This article is part of Hyperallergic’s Pride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.
Singaporean trans nonbinary artist Aki Hassan’s sculptural installations and experimental comics invite us to consider how the collective presence of our bodies can forge unseen bonds and connections. What does it mean to occupy space, in all the physical, figurative, and radical senses of the phrase? And what does it mean to occupy space together? In a poetic new series of works, Hassan identifies instances of visual resonance between distinct forms and materials — lightweight three-dimensional metal rods that stand gracefully like flower stems and flat metal sheets that have the stoic authority of a sign or placard — and in so doing emphasizes what these various elements have in common rather than what sets them apart. Hassan describes these works beautifully in the interview below, sharing their concept of “quiet resistance” and their hopes for a gentler understanding of ourselves.
Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?
Aki Hassan: Currently, my work is fueled by my reflections on the varying dependencies that evolved within fictive kinship. My immediate experiences often inform the bulk of my research and core ideas. I meditate on the complexities of care work that surface within the framework of queer kinship which transcends the bounds of blood ties and cis-heteronormative structures. It is a space that allows for constant change and flux, which complicates the exchange of care. I think about queer survival — the suppressions and weight that we already carry as individuals — and how this influences the ways in which we depend on and hold onto one another.
In my recent solo exhibition, Entangled Attachments at Yeo Workshop, I propose the potential of expressing care by being nearby — in proximity to — one another. I believe that kinship can be built from the first moment of recognition and a sense of solidarity. Through what I refer to as “quiet resistance,” I believe that we exchange gestural vocabularies unknowingly, some of which are familiar and continue to reside within us. By placing drawings and objects that share a similar strand of visual forms in one space, I urge the viewer to read into the subtle pulses of lines and marks in relation to one another. One of the works I presented, titled “Note For My Kin” (2023), is a thin steel rod that is held up by a heavy sheet of steel. The words “strategy work is not care work, dear” was lightly written on it, as I contemplate the limitations and boundaries we draw out for ourselves.
This show reflects the conditions of my survival in a place where access to queer gatherings may not always be granted. Ultimately, I hope to bring to light how nuanced queer labor and micro-actions can be, even if it is not immediately visible in our line of sight.
H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?
AH: The visual language of my drawings and sculptures is informed by ways the queer body orients itself — the way it stands and falls into edges and surfaces, the way it adjusts and postures. These bodily encounters do not feel representational; they feel affectual, thus it feels apt to visualize the gestures through lines and marks. I find comfort in the non-representational form as it does not demand the visualization of one singular, specific body and embraces the fluid nature of trans*. This refusal comes from a place of respecting the nature of embodied knowledge. How do I depict experiences that are often intangible and immaterial to the eye?
I work with metal rods in particular as it is able to capture the paradox of having strength in a state of vulnerability. There is a resilience seen in this lanky medium, especially when it has been bent into a tired posture — one that persistently holds itself up. I resonate a lot with that.
H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?
At this moment, I think of those in my immediate queer circles, namely Rifqi Amirul Rosli, nor, Khairullah Rahim, Diva Agar, Taufiq Rahman, my collaborators from Bussy Temple (Zenon, Jo Ho, Bruce, Minsoo Bae, and Nydia), and everyone else I have met along the way within my queer networks. I believe that there is so much strength in the work that they do to sustain their practices. I am inspired by their rigour and the ongoing encouragement that I receive from them.
H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?
I wish for us to be gentler with ourselves, one another, everyone, and everything else. We shouldn’t shame ourselves for being slower, if so.
Allow yourself to settle into identities at your own pace.