“I really like my work to feel like you are peering in on someone’s phone,” says artist Hannah Ward on the specific sensation she hopes her pieces evoke. That slight sneakiness, or the feeling of knowing full well you’re viewing something you shouldn’t, is a definite quality of the Bolton-born artist’s work, in which she intricately recreates nudes with Hama beads.
Despite often working with the same subject matter, and always the same resources in Hama beads, Hannah’s practice is multi-layered in its points of view and influences. Immediately upon viewing Hannah’s nudes there is a humour to them, an approach she describes as “fun and cheeky” but driven from an attempt to “poke fun at things that can be quite raw and personal”. This mix of emotions is also influenced by relationships being a key inspiration, from those quickfire back-and-forth text conversations with a crush, to overly rethinking something Hannah wishes she’d said in real life. Each of these pieces, whether they’re one of Hannah’s own nudes, a still from a porn film or a submission (she takes commissions too!) are crucially approached from a feminist point of view, “and a way of women reclaiming their own sexuality away from the male-gaze,” says Hannah. “Female sexuality from the female perspective.”
It’s here that Hannah’s use of Hama beads is so ingenious, not only offering an instant hit of nostalgia to the work but dually tackling the subject of censorship – especially in a social media context. In pixelating the nude by using the block effect Hama beads allow for, the artist’s work “is a play on the current censorship that is happening on social media platforms right now,” in which “Instagram is deciding what is sexual in terms of women’s bodies,” details Hannah. “In a way of ‘rebelling’ I use the Hama beads to censor the nude image before it can be censored, then the piece becomes a pixelated nude artwork and it is up to the owner of the image whether it is sexual or not.”
Creating these pieces since 2015, as mentioned Hannah began the practice as an exploration of portraits of herself. Once settled in the medium, “I really wanted to reach more people, and for all women to see their body type represented in my work,” deciding then to open submissions for personalised pieces. Describing creating these pieces as a “liberating feeling” especially when having the responsibility of recreating such a personal or private moment, “my aim is to share this feeling with more women,” adds Hannah on this shared empowerment quality to the works.
In terms of the actual process, Hannah explains that at first she’ll study the photograph she’s working with, correcting the lighting to create an image consisting of block colours. “This makes it easier for me to simplify it down to the bead colours I have; the skin tone shades are limited, so the lighting of the image is crucial,” she explains. Keeping one eye on the original image at all times, “to make sure I am capturing them correctly,” Hannah places each individual bead onto a square pegboard measuring 12 inches, equaling 3600 beads a piece. “It is laborious,” she adds, “but the end result is always so satisfying, it is very therapeutic for me.” Once finished, as Hama bead fanatics will know, Hannah will iron the image to fuse the beads together before peeling off her base board.
Almost six years into the project, this laborious process hasn’t dulled in impact either. “I think because it’s a unique and unusual medium, when people first see it they don’t really know if it’s a digital image or a sculpture,” she reflects on the medium’s benefits. “They like, is that tits? Oh, it’s tits! It isn’t completely obvious from the start.” In working with the beads for so long too, Hannah’s process is full of detail you wouldn’t quite expect from such pixellations, much to her creative credit.
Looking to the future it’s also a practice Hannah sees herself settling into further. In particular a project last year, which saw Hannah put out a call for 12 women to send in their nudes for a charity calendar, has driven a want to expand her practice even further. “As a feminist, I want to continue working with women’s bodies but I do not want to exclude gender non-confirming,” the artist concludes. “The skin tones and ethnicities I have been able to portray have been very limited, so I would love to improve on this. This is all of course up to the owner of the image and if they felt I could correctly represent them.” So if you’re sitting on the fence of getting your own Hama nude made, be sure to reach out to Hannah!
Hannah Ward: Commission (Copyright © Hannah Ward, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.