Alumnae Spotlight: Dahlia Elsayed

November 11, 2016 by

Dahlia Elsayed first came to WSW in 2004 as a Studio Grant resident to work in the printmaking studio. At that time she was painting large scale works with strong, saturated colors and wanted to expand her practice by learning to screen print.

“I was really appreciative to be immersed in a small and smart community of women artists,” she says. “There were great exchanges. I also remember driving around a lot, being afraid of deer and animals, and eating ice cream at Stewarts.”


One of Dahlia’s recent cartographic paintings

Before returning to work at CUNY LaGuardia Community College for the fall semester, Dahlia spent this summer screen printing in Sweden and the Hudson Valley. First, she was an artist-in-residence for WSW’s program in Malmö, then visited Rosendale to teach for the Summer Art Institute (SAI). We had the opportunity to catch up with Dahlia and ask her about artmaking, teaching, and Sweden!

Dahlia, you came back to WSW this August to teach Contemporary Cartography for the SAI. When did you first become interested in mapmaking?

Student work from Contemporary Cartography.

My interest in mapping started with diagrammatic forms I was using for writing–flowcharts, narrative maps etc. I think from there my early work started using floor plans and aerial views. The map forms were really good vehicles to present visual narratives and it kind of just went from there, which opened up into all the ways we read and trust maps- these are super interesting starting points for painting.

When you were a WSW resident in 2004, you mapped and charted your experience of staying in Rosendale by referencing physical places and quirky traits in the area. Do you record these things for humor, to capture an emotional response, or do these documentations serve a more analytical purpose?

Part of the way I get comfortable in a new place is by exploring and note-taking, much of which does not end up in an artwork, but some of it does. Sometimes it’s not any big event/feeling that’s being tracked, but the smaller more mundane sights and exchanges that stand in as a metaphor for something larger, the personal presented as more universal- an interaction in the grocery aisle that represents a larger world experience. I’m glad it sometimes reads as humor- since it often doesn’t start there!


A map made during Dahlia’s 2004 Studio Grant residency.

Did students in your SAI workshop take this process in a direction you did not expect?

The participants came to this workshop not to learn a specific material skill/technique, instead it was more like a studio seminar on what the possibilities of using mapping and data tracking as part of their practice. Each person in the group had something they were working on that could benefit from thinking about mapping more critically, and it was great to challenge ourselves with variations on presentation or processes.

So, cartography, diagrams, and data tracking—the end product is usually a print, painting, or installation. Your MFA is actually in Creative Writing; how did visual art find its way into your practice?

Text and Image are very close places in my head, and many parts of the processes of each overlap. I was keeping illustrated journals since I was a kid, and reading graphic novels and the visual aspect of story was always present even when I was focusing on writing. At some point in grad school there was a shift more towards the visual, and I was lucky enough to get a studio in the art building and access to professors.

In my work I think about the image and text being simultaneously read, and the way that both elements can modify the understanding of the other.

Dahlia leading a critique in Contemporary Cartography over the summer.

Right before you arrived for SAI, you were the at the KKV Grafik Studio for the WSW Studio Residency in Malmö, Sweden to work on a new series of prints. How did being in a different country inform your work?

The residency at KKV was so productive and awesome. One of the really thrilling parts about working outside of the US is navigating language, which is such a big part of the way I work even when I’m in the US, so it added an extra layer to work with (and have you seen Swedish? There are a lot of letters!) The project I went to work on Atlas of Nowhere took some turns and twists along the way, and I’m really happy with the project.


Print studio at KKV Grafik Malmö

You learned screen printing during your 2004 WSW residency and worked with it again in Malmö. What can you tell us about the two experiences?

I am not the best technical printer, so that had not changed, but I felt more confident in the mistakes- by that I mean I was able to work without some fixed idea of perfection in mind- that was very liberating. It allowed me to improvise while at the vacuum table, making split second decisions rather than doing an identical edition.

Also, there were 19 hours of sunlight a day in Malmö in July, which was different than November in Rosendale. It’s a totally different kind of energy.

In your opinion, what must future Malmö Residency participants do while they’re there?

Work, ride bikes, have coffee, work more, eat cheese and herring, work some more, have more coffee, then go back to work.

Duly noted. Now that you’re back, what new projects do you have in the works?

I switch up between painting, print and installation work, which is mostly determined by whatever ideas I’m working with and thinking about the most logical form. Right now in the studio I’m mostly working on painting, and doing some planning for upcoming shows and also working on putting together a book of Atlas of Nowhere, the series of prints from Malmö.

Be sure to check out #FirstFriday on the blog to see what Dahlia and our amazing alumnae are up to and where they are exhibiting! The Studio Residency in Malmö is a four-week artist residency every July; applications are due in September 1. Both printmaking and sculpture studios are available. Last but not least, keep an eye out for a sneak peek of 2017 SAI classes coming soon!