Emii Alrai

23rd Aug 2018

Hi Emii, thanks so much for participating - we hope you're enjoying the coffee!

Hello Conch, thanks for having me!

I am drinking your coffee (which is delicious, thank you) + replying to this extremely belatedly – I’m sorry! I hope this finds you both well + enjoying many a delicious treat! I will now attempt to curb my use of exclamation points… Alreet, questions…

1. Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?


Ma practice has been a bit of a weird one. It’s been accidental in the way it has manifested + I think a lot of it stems from the navigation of my own identity + growing obsession of artefact (btw, sorry my handwriting is mingin’). My family are Iraqi + my mamas side of the family moved out of Iraq in the 90’s to Jordan, following the war with Kuwait. Gradually, all my mamas side found themselves in England, moving for various reasons + for a new life after war took away careers, stability + hope in the Middle East (for my family anyway).

I grew up in diff places in England, Jordan + then in Edinburgh. The navigation between a cultural understanding of my family history, as well as been raised in an Iraqi household formed my identity as one loaded with diasporic memories of Iraq + the consequences that had for my family – as well as trying to naturalise with Scottish/British culture.

A lot of my work/practice draws on elements of confusion between the Middle Eastern narrative I assimilated to, and also the British narrative I over time have naturalised to. I think my work is a juggle of identity? Who knows eh? Formally my work manifests in material manipulation, sand, plaster + clay, materials which are arguably transnational, + trying to create/pay hommage to these narratives in a theatrical sense. I suppose trying to physically create the residues which are left/ remain/ linger between the East/ West collision. I’m interested in history, particularly that of the Ancient Middle East both aesthetically + because of the laden narratives + belief systems of that time. I love the relationship it has with monument + nature – Nowt sings to me more than a carved relief. Last point about practice – my dad is definitely a huge influence. He’s been making things ever since I was wee. He is also Iraqi + grew up in Baghdad. My grandad on his side used to carve plaster relief on mosques + help architecturally plan complex buildings in Baghdad – so my Baba (dad in Arabic), has in vain tried to teach me how to use these techniques of building + manipulating. + Also how to fit a radiator, which will be useful at some point. Love you Baba ❤️

sorry, my handwriting is so shite + space taking.

2. Congratulations on An Ancient Quiver, can you tell us about the show?


Thank you! Half the cardboard from the walls is sat patiently in my car waiting to be taken to the skip. Umm, the show was so much fun to make!! That's all that sticks to my mind thinking of it - especially installing + deinstalling with Mark from GLOAM. I was quite interested in the way Western museums/institutions have displayed + collected works/ artefact /object from the Middle East on large scales – places like the British Museum/ the Pergamon in Berlin + its radge rebuild of the original Ishtar Gate. I had to get a selfie in front of it + send it to my living Jidou, who was hilariously (but rightly) displeased. It made me think about what happens to areas where culture has been either bought/ looted/ exchanged + how that culture is then displayed as though in a graveyard. I guess An Ancient Quiver was playing along that __ how to manipulate material to imitate this prized culture in Western museums + displays, but into exploring the aftermath of that… If this makes any sense? All in all, the show was a really wonderful experience + I thank GLOAM + everyone who came to see it, ye glowin’ cherubs…

6. Could you reflect on your collaborative performance with Blanche Godivier, Chiens Amer/ Bitter Hounds - can you talk us through that process of conceiving and developing the performance over the course of seven days?

Chiens Amers!

The performance me and Blanche did was a really fun + intense experience. I was lucky to do a year classed as part of my Fine Art degree + I spent a year in Marseille. After a horrendous flat share experience + my initial clunky French, I moved into a new flat which Blanche was also renting. We became very good friends + always wanted to work on something together (she is a fantastic contemporary ballet dancer now based in Paris). We decided to make Bitter Hounds over a week she was visiting me in Leeds. It was intense but really rewarding, including late nights tea staining costumes, barking dance moves at each other + making really shitty sound pieces. We conceived the choreography + had a crit at Nocturne, an artist led crit group me + my pals run in leeds, performed the piece there + then did a final performance on the last night Blanche was in Leeds, at what was formerly Set The Controls. It’s a project we both want to develop further in the future.

8. You've contributed to a number of publications this year, could you tell us about those?


Mad innit I’m surprised!!! Think I just got lucky + the time just seemed right to experiment with written work. The piece I wrote for How to Sleep Faster was about a really traumatic nightmare I had about cowboy robots (very westworld) but they were chasing after me + were trying to flay me + kill me because I was speaking Arabic. It was really horrible, but the submission came around the same time as that dream, so I wrote about it. I’m working on a book with a friend of mine at the moment, + I’m excited about writing more! It will be a wee anthology of poems.

9. Leading on from that, is there a particuar author or text you find yourself revisiting, if so, who or what, and why?


A hard question as I LOVE FICTION!! If anyone reading this has any recommendations please get in touch as I love reading. I think my go to author + text is definitely Absent Presence by Mahmoud Darwish. I am constantly floored by this text. I bought it accidentally a few year ago in France (also why are there barely any Arab focused bookshops in the UK lol), but yeah, its become one of my favourites ever. I’m normally a weirdly quick reader but this text took me about 6 months. Here is one my my fave excerpts: “Not love, you say, because one love is not like another, there is no definition of the power of the attraction which uproots a being far from his nature, so he does not ask about his self, which is far away, or about his freedom, which is close to being a voluntary slavery: “I belong to you.” By the fickle quality of hair in the wind, mountains are moved from their places. With two open lips, cherry orchards ripen out of season, with the interpretation of a meaningless word, you are seated like a king on a throne of dust.”

Thanks so much for having me! Emii


Emii Alrai is an artist based in Leeds. You can find them on Instagram at @emiialrai and at emiialrai.com.