REPRESENTATION OF MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES. WE HAVE CALLED THIS SERIES, TAKING OUR SEAT. FOR OUR CURRENT FEATURE, WE SAT DOWN WITH ARTIST, SULDANO ABDIRUHMAN.
“In a college that was predominantly white, there was this obsession with a kind of cultural authenticity. I found that no matter what my work was about conceptually it was read as being about racial trauma or protest. I envied the freedom my white peers were able to express in the studio. If I want to make work that is about color or pattern, it is viewed with through filter that is my race, gender and sociopolitical status.”
Suldano Abdiruhman -she/her pronouns- is an interdisciplinary artist and maker from Baltimore, MD currently based in Philadelphia, PA. Her work navigates the intersections of work and play, the intricacies of language, and what tethers us universally. She holds a BFA in Fiber from the Maryland Institute College of Art and moves between sculpture, textiles, and digital ways of making. She is a Sagittarius and currently has an unhealthy obsession with baking bread.
SPEAKER GUIDE | AB: AKEA BRIONNE & SA: Suldano Abdiruhman
AB: So Suldano, can you speak a bit about your artistic practice and what inspires your work?
SA: Sure! My practice moves pretty organically between sculpture and textiles, but I also work digitally from time to time. I am inspired by all things around me! Primarily the ways we communicate with each other, via written word or orally, textiles, material exploration, and the intersections of work and play.
AB: The exciting thing about your work is that it often has small clues that elude to larger discussions. How do you approach this in your work and what role do you see your art playing in larger conversations?
SA: I often find myself frustrated with how insular and heady the art world can be. I try to approach my making with a sense of generosity and open-endedness, asking questions and providing a space for discussion rather than concrete answers. I believe at the core of my work I am searching for what our universal truths are, what fulfills us, what moves us as humans. All places in the world have a weaving culture, an oral or written language, and unique ways of building their living structures. I find when I begin to discuss and reference these kinds of things, people are eager to share their stories of home, childhood, their world-views. I also believe this kind of openness helps build empathy!
AB: As a black female artist, do you feel a certain level of pressure to make work around racial and gender identity? If so, what are the ways that you do this?
SA: This is constantly something I struggle with! In a college that was predominantly white, there was this obsession with a kind of cultural authenticity. I found that no matter what my work was about conceptually it was read as being about racial trauma or protest. I envied the freedom my white peers were able to express in the studio. If I want to make work that is about color or pattern, it is viewed with through filter that is my race, gender and sociopolitical status. It took me a long time to realize how much I was muddling my work for this reason. My work was conceptually blank because I was so afraid of it being projected on in this way. A lot of my activism and community work happens outside of the studio, because for me that space is sanctuary, a space for healing. It took almost four years of undergrad to be able to articulate that but it solidified my confidence and made me excited to make again!
AB: A lot of your work is very playful (in my opinion) and eludes to a fun way of looking at life. It almost suggests a certain level of engagement by the viewer, that takes place when moving through your work. This is also evident in the colors and designs of your jewelry. What would you say has compelled you to create work in this manner? Do you feel that this reveals something about your personality?
SA: I think that work and play for me are one in the same! A lot of my interest in play comes from a desire to welcome all viewers, opinions and people into a conversation about making. If a 4 year old and a 70 year old can come up to me in a gallery setting excited about the work I've done my job!
AB: What led you to create Plastic Palace? How do you design your jewelry and what made you decide to use polymer clay as your material?
SA: I have a deep love for boldness in color and pattern, and for accessories! I was looking for a way to decompress in the studio and started to play with polymer clay to make pieces for myself. Its a cheap, accessible medium and can be manipulated to look like clay, glass, resin among other things. I love how versatile it can be! I usually begin with a sketch or a color combination in mind and improvise as I go. Its a very free form process and thats why I love it!
AB: You moved from Baltimore to Philadelphia, has this impacted your work in any way? Often, moving to a new community forces you to start over and you sort of have to rebuild the community you once had. How has this impacted your work? Did you find that making jewelry was a different way to engage yourself in your new setting?
SA: I've grown up in Baltimore nearly all my life, and lived less than 5 miles from my family home even after I moved out. Philly was my first big move, and has completely changed the way I think about my relation to my city, family and community! So far everyone I've met has been extremely generous in sharing resources/connecting me to other queer folks and makers. Making jewelry allows me to vend at fairs for example and meet other people who are making a living in a similar way. It also attracts a super diverse group of people which is totally a plus!