Up Close and Personal with Ingeborg Wissel
For our first blog post of the New Year, intrepid writer and aesthetician Naima Rashid, interviews artist Ingeborg Wissel exclusively for Jeddah Blog…
Ingeborg is a woman who’s trotting across the globe at 71. She did her Masters at the age of 43 in a class full of 20 year olds. I don’t know what’s more inspiring, she or her art.
Jeddah Blog had a little chat with her about the experiences and inspirations that defined her work. We share some excerpts with you here. We’d also like to thank Ingeborg for her time, and her daughter Annette for her translation throughout.
Ingeborg, tell us about your relation with Saudi Arabia. How did you end up painting in Jeddah?
It was thanks to my daughter, Annette, who lives here. I visited her some years back for three months. That was when I painted my series on Jeddah.
So, what was your first reaction? Culture shock?
Quite the contrary. As soon as I landed here, I felt this sense of peace, not peace, something deeper than that, a sense of déjà vu, as if I had been here before, as if I was returning home by coming here. I felt completely at ease here, completely at ease to soak up my impressions of the place and bring them to life on canvas.
I see a keen sense of place in your works. All the journeys reflected in your work, China, Djerba, was it choice or happy accident?
It was entirely by choice. I ‘sought’ the places out myself. I wanted to go and explore these different cultures, and then represent them in my art. I love world cultures, I love making contact with what’s foreign, what’s new. Once I’ve spent enough time with a place, I feel a sense of having ‘tamed’ it. That liberates me for my art.
Any particular order of choice …?
Let’s say these were countries I had always wanted to go to, so when I got the opportunity, I just started ticking them off my list. I just know that I love to travel and experience different cultures. It could be anywhere. I’d love to go to India…
Or Pakistan, for that matter?
Or Pakistan, why not?!
So, Ingeborg, what are your strongest impressions from China, for example?
When I was in China, my head was filled with pictures of bicycles. They were so many of them, they were like an endless ocean. You saw them all the time! What I found remarkable was all that they used it for, the things they would actually transport on bicycles, towers and towers of things. It was crazy. Something that was visually completely foreign to me as a European. I also remember the pace of development in China, how before my very eyes, whole towns and villages were torn down to create high rise hotels.
You seem concerned about the new replacing the old here in Saudi Arabia as well, I’m referring to your picture with the cars blindly covering the façade of the old building.
Yes, all I see in Jeddah is just cars and more cars. There are these beautiful old buildings in Balad that nobody seems to care about preserving or restoring, but the cars just keep adding on.
Like the bicycles in China, endless…
Yes, it’s a sign of the direction in which they’re heading.
Your work seems to be divided in geographical zones. Do you finish one series, and then move on to another place and another series, or do you simultaneously tackle several places together?
I need to completely finish a series related to one place before I can move on. I generally need to live with my subject for two to three years. I like to absorb it so that when I paint, it feels like I’m painting with every atom of my body. I don’t move on to the next subject unless I’ve treated the first one as much as or as well as I want to. In a way, the subject has to leave me before I can leave it.
I notice that Europe doesn’t figure very prominently in your work. Did it fail to inspire you, then?
Far from that! I have painted, worked, travelled, and studied extensively all over Europe, in Austria, Czech Republic, France, Italy. It just so happens that this particular body of work on display was selected to represent the Arab way of life, for obvious reasons.
Is there a story behind the colour red?
Well, I like to have a dash of it around me, though not ON me, mind you! I have an 18 year old red car. Apart from that, I just love the color red, it affirms life for me. It somehow stands its own.
I love your red series, the dancing leaves.
Traditionally, when a leaf withers, it is considered to be dead. I don’t think so. As its boundaries begin to curl, I think it mutates into a new form paradigm where its periphery becomes wavy instead of straight. The change of form renews its existence. That’s why I chose the color red, it’s as if the leaf is dancing back to life.
Ingeborg, have you passed on the artistic bug to the next generation?
I’m afraid not. My daughter is a disaster with art! But I can dare to hope that the gene might skip a generation. My grandchildren seem much more nimble-fingered.
Any last words, Ingeborg, before we take leave?
All over the world, I’ve seen people letting go of their heritage all too easily, bringing down old, dilapidated buildings instead of restoring them. China, Djerba, Saudi Arabia, it’s the same story everywhere. This disconnect with the past is disturbing. I wish to tell people that they must, WE all must hold on to our heritage, value it dearly, and preserve any vestiges left thereof. It’s too precious to wipe out, it’s irreplaceable. They must understand that and remember it.