By Emma Esterman ’20
Recently I was strolling through the Hopkins Center on my way to chamber orchestra and noticed a rather large sculpture in one of the galleries. I pass by the art galleries in the Hop all the time, but had never ventured inside their glass walls. The curious art-lover in me finally stopped and decided that it would be a missed opportunity if I never investigated what art the Hop had brought to Dartmouth. What I found within the Jaffe-Friede Gallery were three pieces by internationally renowned artist Diana Al-Hadid, Dartmouth’s Studio Art department’s artist-in-residence for fall term.
Each term, Dartmouth’s Studio Art department brings an incredible artist to campus to talk about and display their work. This term’s artist-in-residence, Diana Al-Hadid, was born in Syria and works out of Brooklyn. She is well known for her drawings on Mylar (plastic sheeting), painting-size 3-D wall panels and massive sculptural pieces.
What immediately strikes you when you walk into the Jaffe-Friede Gallery is Al-Hadid’s sculpture At the Vanishing Point. Layers of abstract aluminum foil shapes project outwards from white tiers of dripping polymer gypsum. As I stared at the sculpture, I began to notice Renaissance-inspired architectural elements such as windows and columns embedded in the sculpture, conjuring the image of a cloud kingdom. The structure seems fragile, as you can gaze into its interior through the gaps between drips. Al-Hadid specifically uses polymer gypsum in her work because “it was a way of articulating this liquid surface that’s kind of frozen but suggesting forms that weren’t there” (Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia). It seemed as though someone had hollowed out certain tiers and just left the exterior shell to hold everything up. However, a paradox of Al-Hadid’s work is that what looks ephemeral is actually quite architecturally sturdy. Supporting her sculpture are fiberglass, steel, wood and foam–all relatively common materials that come together to form an extraordinary seven-and-a-half foot tall structure.
Two of Al-Hadid’s works on Mylar also hang in the gallery. Al-Hadid has made a series of drawings on Mylar plastic sheeting with conté (charcoal or graphite mixed with clay or wax), charcoal, pastel and acrylic. While her sculptures have metaphorical and meticulously chosen names that allow you to extrapolate meaning from them, her drawings are all called Untitled. I was so excited to see what Al-Hadid had intended her abstract drawings to be that, at first, I was disappointed when I saw both were called Untitled. But I actually grew to like this aspect of her drawings. The title allows the viewer to develop their own interpretation of her work and embrace its ambiguity.
Like her sculptural pieces, her drawings are paradoxical. From afar, the large drawings look like intricate gradients of color. The soothing color palette and linear quality to her pieces makes them seem woven, seamless. However, when you get closer, you see spaces between lines, figures or abstract shapes drawn in charcoal beneath the pigment or formed by erasing away color. Some see architectural forms in these shapes, others see hints of Arabic letters. To me, the erasure marks look like the chewed paths of insects on the underside of tree bark or as if they were created by the drawings being left outside in the rain, their colors dripping and blurring together.
After wandering through just one of the two exhibits on display, I discovered a new favorite artist. I strongly encourage all who have the opportunity to visit the Jaffe-Friede Gallery before November 13 to go see Diana Al-Hadid’s beautiful and contemplative sculpture At the Vanishing Point and two of her large drawings. To see more of Al-Hadid’s work and learn more about her, visit her website.
[Editor’s note: Read what another Hopbackstage contributor had to say about At the Vanishing Point]
I am a ’20 from Plymouth, MA. I enjoy playing my violin in the chamber orchestra, taking photos around campus, and going to shows at the Hop with the Arts Ambassadors.