Tell us a bit about your practice, how would you describe the work that you do?
My practice is a combination of curatorial practices and visual arts. My medium involves fictional writing, drawing, installation and a play on text. I am interested in correspondence, networking, collaboration and connectivity in my practice and my research explores the use of correspondence for our fictitious characters to exist. My curatorial work is an extension of this where I experiment with instructional methods and exchanges with international artists. I often work with several artists from all over the world where I have a dialogue with them in the form of letters, postcards and different ways of corresponding to bring together different fragments of cultures together in curatorial projects, mass collections and at the moment direct animation.
William Hughes in collaboration with Diana Ali 'Suits You Sir!' 2016
The writing projects you've undertaken such as 'Distant Dialogues' are interesting, could you tell us a bit more about them?
I like to contest what we mean by correspondence, communication and networking. My writing projects were a play on this. I asked people around the world to put up a poster to have a letter correspondence with me for one year. I had a PO Box address and the correspondence I received went against my own expectations. It wasn’t romantic or about soul searching but rather humorous and it backfired. Instead I received a lot of junk mail. But as an artist, we have to work with our failures so I continued to write to them as a researcher, a friend and a needy and jealous lover. Interestingly enough I didn’t receive much continued correspondence. I like to play with the language of correspondence and how lost in translation can become a new way of being rejected or recognised. I like to reach out to people, places and others experiences I have not met or been too. If that means having a different persona or adopting a fictional character then so be it.
Diana Ali, Distant Dialogues, Sheffield
You were recently a Mentor on BBC1's Big Painting Challenge, what was that like?
It was amazing to be asked to be in this programme when you have worked so hard in self promotion and 'making it as an artist'. It was a great opportunity to reaffirm my work as an artist but also celebrate that art can now be on national TV and making people aware that to just do a little bit of art is not hard or inaccessible. It’s great to have builders (for example) coming up to me to say “thank you, I did a bit of painting, I was told I was never good at school”. That’s what I want, an exposure to what art can be. We forget we have an imagination. It was a very different and nervous experience to be in front of the camera when often, as artists, we are behind the scenes and we let the artwork be in the public sphere rather than ourselves. It was an honour to mentor and nurture amateur artists who listened when, as artists, we often don’t.
Diana Ali at the launch of the Big Painting Challenge 2017
What's the one piece of advice you'd offer artists starting out on their career?
It’s not hard being an artist if you have something to say and as humans we all do. As an artist we can get away with it without being scrutinised or in the limelight. Young contemporary artists have a duty to 'spread the word', help people become aware of situations, issues and topics affecting different stems of our lives, but also realise that art is everywhere. But they must work hard which shouldn’t be difficult if you are passionate about something. You are your own administrator, business person, maker, curator, agent and negotiator but ultimately the artwork is the most rewarding when it comes to making things happen. Take the plunge, expect failure, make mistakes and expect rejections because these negativities lead to a road of discovery and new ways of having a voice and communicating. Sometimes we don’t like what we hear but it is there.
What projects have you got coming up?
Series 3 of The Big Painting Challenge is coming out at Easter this year. Through this exposure, I am working with different sectors in promoting the importance of the arts. This has been done with businesses, religious institutions, Institute of Mental Health and the NHS. I am currently participating in the FaceValue Katy Perry Foundation exhibition and planning to curate the exhibition ‘Loss & Lucidity’ in the US. As an artist, the making and creating comes first for me but also, we are in a society where this cannot be done quietly. I have the opportunity to share and expose my correspondence, communication, networking and storytelling interests in other sectors other than the art world now.
Published 1 March 2018