ArtintheCity Speaks to Artist Ammanda Seelye Salzman

During our visit to this year's Abu Dhabi Art Fair, our attention was brought to Ammanda Seelye Salzman's signature artwork at the Kashya Hildebrand Gallery. Being kind enough to share some stories about her art and experiences as a Westerner who was brought up in the Middle East, we managed to sit down and learn more about her and her artworks.

Is it your first time exhibiting in Abu Dhabi Art?
Yes, but I hope it isn’t my last! It’s very impressive here!

What’s your impression of some of the Arabian artworks displayed in the fair considering you lived in the Middle East for a long period of your life?
I grew up in Saudi Arabia during the 60’s and I could not have imagined to see such beautiful contemporary art here (40 years later!) It truly makes me happy.

Do you that believe being in Abu Dhabi Art will provide more chances for you to join in other international exhibitions? Where would you imagine yourself to be exhibiting next?
Definitely! I would love to apply to Sharjah Biennale in two years. It’s a very distinguished biennale and has a great reputation in America. UAE has a very vibrant art world and I believe it continues to grow! People need to know more about it in the States.

Could you tell us briefly about the nature of your work? Explain more about the composition, layers and techniques.

This installation explores and critiques an American family’s early experience in the Middle East from the 1840’s until the present day and it’s seen through the lands of my family who are originally missionaries who settled in Mosul Iraq. They were educators and diplomats and the fifth generation included journalists and filmmakers - so it’s literally some sort of history of this incredible journey. It talks about a nostalgia about perhaps a perceived better relationship between Arabs and Americans - we can say it’s a bit more complicated now so I thought it might be a very relevant to show this here and in America. What I do is take very small archival photos on tin and I blow them up digitally on canvas and then I paint, silkscreen and collage on top of the blown up images. Sometimes I add text, there’s another part of the installation *points at video* which includes more archival images, books and photographs - very old ones. The fourth part is sound which we didn’t have the facility for that in this current fair. The pieces here are very old documentations of history showing a message to Westerns living in the Middle East if I have to put it that way!

Where do you get your inspiration and how do you integrate it into yourwork?
I have books of Geometric Islamic Art. I add the geometric pattern on the center of the artwork and sometimes on the borders I add 4 layers of silk-screened photographs and which are painted over such as in my piece 'Great Grandmother, Turkey 1880's'. So we mainly have 4 different elements shown in every artwork.

As we see here in this series of installation art, you focused on collage work and photographic elements; do you also work with other media?
I paint geometric Islamic shapes, which are very ornamental. I can say that Islam has affected my work in many aspects. I find myself involved in the Arab world and integrating it into my work.

How would you describe your experience as an artist in the Middle East?
Growing up in the Middle East, whether it was Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria or Tunasia - each country brought an extraordinarily beautiful vision to me in the architecture, in the Ancient history, in the culture, beautiful carpets or even in carvings - I was so inspired by them that I as a Westerner and American, took the Islamic style and incorporated it in my current Western work. I will always be influenced by it because I feel it’s in my blood!

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