In this conversation with Minneapolis based artist Corey Habbas, she explores the idea of structural discrimination and alienation caused by prejudice, which is conveyed in her piece “Where We Were After the Storm.”
At the time, I wore a headscarf and had noticed prejudice against myself, as well as when I was in groups of others [with darker skin] wearing a headscarf. I wanted to take this universal idea of prejudice and make it comprehensive in the art.
The people in this piece have no definable features, because they could be any of us. The dynamic of these two people ruins what could have been a beautiful landscape. When I was creating it, I felt a sense of sorrow. There is collective loss when there isn’t a feeling of support. There’s no intimacy in this work. You need dialogue, you need to be able to see each other, in order to work through a relationship, and that can’t happen with people not knowing each other, not coming together. When I was working on this piece there was that distinct sense of social exclusion.
I was learning from the ideas of Dorceta Taylor, who wrote “Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility,” as well as Dr. Tricia Rose of Brown University who spoke of structural discrimination. It’s such a vast topic.
I’ve always been a very open-hearted and embracing person, and I realized after putting the hijab on that people did not always feel that toward me. I was aware of the difference of how it felt before people saw me as Muslim. It was shocking to me.
At one point I realized that even though I had, since childhood, been outraged by racism, that my understanding was only an intellectual one. I could sympathize, I could try to empathize, but until I had so much directed toward me, I was unprepared for how it affected every waking moment of my life. Even small things like a dirty look from someone built up inside me day after day.
I would feel unsafe [wearing a hijab], sometimes devastated. Like people didn’t want me to exist. It’s taught me a lot about how open I want to be, as a Muslim-American and as a woman — and any other category I can be put into by the external gaze of others.
I want to always remain open and non-reactive. I am not wearing the hijab anymore. I’m not wearing it in order to give myself a psychological break. Some people can handle that prejudice. I was not able to.
A consistent aspect of my work is “the beyond”. Rather than contemplating what’s in our physical space, my work is more about the inner space. Our thought processes, our spirit, the way we interpret life, the way we process trauma, what hope means.
I spent a lot of time on this idea about the physics of wishing, which started as abstract and then slowly became more representational and focused on the dandelion as a symbol of hope — but also of how we are connected because of those particles that fly off the dandelion.
That’s like us. We see ourselves as separate because of our interpretation of physical space. We take for granted that everything is separate and we are self-reliant and self-sufficient. But we are very much connected. There is an unseen connection that’s far beyond what we’re presented with day-to-day unless we really sit down and think about it.
So I try to bring something to my work that feels likes it is from the beyond.