Cyrah Dardas is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, educator and community organizer based in Detroit, MI. Her work, inspired by themes of American identity, queer identity, intersectional ecofeminism, humanism and sufi poetry, includes drawing, painting and installation. Dardas uses her art practice as a tool in remembering the forgotten networks between humans and the earth otherwise suppressed by colonialism and gender based trauma. She holds a BFA in painting from Wayne State University. Her work has been presented in 30+ exhibitions in Detroit, Chicago and New York.
How did you come to work with your specific collaborator? Did you know them before this? Were you familiar with their work?
I believe the curatorial team assigned all the collaborators for the exhibition. My Collaborator Noura Ballot, is a very good friend of mine, almost like a family member honestly. I am very familiar with their work and have been for years. We collaborated in creating an installation together in a show I curated called Elemental and have supported each other’s artistic endeavours in various ways. Last year, we curated a show called WE EXIST: The Future is Fluid, a group art exhibition centered in self determined, ethical queer representation. The exhibition featured a series of photos and paintings by queer artists exhibited on billboards throughout Detroit.
Before the actual process of making, what was the process of deciding on what to make like? What was the making process itself like?
The process of deciding what to make was interesting. I was initially thinking that we would make something collaboratively ( As in one collective project) so I was focusing a lot on trying to understand the similarities between our work. As we continued to talk and plan however, it seemed to become more apparent the ways our work was different, and our understanding of collaboration was different and that difference was very interesting. In order to better understand these differences and their origins, for our making process we decided to meet weekly and hold space for each other; talk about work, or just check in. It felt like a way to both stay in touch and create an environment for the cohesion of ideas. For me personally, I am a very kinetic being. I thrive, and think and process best when moving and actively making- for this reason my work is generally very time consuming and process oriented. I love intuitive repetition and visual rhythm. For me, the making process looked like physically making a lot of work. I actually made about 20 paintings over the course of the period of time we were collaborating similar to the one I submitted.
What new possibilities were offered through collaboration that would not have been possible working alone? Did you feel any disadvantages compared to working alone?
In so many ways collaboration provides a beautiful disruption to the typical way art is made. I try to collaborate a lot in my practice because I feel like it is a good tool for dismantling the individualism and isolation that is so often a part of being a visual artist. I have always envied the way that musicians, chefs and other creative fields are encouraged to collaborate and work in unison with others. I think visual artists are often dissuaded from doing this because it confuses traditional concepts of ownership and property. Hopefully through shows like Dual Vision we are shifting away from that model and becoming more interested in the outcomes of connection and creativity instead of emphasizing art as a product, and being obsessed with who gets to sell or buy it. I wouldn’t really be able to name specific advantages or disadvantages but I would say that true collaboration- especially in a creative context is very difficult. Each of us is so full of ego and expectation and intention that is difficult to ever really come to the table with another artist without all of that – or at least, willing to compromise it. I am able to name things that took place over the course of this collaboration that were really fun and interesting and conversely things that frustrated, or disappointed me. I had my own timeline, my own priorities, my own- vision, if you will (wink). But, for the sake of true collaboration I tried to mitigate those things from driving or leading the decision making.I think there is beauty in that conflict though, if you know how to make space for it. If I was working at my own pace, or without witnessing to someone else’s process, I would have little reason to question or challenge my own. Sometimes, those insights can cause huge breakthroughs even if they are momentarily disruptive.
Did working collaboratively provide you with any insights that could be extrapolated and used outside of art in either a personal or political context? Were there lessons learned that could be used in other aspects of life? What did it teach you about democracy?
This experience reinforced that idea that when approaching an opportunity to collaborate or perform work with another person it is essential to center your mutual humanity and prioritize that above all other outcomes. Without doing this first you will undoubtedly miss opportunities that uncover new ways of being, doing and thinking. It also reminded me of one of my favorite lessons from Adrienne Marie Brown, to “move at the speed of trust”. It is virtually impossible to do any meaningful work if you do not have a mutual sense of safety and trust. Building trust through authentic connection is a huge part of any collaboration and has to be continuously, and consistently cared for.
From a political context the opportunity reminded me of the vital intersection between art and social/political organizing. A couple years ago I worked with Curator Taraneh Fazeli at Red Bull House of Art as the assistant curator. I got the opportunity to work with the local artists being commissioned by her to make work for a show called Sick TIme Sleepy Time Crip Time: Against Capitolism’s Temporal Bullying (long name, I know) Through that opportunity I met Artist, Farmer, and Black Panther Baba Wayne Curtis. He is a really inspiring man to listen to and he reignited a lot of my interests in food sovereignty and art as a tool for liberation. I learned a lot from listening to him discuss revolutionary intercomunalism and glocalization ( global/ localization) both ideas championing community as a means by which to shift and decentralize power and destroy imperialism. I am increasingly interested in finding ways to bring these philosophies into my practice as an artist and life. I feel like this opportunity was in line with those intentions because it engaged with a community of local artists, many of whom have interdisciplinary practices that intersect with activism, political education, healing and care.
I will definitely use the lessons I learned about collaboration in different aspects of my life. One I am thinking about a lot now is within an artist co-op; some friends and I have recently started. We spend a lot of time thinking about ways we can collaborate, co work, and act as thought partners to each other because we feel like it is an effective way to mitigate traditional hierarchies or power structures that normally manifest in group settings or work environments.
Going off of the title of the exhibition, how do you and your collaborator see your specific work differently?
From my perspective I think it’s interesting to see both of our work has been evolving over time. Both of us have a history of archiving our bodies through self portraiture and I enjoy how that is transforming as we mature as artists. I investigate the interconnection between the femme body and the environment through their interconnected histories as tapestry. My layering represents the figurative layering of time, space and narrative. My paintings are a tool of ecological co-regulation which is a process of regulating across species to restore our collective ecological body. I also think a lot about the patterns of change and fluctuations within self and how that is reflected in the fluctuations of the collective self, the earth, and the universe. This idea feels especially important right now when it seems that as a species we have lost touch with the rhythms and networks of life around us; As if many of us have lost our ability to hear it. For me, understanding how to achieve internal harmony through this process of regulation is like mapping, assessing and learning a pathway that reengages with life’s source and aids in collectively growing towards wholeness. This practice is a tool for remembering ancestral knowledge as a way to create an archive for the future.
When I look at Nour’s work I see a person practicing a deep listening to their internal harmony and documenting it over and over again. I also see someone documenting the ways in which the gaze, perception and projection affects them and them investigating why that is. I cannot speak to Nour’s experience, but as a queer, femme, POC with disabilities I can relate to the experience of being perceived and its effects on one’s state of being and sense of self. When one’s existence is politicized and policed and regulated it is impossible not to be, in effect constantly reacting, deflecting, monitoring, evaluating and assessing what/ who you are. Being Cis gendered, in proximity to whitness, and heterosexual means you can choose to sit your identity in that cozy seat that was already waiting for you- It was anticipated, expected by others and they know how to make room for it. Being non-binary, trans, gender fluid or GNC, queer, disabled and all of the other beautiful ways of being, means that you have to constantly ask, demand or defend the space you occupy and that is incredibly exhausting. You are forced to learn how to squeeze between the unmoving, uncompromising and rigid heteronormativity and whiteness that has had its place cemented into the infrastructure of society. All that bending and contorting affects one’s sense of self and makes one question and interrogate each and every part- examining it for inaccuracies or frivolities that one could really do without. Things that could make it easier to just- “fit in”. When I look at Noura’s work it reminds me of how harshly I look at myself and interrogate who I am, and if my existence is valid and necessary. It reminds me that I too gaze upon myself as a critic full of internalized homophobia and ableism that causes me harm. Nour’s work challenges me to consider how I look at myself, respect myself, honor myself and archive my own identity.