Monya Riachi is a multimedia artist, working with painting, collage, mixed media (sculptural works on canvas) and spatial installations. She has had a studio with ASC since July 2019. She has a Bachelor in Architecture. She has been pursuing painting for seven years. In the past two years Monya has focused on a more grounded and thematic approach. She has been accepted to the MFA program at the Glasgow School of Art for 2021 – 2023!
Is there a starting point for your art practice?
Over the last year the starting point has been events occurring in my home country Lebanon, and the representation of those events in social media, news, digital images.
What artists have been your greatest inspiration?
Mona Hatoum, Steve McQueen, Deborah Roberts, Rachel Whiteread, Rayyane Tabet have all been inspirational at different moments and in different ways.
What was the first artwork of note you remember making?
It was a painting I made in 2012 and the first time I painted alone (from around 2000 to 2006, when I was 10 to 16 years old, I would go to my school’s art teacher’s home on Saturdays throughout the summer, where she and her mum – both extraordinary women who I love dearly – ran small painting workshops, mostly in the European classical style). I hadn’t touched paint since 2006. When I did again in 2012, I came back to it almost accidentally. I was an architecture student at the time, overloaded with stress and a volatile emotional state, and came across an unused canvas stored in a corner at home and a few paint tubes. I propped the canvas on the desk in the bedroom I shared with a brother, shut the door and let myself go. The result was something completely new and intriguing to me – I guess you would describe it as ‘Abstract Expressionist’ style – and in that moment I discovered painting as a release, and as a medium that could convey an internal state.
Does architecture influence your painting?
Definitely, specifically the discipline of architecture and the way I experienced it at university, which was much more theoretical and critical than the architecture practiced in commercial firms where I have worked for the last few years. I think in my recent works, the methodology we gained in studying architecture; choosing an action or approach then going through with it rigorously and methodologically, that’s coming into my work I feel. And that’s helping me channel and talk about things that are so intense, bigger than life, like the blast, by isolating one element, and going into it microscopically. Equally, I’m really keen now to get into large spatial works: welding things, suspending things, hanging pieces etcetera.
What piece of music is a constant in your studio?
It depends on the day, the mood, and the part of the process in the conception of a piece – research, brainstorming, testing or executing. Asmahan, Khyam Allami, Led Zeppelin, Max Richter’s Vivaldi recompositions, Umm Kulthum, Ethiopian Jazz, have all been on repeat at one point or another.
What is that trip that you have always wanted to make?
Travelling through Lebanese villages and cities, and getting to know my country with the eyes and mind of an adult. I want to learn how the same dishes are made differently in different parts of the country. I suppose this trip is about confronting and addressing a fear that was part of my childhood, and food might be the vessel to do so.
Do you collect anything in particular?
I collect the grey hairs I cut from my head. I’m not sure if I’ll do anything with them, but it feels to me like they serve as a testament of time, which I have a panicky relationship with. I have previously collected dried rose petals, pieces of bark and also newspapers, which I’ve used in my artworks.
Is your artwork where you want it to be?
It has started to head there. There are many more things I want to test and try. I wonder if it will ever get to a definitive place I want it to be. I feel like that is an elusive place, whereas what is not yet realised is the driving factor to make new work.
How do you order your time?
I work a full-time job in architecture, so I try to make the time I spend in my studio on my practice sacred. I aim for at least a full day on the weekends (both days is ideal) and weekdays after 6 pm. The pandemic and lockdowns have really helped me invest most, even almost all, of my free time on my practice.
What’s your favourite meal?
This is a very difficult question! I can’t pick a dish, but I’d say the meal should involve aubergines, fiori di zuccha (zucchini flowers), tahini and pomegranate molasses. And almonds. In fact I might try to make a dish out of these flavours now!
What’s your fondest memory from a movie?
“Fond” doesn’t really work with my film choice here, but I’d say Steve McQueen’s “Shame” is probably the film that has been the most impacting . After watching it I was so mesmerised by how he was able to represent pain and beauty together in one piece.
Do you have a mantra?
As of very recently, I try to remind myself that discomfort and difficulties will be part of the process and a journey is not real without them.
Tell us about a piece you are currently working on.
I recently finished a painting – the first one after the Beirut blast – made using cut-outs from newspaper headlines from Annahar, a Lebanese daily paper published in Arabic. I had collected two weeks of the publication a few months before the blast, dating October 16 to October 30 2019, the early days of the October 17 Revolution. After the Beirut blast in August 2020, I was numbed for a while and couldn’t really paint in the way I knew. I picked up the stack of old newspapers and went through them, struck by the irony that only ten months prior the country was going through what felt like a turning point full of promise. Yet even throughout the period of the revolution, our politician’s names were recurring in the headlines like a curse that cannot be washed out – a curse that resulted in an apocalyptic and unfathomable destruction to half the city and the avoidable loss of over 200 human lives (the exact number is still unconfirmed). I went through the newspapers surgically cutting out the headlines, then classifying them by font size. It seemed to me that so much was said and it was all futile, our government had failed in protecting its citizens (were they ever trying?). The strips of headlines were placed on the painting vertically and grouped by font size, with no coherent meaning to the sentences, trickling down almost like rain or ash.
Is there any advice you were given that you would like to share?
That it is okay to be selfish with your time and spend it on what’s important to you.
What sources do you turn to for inspiration when you are creatively stuck?
I’ve found that reading about other artists’ approach to their practice and methodologies – more so than images of their final or complete artworks – helps unlock me when I am stuck.
What pastimes have you been entertaining yourself with in lockdowns?
Cooking! (could you guess?) and yoga, which I started at the beginning of the pandemic, and have developed a near addiction to (it keeps me sane and it’s definitely something I will keep with me beyond the lockdowns ).
Does place inform your work?
I get very stimulated by colours and textures specific to a place I visit on holidays. With the lockdown my studio has been the place from which I travel and I feel like the more I bring into it (collected images, newspapers, objects, books) the more raw material I have for new work.
Do you like mistakes?
If they work in the final outcome – why not! A lot of my work starts as a test or exploration without a definitive idea of what the outcome will look like, so I suppose there are many “mistakes” that form the final product.