The Coffin Factory first discovered Drew Tal on an art hunt one day, in preparation for Issue Four. Upon stumbling into the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery, where his photographs are represented in New York, we were immediately drawn to the faces he photographed; they were a complex array of sadness and strength, of beauty in captivity. In celebration of his newest exhibit, Worlds Apart (running until December 14th), we wanted to find out a little more about the artist and his inspiration for these powerful photographs.
The Coffin Factory: How is Worlds Apart a different direction for you? What attracts you to The East—particularly to Islamic culture, in this case?
Drew Tal: Much of my art is inspired by my comprehensive travels through our planet, and Worlds Apart is the latest expression of those journeys. In this instance, my inspiration came from my travels to Morocco and Jordan as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, all Muslim countries. The primary focus of the works is my point of view vis-a-vis Islam, principally women in traditional Islamic society. Seeing these countries and observing the local people (mainly the women) in their unique garb going about their daily routines, or while they’re praying, celebrating or protesting, prompted most of the images in this series.
The Coffin Factory: Why don’t you want your work to be understood as a critique on the veil? You seem set on being apolitical.
Drew Tal: In my art, I choose to be an observer, not a judge, therefore, in this case, I do not criticize or interpret the practice of the wearing of the veil. I am well aware that to many in the West that practice provokes controversy, questioning the authenticity, intention and purpose of the veil. Whether wearing the veil is a sign of devout expression, or due to some enforced religious law, or perhaps as a symbol of religious identity, or worn as an accessory to hide behind, it has cultural validity.
Perhaps because I grew up around Islam (the city of my childhood had a large Muslim population), I find that practice to be straightforward and uncomplicated. I simply find the veil to be an integral element of my subject’s identity and uniqueness. I am not compelled to examine, explain or politicize the purpose of the veil’s presence and in my art I prefer to leave it to the viewer’s interpretation.
The Coffin Factory: Your subjects are mostly covered, but have openness in their eyes; your work is beautiful, but has a sadness to it…
Drew Tal: I appreciate your keen eye and pointed observation. Openness, beauty and sadness, amongst others qualities, are essential characteristics of eyes I look for when choosing subjects to pose in front of my camera. I am extremely selective about my subjects and oftentimes it has taken me many months to find the ideal model who can provide the artistic expression I am seeking.
I create only what is esthetically pleasing to me and beauty is a prime component in my work, even when the topic I elect to address is the antithesis of beauty, such as social injustice, human suffering or war.
The Coffin Factory: What are you hoping to achieve with your art?
Drew Tal: I’d like to explain that I create art first and foremost for myself, neither to please nor provoke others. There is no aim, agenda or need to achieve… I listen solely to my own inner artistic voice and ultimately aim to fulfill my own artistic need for expression.
My art is a reflection of the way I view life. At times, it reflects harmony, beauty, and serenity; at other times, it is an expression of grief and hardship and at times it is a study of religion or spirituality. Lately, I find that social injustice is very much on my mind and I have dedicated several of my works to this topic.
In Worlds Apart I highlight humanity’s diversity and underline the many differences between cultures, traditions and religions. My hope is that my viewers will recognize that, in fact, I am celebrating, not criticizing those differences through beauty and that a positive message of hope will resonate.
The Coffin Factory: You are “creating a medium between photography and painting” with your images—can you talk a bit about your process?
Drew Tal: The process is what I term digital fusion. With the use of various digital tools, I merge and ‘fuse’ my photography with elements of art and texture. While at times it involves merging only 2 images together, at other times it could involve 20+ images fused together. For example, photographs of elements I have taken while traveling to faraway destinations became infused layers of texture and depth in my art. Decaying facades in Vietnam, Inca walls in Peru, gold Buddha images in Burma, abandoned temple-carvings in India…all assume a fresh, new role. Patiently, I have been merging those travel images with my traditional human portraiture. The process is a challenging and a very time consuming one, but it gives me the most artistic satisfaction.
The Coffin Factory: You have series with Asian/Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian themes, but not Judaism and Israel, where you’re from. Why is this?
Drew Tal: Very interesting question. Truthfully, my Jewish/Israeli heritage has not overtly manifested itself in any of my art thus far. My inspiration and motivation for the works in Worlds Apart were solely focused on Muslim and Indian imagery, as in my previous series, Facing East, when my inspiration was focused on Far East imagery. Over the years I realized that I go (and subsequently my art goes) through distinct ‘periods’. Conceivably, the ‘Jewish period’ is in the cards for the future?