MISFiT | Aude Nasr. Freelancing, finding inspiration in the margins, and being an introvert.
"It takes a lifetime to truly understand how the cultures and minorities we belong to make us who we are and carve our work."
Another unintentional hiatus means, I’m sure, that there is now a big MISFiT shaped hole in your heart. Fear not, this week we’re back with Aude Nasr, an illustrator, photographer, graphic designer and the founder of Ahlan My Darlings. We talked the joys and misfortunes of working freelance, where we find inspiration, and the tricky nature of talking about identity within artwork.
Enjoy and see you next time,
“…depression, illness, queerness or coming from a multi-cultural and fragmented background, I needed to find a way to make all these parts of my existence express themselves together, and illustration ended up being a great outlet.”
Aude is an illustrator who works freelance and the creator of Ahlan My Darlings, as well as being a damn good photographer and graphic designer. Aude is based in Paris and has been featured in exhibitions such as Ousa Illustration Festival, the Queer Zine Fair and the 24 hour Paris-Beirut fundraiser.
Aude’s work takes its cue from a feeling of fragmentation. She uses a beautiful mellow colour palette and a consistent stylised and two-dimensional aesthetic. Her work is reminiscent of children’s book characters but with the emotional depth, pain and vulnerability of young adulthood. The symbolism within her work makes for beautifully nuanced pieces and I adore the exaggerated features and expressions of her subjects.
“I follow many young artists, and I believe they have much more effect on me than any famous or established art movements that exist.”
D: You're relatively early on in your career and your style is already so established. Tell me, how did you find your style so soon? And do you have any notable or significant sources of inspiration that led you to where you are now?
A: First of all, thank you! I’ve been drawing for a long time, but my current style really developed during the past couple of months. It was a time when I was very overwhelmed both by the events taking place in my life, and the context surrounding me: when I was sick or in pain, I would draw. When I was in Beyrouth, trying to cope at the beginning of the thawra, I would draw. Any moment when I would feel I had to take some of the sadness and anger out, I would draw.
The amazing amount of support I received from my loved ones when I began sharing my work also helped me feel more comfortable with expressing honestly my vision, along with some people writing to me about feeling more understood and less alone when seeing my illustrations.
To cope with the constant negative input from the news and events affecting both the Middle-East and the rest of the world, depression, illness, queerness or coming from a multi-cultural and fragmented background, I needed to find a way to make all these parts of my existence express themselves together, and illustration ended up being a great outlet.
Regarding inspirations, I am everyday amazed at all the talented people creating and sharing their work online. I follow many young artists, and I believe they have much more effect on me than any famous or established art movements that exist.
I’m happy to hear you say that because that’s what MISFiT is all about! I always find that work from the “margins” (for lack of a better term) or the work of emerging artists by far the most inspiring. It’s not that established work isn’t inspiring, for me it’s simply because the mainstream comes with so many external pressures that the work can often be warped, lose a sense of its vision, or start as one thing and turn into something different to what the creator intended.
Your work mostly consists of a lovely mellow colour palette of blues and purples - what draws you to this aesthetic?
I feel that blues and purples are very anxiety-soothing, while they also have the power to express how intertwined sadness and tenderness can be. I also like the “sleepiness” of these tones, and as tiredness is a huge part of who I am, I guess it just “slips” into my work, haha!
“Of course, there are projects we enjoy less, and at the end of the day, we have rents to pay.”
So, what's been the most valuable lesson you think you've learnt by working as a freelance creative?
To work with people whose approach you believe in! Of course, there are projects we enjoy less, and at the end of the day, we have rents to pay. But I feel that working alongside people that inspire us is the best way to keep going with a lack of stability that can be difficult.
Freelancing is tiring, it’s a lot of negotiating and insecurities – but there are amazing communities of people working hard to build projects that resemble them and their vision of the world. It’s very stimulating and soothing to be able to work with them.
You’ve articulated something really well that I’ve struggled to articulate in the past. That feeling of communal support, especially within creative circles that have something in common, is very comforting and inspiring.
For me, its the support form Middle Eastern creative communities. Does your Middle Eastern heritage influence your style of work at all? If so, do you find that your heritage ever conflicts with your work?
Hmmm, that’s in interesting question! I would definitely say my Middle-Eastern heritage is a part of my work – because it’s a part of me, and my work is an extension thereof. But it would be difficult for me to really define why or how. The fact that I work a lot with the SWANA region is something that happened very naturally and many of the topics I illustrate are related to the Middle-East and/or it’s diasporas. But it’s a part of my work, not all of it.
I wouldn’t say that my heritage conflicts with my work. But to be honest, I do sometimes feel some expectations coming from people who know my work before they actually meet me. I express very intimate parts of myself in my work that I am not necessarily going to speak about when I first meet someone. So they kind of have an image of me, and of my relationship to the Middle-East and to Europe, when in fact I am very much learning more about myself every day when it comes to this. I am learning to know where I stand, why things are the way they are, and how the person I am now is a consequence of a very long history of minority displacement, political decisions, gendered inequalities.
I feel it takes a lifetime to truly understand how the cultures and/or minorities we belong to make us who we are and carve our work. Especially for those of us who have always been in an “in-between worlds” configuration. Illustration and artistic collaborations offer me the opportunity to explore these relationships between who I am, and where I come from – both ethnically and on a personal level.
So maybe it doesn’t conflict, but it is constant nourishment, learning, unlearning and questioning.
“I express very intimate parts of myself in my work that I am not necessarily going to speak about when I first meet someone. So they kind of have an image of me, and of my relationship to the Middle-East and to Europe, when in fact I am very much learning more about myself every day when it comes to this.”
I’m kind of blown away by this response because you’ve brought up something I think almost all creatives from an ethnic minority background will relate to. Art and creativity are, at the end of the day, very personal and place you in a deeply vulnerable position. The best work is when the creator wears their heart on their sleeve. But this comes with the challenges you mention; people (like me, perhaps!) expect you to be able to articulate your identity and how it does or does not relate to your work, and most of the time, we have no idea where to begin or we might not want to bring that into the foreground of the work being created.
Moving on to your photography; it is absolutely fascinating. What do you enjoy shooting the most? And what draws you to the layering effect you use in your photography?
Thank you! I’m happy you like it.
What I enjoy most is playing with colours, and shooting empty spaces and portraits of my loved ones. Regarding the layering effect, it’s super instinctive and I like what it creates, but it also makes it easier for me to maintain a certain distance with what or who I am shooting. I am an introvert after all!
“…our work evolves with us, as we reflect upon where we are in our lives and in this complex - and sometimes tiring - world.”
We’ve touched on working freelance; I’m interested to hear more on your work process as many young creatives struggle to navigate this terrain. You've worked with and been featured in so many different independent publications - what is your favourite part about working within the independent creative industry?
Working with independent media came really naturally. Because of my personality and background, I have a really strong need to express my anger and opinions about the world and the systems we live in. So working with independent media has been a great way to contribute, without words, to the expression of both our fights and our complex, diverse identities. I feel very humbled to be given the opportunity to work with these people, and it does make it easier that my creative energy can contribute to making mentalities evolve.
My favourite part of working with independent media and the independent creative industry is the amazing people I get the opportunity to speak with and sometimes meet in real life. I am proud that we are fighting to express ourselves and create spaces where we can reflect on the topics that make us while opening deeper and more nuanced conversations than those of mainstream platforms.
Your work spans illustration, photography, graphic design and video. How do you find these different forms inform each other? Do you find it liberating to work across mediums, or do you want to try to focus your work into one primary medium?
I think I still have a lot to learn regarding making these mediums communicate with one another. On a personal level, illustration helps me express myself and think within the societies and communities I belong to, whereas photography has a much more dreamy side to it. When I shoot pictures, it’s about creating soothing, melancholic atmospheres, that just makes me feel warm. Whereas I see illustration as a way of contesting the established order.
But I have no doubt that this is something that will evolve through time – and that’s the amazing thing about the creative fields: our work evolves with us, as we reflect upon where we are in our lives and in this complex - and sometimes tiring - world.
“I am currently finishing Nawal El Saadawi’s autobiography, called A Daughter of Isis, and it’s absolutely beautiful. So inspiring!”