Beirut-born Yasmina Hilal organically creates mixed media collages – cutting, gluing and sewing away from digital manipulation
The Lebanese multimedia artist draws inspiration from the beautifully chaotic streets of her city in order to inform her tactile and spliced visual creations, with materials like ink or stitched thread atop film-photography prints.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 21 September 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
On 13 April 1975, a bus travelling from a rally in Beirut carrying Palestinian militants was stopped by gunmen from a right-wing Lebanese party. 22 Palestinians were shot dead, sparking the Lebanese civil war. Although political turbulence had haunted the city throughout its history, the civil war demarcated a brutal and seismic rift between the many varying social groups in Beirut. Despite this, the city has been and remains a constant meeting point for the world’s greatest artists and intellectuals. One Beiruti local is adamant on drawing on her records and experiences of the passion, spirit and vibrance of the city through various artistic mediums.
Yasmina Hilal found her love for photography at the age of 15 when her mother gifted her with her very first film camera. Growing up and living in Beirut, “a city that is still scarred by its dark past and present, and its chaotic environment,” she tells It’s Nice That, shaped her perception towards beauty and made her experience living with constant uncertainty. “Just like a scar is a sign of survival and realism,” the artist continues, “I feel as though my images don’t portray reality until they’re disassembled and manipulated in different forms.”
Her inspiration comes from the streets of Beirut: every corner of it, for Yasmina, has its own identity. And the people she meets on a daily basis each have a story to tell. “As a community here, we’ve been through so much that we really only have each other. So for me, my culture is my identity, and it’s very vital that I showcase it in my work, from its people, its music, its streets and its traditions.”
After some time spent photographing her city, Yasmina went on to study experimental film in Boston. During these four years, the Lebanese artist focused on being in the darkroom, working with her hands and finding “alternate ways to create”. These translate into the various mediums Yasmina uses to create layered and multifaceted works. “I learned how to combine alternative techniques with analogue photography and found that mixed media art became my strong suit.”
Yasmina boasts a vast array of photo series, each with its own unique story but each donning the artist’s individuality and signature collage style. She usually starts a series by photographing her subject intimately on film. “From there it’s all about trial and error when it comes to my collaging.” After each image is shot on film, they eventually become a hand-made collage that uses different techniques such as splicing, sewing, cutting and chopping, without ever relying on digital manipulation.
2200 shows mannequin-esque figures cut and re-assembled to give them exaggerated limbs or several heads, without using technology to achieve the futuristic effect. The organic nature of Yasmina’s work divorces itself from the heavy computer-generated imagery we often see with today’s collage works. Instead, the artist must take up her armoury of glue and scissors in what could be seen as a blissful return to childhood, whilst invoking maturity through themes of isolation, loss, and growth. Whereas Stitched, whilst using these same tactile techniques, also sees stitching and thread come into the mix, resulting in an added layer to the already textured nature of Yasmina’s pieces.
These days, Yasmina is inspired by photographers like Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Rose Lowder, and Agnes Varda. Some Middle Eastern artists she’s inspired by include Laure Ghorayeb, Shirin Neshat, Mazen Kerbaj and Sabhan Adam.
Although the uses of mixed media and collage are an exercise in the artist’s signature style and strongest suit, her most recent project شباب البحر (Men of the Sea) is very dear to Yasmina’s heart because for the first time, she chose to photograph men. The subjects don the emerging Arab menswear brand Shabab. “This project was shot over three months ago in Lebanon, where the situation has become unliveable and my main focus was to shine a light on these men who find solace from the sea.”
What Yasmina refers to as ‘unliveable’ is no hyperbole. Over recent years, Beirut has not only suffered the disastrous explosion which we saw last year, resulting in 218 deaths, $15 billion in property damage, and leaving around 300,000 citizens of the city homeless; but the country’s worsening fuel crisis means that Beirut currently suffers from consistent blackouts, making industry and day-to-day life often grind – or crash – to a halt. Yasmina finds solace in the images she created of the sea, depicting the joy and warmth the Arab people associate with Lebanon and its capital. “No matter what happens,” professes Yasmina, “the sea remains, shielding us from the daily turmoil that we face in Lebanon. She will always be there, spurring us on, moving us in a parallel of directions, in a parallel of intentions.”
GalleryYasmina Hilal: Sometimes I Drown in My Sleep (Copyright © Yasmina Hilal, 2021)
GalleryYasmina Hilal: Men of the Sea (Copyright © Yasmina Hilal)
Yasmina Hilal: Quilted (Copyright © Yasmina Hilal)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.