Ayman Kaake & Anna Kiparis — Homage.

Ayman Kaake & Anna Kiparis — Homage.

In Patricia Engel’s novel, It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, she writes, “…all immigrants are artists because they create a life, a future, from nothing but a dream. The immigrant’s life is art in its purest form.” And if ever there was an artistic manifestation of exactly that sentiment, it might just be Homage, a new collaborative show about to open at Off the Kerb Gallery in Collingwood.

Midnight Sol, Anna Kiparis. Courtesy of the artist, All Rights Reserved.

Artists Ayman Kaake and Anna Kiparis, both photographers, are together, this November, exploring for themselves — and helping us as viewers to better understand — what the essence of home is.

Homage combines two individual bodies of work to tell one over-arching story. Kaake’s evocative series is made up of self-portraits created in his trademark photo-artistic stylings, meant to immerse audiences in the desperate and isolating journeys of refugees, forced to leave behind their beloved homes.

Kiparis’ collection is a captivating series of Melbourne night-scapes which examine the strangeness of post-immigration suburban life. 

Nouh, Ayman Kaake. Courtesy of the artist, All Rights Reserved.

We chatted with Anna and Ayman recently about their upcoming show, how it all came to be, and why this remarkable new exhibition of theirs is so important —

First things first — tell us a little bit about your respective selves.
Anna Kiparis: I am a Melbourne-born visual artist who uses the photographic medium as a platform to understand the world. I have been drawn to what is considered valuable content within a photograph since I was a teenager and find this exploration to be an integral part of how I create images.

I also work commercially in the fields of architecture, industrial, documentary, and journalism photography. Coming from this diverse background allows me to artistically develop in an organic manner, as all specialities lend themselves to the other, which ultimately trickle down into my artwork.

This particular body of work Homage is a collection of photo-surreal landscape explorations of suburbia. Taking the ordinary out of the banal realm to create something visually captivating. To reinterpret urban landscapes that are generally overlooked and place them on a pedestal for genuine consideration.

An examination of the strangeness of post-immigration suburban life investigated through night photographs of Melbourne, and the homes built to house those complex lives. As a first-generation child to immigrant parents, this is an offering of images of the settled, decades after leaving their respective countries.

Demographically it has evolved over the years from a point of focus on the western suburbs — which I still feel is underrepresented, and often misrepresented — to now include the greater areas of Melbourne.

Ayman Kaake: Born in Tripoli, Lebanon, I travelled to Australia in 2011 in pursuit of studying Visual Arts. I am a telecommunications engineer and cinematography graduate. 

I left behind my parents and eleven siblings as I set off on my artistic journey. This ultimately led me to major in printmaking and analogue photography.

In 2014, I bought a digital camera. My passion for cinema and photography eventually morphed and developed into digital art pieces that delve into the dreamlike world of personal experiences, emotional turmoil, and the complexities of isolation that follow with starting a new life from the ground up. In 2016, I completed a Diploma of Photo Imaging.

Your new show, Homage, is a collaborative one. How did you two meet, and how did the show come together?
Kiparis: We met whilst completing our Diploma of Photo-imaging at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. Our friendship forged on the basis of our politically incorrect senses of humour and love of Mars Bars.

The show came together over the need to say goodbye to our respective bodies of work. We have been working on them for a couple of years, so it was time to give them a new life. There’s no point having them for our eyes only. They were created to be shared.

Kaake: The main reason I went back to do a Diploma of Photo-imaging was to establish friendships and connections in the arts field. And I think I have succeeded in building a great friendship with Anna. The proof is in our upcoming collaborative show. I like to think it’s a bonus that Anna compliments my personality and work.

Courtesy of Anna Kiparis, All Rights Reserved.

The series’ each display two quite starkly juxtaposed expressions growing out of what is ultimately one foundational idea — home. Being forced to leave, and the making a new one. How would you say one speaks to the other? Are they two parts of the same story?
Kiparis: I think they speak to each other in the form of how at the very heart of all us, we ultimately want to feel safe, secure and comfortable within our surroundings. I think my work speaks more to the mood and structural representation of a home, whereas Ayman’s work revolves around the dreamlike and internal state of an ideal home. And, as we know, not every structure is stable, and not every dream comes true.

They certainly can be two parts to the same story. Home can be an abstract concept when not taking into account that our individual perspective relies heavily on which part of the world we come from, and which cultural background we happen to be born in. Every influence comes into play when we talk about the Idea of Home, and it is up to the individual to figure out what home is to them.

Kaake: Anna said it all — there is no more to add to it!

The title is interesting as well — what’s the meaning behind it?
Kiparis: The title is a genuine mark of respect for the journeys taken by those in search of a better life, and a better home. Whether it was leaving behind the comfort of the familiar or fleeing from the dangers of war we wanted to pay homage to the sheer courage of dreaming of more.

All credit goes to Ayman for the title. We were talking about our images and our vision, and for the life of us we couldn’t come up with a word to articulate how we individually felt about our respective pieces, that would also be fluid enough to articulate both. We both understood that the show was about the idea of what a home is. We then put it on ice for a while, both went travelling (separately), and when we got back, I received a message from Ayman that said ‘Our show is going to be called Homage’ — he had nailed it.

Kaake: My images are titled after real friend’s names that were escaping war and seeking safety. Inspired by true stories through a community of friends who have travelled by boat to Australia (and other countries), harbouring dreams of a better life for themselves. A friend (a Syrian refugee) once told me “We are not alive we are just surviving” and this always stayed with me. These stories that have been shared and the loved ones I have lost are the driving force behind these composite art pieces. I created the series to pay Homage to all the people who didn’t want to play the war game. Everyone deserves to be safe, and everyone deserves safety in their home.

Anna illustrates in her images the home structures; safe, peaceful yet at the same time isolated.

The show is obviously a very timely one. Why is it important, and what do you hope viewers will take away with them?
Kiparis: For me personally, I feel that we are conditioned to take things for granted by our consumerism culture. Human struggles and lifestyle progression that we once considered extraordinary is dismissed as something diminutive almost overnight. I think we need to sit with the extraordinary part for a little while longer.

Kaake: Unfortunately, we live in a very sad, greedy world, and that’s what makes our work very timely or even timeless. The definition of a refugee is someone who left the country because their hometown is war-torn. What I want to highlight most importantly is that a refugee is not a “someone”; they are a mother, a father, a teenager, a friend, a neighbour, a brother, a sister. If we could strip the noun of refugee as individualised to each person’s story, then we can look inwards and ask ourselves “what do they feel?”. That’s what I hope viewers will take away with them.

Huda, Ayman Kaake. Courtesy of the artist, All Rights Reserved.

Anna, your series explores Melbourne by night. Why night-time?
Kiparis: There is a shift in mood in me once the sun has gone down. I feel that this narrative really needs a voice. As an artist, I try to represent and interpret what I feel and experience as a whole. We are in daylight for half our time, and in moonlight for the other half. To recognise the transformation of the atmosphere in our surroundings in the dead of night is just important to our understanding of its beauty as it is in the daylight.

What, for you, was the most important thing that you wanted to capture and convey about post-immigration suburban life? 
Kiparis: There is a subconscious reason —whether I knew it or not at the time — for wanting to document each image. The scenes themselves spoke to me; to capture a quiet moment of reflection. To highlight the delicate little details that have been placed to decorate and cultivate the idea of a home. From the plants to the design of the exterior. I wanted to celebrate the stillness I found of the journey they had made.

Ayman, your images are photo-artistic self-portraits, which feature heavily over your body of work. What is it about self-portraiture that’s appealing to you as an artist?
Kaake: Coming to Australia brought out complexities of isolation that come along with starting a new life from the ground up. I was experimenting with these feelings through art. I had zero friends, I had all these dark emotions that are personal, and found that only I could capture them. That’s how I started doing self-portraits, it works as a kind of therapy for me. 

My friend’s stories affected me personally, and I want to share it with the world in the most artistic way as a thank you. A thank you for trusting me, making me part of their stories and with the assurance that their voice will be heard. In addition, with self-portraiture, you are not just the photographer you are the creator, model, art director, cinematographer and storyteller all in one.

Thornbury Milk Bar, Anna Kiparis. Courtesy of the artist, All Rights Reserved.

There’s a kind of dreamlike quality to your works that, particularly in this series, is mindfully balanced with that palpable sense of desperation and isolation. How do you manage to weigh one with the other, and why is that important to you?
Kaake: In Homage, I am featuring the people who were desperately looking for safety and security at home. They understand all too well that they will be letting go of the dreams they had built in their hometown and must adjust to the idea that some memories will remain buried there.

The older we get, the more attached to the past and separated from the present we become. We feel very isolated trying to fit in and adapt to a different culture and society. As a migrant, I have had to face many battles myself, so I feel it’s important for me to speak on behalf of them in this series.

What’s coming up next, for you both?
Kiparis: I have just returned from spending the month of September photographing New York City, so my next show is currently in its developmental stages for 2019. I prefer to let images sit for a while before beginning the process of editing, so once Homage is completed, that will be the next focus. I’m currently in talks of putting together a photographic project of Greece, so I’m really looking forward to the next chapter.

Kaake: I’m now expanding my Exulansis series, trying to make a book out of it and it’s about a tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it. And if all goes according to plan, another show by the end of next year.

Courtesy of Ayman Kaake, All Rights Reserved.

Thanks to Ayman and Anna for taking the time to chat with us.

Ayman Kaake and Anna Kiparis’ Homage will be on view at Off the Kerb from November 8 to 22, 2018. 

You can follow Ayman Kaake and see more of his work on Instagram and his website. You can also find Anna Kiparis on Instagram and see more of her work on her website.

For more, visit offthekerb.com.au.