Iman Issa thoroughly embodies a 21st-century template of the conceptual artist: first posing knotty philosophical questions, then trying to clarify and work them out through creating objects and installations.
Issa grew up in Cairo in a household that supported analytical thinking, her father a physician and her mother a chemistry professor. As a college student, Issa was initially attracted to philosophy and political science, and completed her degree in philosophy from the American University in Cairo in 2001.
At the age of 19, however, Issa won a scholarship to study at the University of Washington in Seattle, and, in what she describes as “kind of a lucky thing,” was given a job as a guard in the Henry Art Gallery. She didn’t know very much about contemporary art at the time, and was amazed to find that it could accommodate difficult philosophical questions she had been long considering. “All of a sudden I realized that it was a field…where all of the things I was interested in could come together,” she says.
When she returned to Cairo, she immersed herself in making art, through photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, and printmaking. In 2005, Issa was accepted into Columbia University’s MFA program. She became very interested in the question of how to convey one’s personal relationship to places, figures, and events that are collectively familiar. This led her to working with monuments and memorials, and inventing her own as a way to explore how objects made with a personal, subjective vision might have collective use. At the foundation of this work is a query about the difference between experience and recognition.
Her explorations have earned Issa shows in prestigious institutions and numerous awards, and Issa continues to explore how to use objects to communicate to pose the crucial question: How do we recognize what we think we know?
Awards and Accomplishments
- DAAD Artist in Residence Award (2017)
- Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award
- Abraaj Group Art Prize (2013)
- Han Nefkens Foundation-MACBA Contemporary Art Award (2012)