Artist Feature: Dahlia Dandashi

by Nisha Btesh February 13, 2019

Artist Feature: Dahlia Dandashi

Stumbling across Dahlia's IG Account, @dahliadandashi, was TRULY like falling in love at first sight. I mean literally, all of her creative content is dripping in overexposed vibrant hues. Needless to say, my antennas were up. But there was something beyond her bold editorial lewking feed that had my attention. As I scrolled further, I began to notice self-portraits woven in amongst her other photographs. And... well I'm a sucker for a good self-portrait. HELL, even a bad one! There's something so magnetic to me about that level of honest self-exploration, I couldn't pull myself away from needing to learn more about this woman and her work. 

After doing my due diligence I came to find that this commitment to self-exploration would be a consistent theme with Dahlia and a quality that I find to be SO disarming in any creative. She uses her work to unapologetically push and question the boundaries that have been forced upon her through traditional Arab culture, and today's American society. As Dahlia dynamically shifts from one creative role to another, from in front of the lens to behind it, you will become hooked by this captivating dance between what is her subject and what is her muse. To learn more about this powerfull artistic voice, keep reading girlfriend...

Who is Dahlia? Where are you from? How did you become the woman you are today?

I'm Dahlia, a creative content producer, and photographer. I was born in Houston, Texas, but grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. My parents are Lebanese and Syrian and immigrated to the United States years ago. I spent my youth living in Dubai, moving back to Texas for university (UT Austin...hook 'em horns!!!) Now, I live primarily in Houston once again, with the occasional trip to Austin for freelance work.

 How did I become the woman I am today? I'd say a significant amount of trial and error, self-realization, acceptance and forgiveness.

 What is the message you're sending into the universe with your work? Why do you feel so strongly about said message?

As an Arab-American living in the West, I try to challenge the expectations that were pressed on me by tradition and culture growing up. There was always something being preached; you must be decent, you must dress decently, you must not drink, you must not have boyfriends, you must not say too much, you must not show too much skin, you must have these views, you must not have these views, etc. I know a lot of Arabs, women specifically, struggle with some or all of these expectations, so I strive to have my writing and photography confront these ideals. 

My personal work (mainly my writing) focuses heavily on the themes of identity, womanhood, belonging and nostalgia. I've struggled with navigating who I am over the last few years because, in the past, I either felt not Arab enough or not American enough. Growing up in Dubai, I was fortunate to visit Syria, my motherland, and Lebanon, my fatherland, frequently. The turmoil in Syria has made my family unable to visit since 2011, and the distance to the Middle East from the U.S. already makes it difficult to travel to the other side of the world. I constantly struggle with the inability to experience and share these places as much as I'd like to, establishing both a literal and allegorical disconnect. 

I hope I inspire Arab women to feel liberated and powerful in their forms of expressions. There is no right or wrong, and no person, institution, tradition or culture that should dictate how you express yourself. Keep making things that embody who you are; when you're able to project yourself wholeheartedly in your work, it shows. We are the antidote!

You have such strong aesthetic. Who or what inspires your vibe most?

The short version: People, places, colors, patterns. All these things either coalesce or stand independently depending on where I am or what I see, but each of these shape and narrate my work. 

The long version? Read on.

Answer one is where and how I grew up. Dubai had a profound influence on the way I see the world and the things around me. Being part of a heavy expatriate population, surrounded by a mix of international friends fueled my passion for wanting to tell the stories of people from all of walks of life, religions, nationalities, etc. The proximity to the beach and the desert in a steaming hot (literally) city is why I love the ocean and summertime weather so much. I believe I feel most inspired when I'm walking around town on a sunny day when the sky's blue where I can truly take notice of colors, patterns, and shapes.

Answer two: my mother. It wouldn't be fair if I didn't credit her fashion as an influence on my obsession with colors (hi mom!) She was famous for her over-the-top, multi-colored outfits back in the day (matching pantsuits, flowers pinned to t-shirts, sequin jackets, intense blue eye shadow) and I think that somehow stuck with me. 

Current photo inspiration: Maurizio Cattelan and his ToiletPaper Magazine publication (ok, always), Elinor Carucci, Larry Sultan

Current brand inspiration: Tania George Designs, La Come Di, Sayran

Writing inspiration: Sylvia Plath, Nizar Qabbani, Etel Adnan, Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Khalil Gibran

Art inspiration: Etel Adnan, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Wassily Kandinsky

 

 

Let's talk cash! What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to up and coming photographers in regards to turning their passions into paychecks?

Keep shooting! It not only provides you with content to share to potential clients, but it also helps you get better with your camera and develop your unique, personal style. Also, if you want to be a full-time photographer, it's crucial to make and keep connections and reach out to people to know you're willing to work (and work hard) for them. Also, TYPE UP THAT INVOICE AND SEND IT OVER. Make sure you get paid! 

What do you want the younger female artists coming up behind you to know about you, your journey, and the art industry in general?

The truth is, it's always going to be arduous as a woman in any industry. We always have to work harder to be noticed or to be taken seriously. Let people know that you will not only be taken seriously but that you can do the work and do it better than anyone else. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a female artist to date? What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made and how did you overcome them?

Personally, it's been accepted that these are my passions and this is my trajectory. I was always told to pursue a career that would "make money" (doctor, lawyer, engineer) to the point where I actually took the LSAT (no, I'm not kidding!) After briefly flirting with that idea, I realized that it was not what I wanted to do and that I wanted to live a creative life. I wish I had figured this out sooner. 

Though I occasionally still do this now, it was the constant habit of comparing my success to the success of others. I try to remember that we see ourselves through a vastly different lens than those around us and that we're all struggling with something in one way or another. Social media can be toxic if we use it incorrectly and we must remember that what we see is quite often surface level. Once you understand that everyone has their moment (and that yours may be different than those around you), it gets easier to continue working on your craft in the most efficient and forthright way.

 

What are your future plans for your work? Where do you see yourself going 1,3,5 years from now and how do you plan to get there?

I've loved freelancing these last few months. It's helped me hone and develop my style and passions and pushed me away from the work I didn't want to be doing. But, I'm hoping that after the new year, I'll get back to a full-time gig at a creative studio, agency or startup with likeminded people. And that doesn't necessarily mean in Texas (If you're hiring, hit me up!)

 I'm not really a planner, so I can't say I have a 5-year-plan. But I do know that at some point in the future, my goal is to open a creative co-working space or studio in the Middle East for Arab creatives. In the meantime, I hope to work in a place with like-minded people who care about nurturing ideas that focus on culture, community and anything unique.

 

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

To create at least one thing a day--even if it appears trivial. Jotting down thoughts, writing a poem, taking photos, editing a video, creating a mood board; all these things help activate and energize your brain and creativity, even if it doesn't seem like it does. 

Name some of your guilty pleasures.

Reading random Wikipedia pages late at night. I often spend hours on hours reading about weird things or creepy people and fall into a hole of links. Oh, and scarfing down a bag of Takkis.

To learn more about Dahlia and her work, please visit dahlia-dandashi.com




Nisha Btesh
Nisha Btesh

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