Fatma Shanan reflects on her time at the Peleh Residency

Based in Berkeley, The Peleh Residency is one of the few fully-supported, specifically family-friendly residencies in the country, and it emerged from the vision of the Peleh Fund to support both the creative process, and a new kind of cultural infrastructure that honors a commitment to family and work. The program reflects two core beliefs of its founders. First, that the universal experience of caregiving and working must be acknowledged and supported by our institutions if we are to thrive as a community. And second, that art and culture have the power to cross boundaries between people and ideas, bringing historical identity into modern life in new ways.

This post continues our series of reflections from artists who were part of the residency and how this focus on art, family, and caregiving has impacted their lives and work.

Coming to Berkeley was a wonderful experience. It really affected my art and my process, and changed my perspective on my work in many ways. As an artist and a person, I am affected by my surroundings. In Berkeley the new surroundings let me see my work at a distance, and see the whole picture of my art from many different points of view.

Until I came to Berkeley my work focused on rugs, the actual presence of the rugs that have an aesthetic value unlike any other object in a Druze home. As a kid I remember having to walk around the carpet to cross the room, in order to protect it. For me it became almost a member of the family. Another living presence.

When I came to Berkeley I sent a rug ahead of time. I had planned to work with the rug as I usually do, connecting it to the physical body, and using it as a frame. I wanted even to expand this part of the practice, taking the rug outside, into the street, or even into museums. We can call these places “heterotopic zones,” where an object is taken out of its context, and placed somewhere else to create a new place of self-expression.

But something happened in Berkeley, where I was able to work differently with the rug, and it changed my sense of self-expression.

I can point to two experiences. One was the way the light came into the residency studio and house, and I could see that garden and the house were at the same height. Inside and outside were connected here in a special way, and I could feel the change in how I thought about nature and representing nature.

The second experience was when I visited SFMOMA, where my mentor Jenny [Gheith] was a curator. I was walking around the building, and I saw a huge window, with plants on an outdoor wall. Suddenly I saw the window itself as a carpet, with the plants as ornaments on a carpet that was vertical. The view chose me, I didn’t choose it. I felt grounded in a different way with my work. You can see what I did with my painting The Green Window. [The Green Window, https://www.fatmashanan.com/self-portraits]

This idea led me to more work in a museum context. I did a piece at a Romanian museum, also using the window view as a kind of rug with ornaments. I did a series of self-portraits on the floor. Instead of being on a rug outside, I lay on the parquet floor inside, as the colorful materials reminded me of a rug. [Self Portrait on Parquet, https://www.fatmashanan.com/self-portraits]

After Berkeley, I didn’t stop working with the carpet, but it became less representative in my work. Now the idea of the carpet can be there without needing the actual carpet. This idea shifted my technique. I started to do more abstract brushworks. I can see this in how I started painting fields, moving me to merge the green of plants and colors of nature with previous ideas of ornaments and carpets. [Field, https://www.fatmashanan.com/self-portraits]

One more thing about the residency. I had the time and space I needed to really focus on my work. It was good to have hours without any meetings. But I wasn’t alone here. I had people like Rebecca [Guber] and Jenny to speak with, on the phone or in person. So I wasn’t isolated or alone.

Leave a Comment


Let's keep in touch.