Sa'dia Rehman on Insight

Rachael Crouch, Creative Content & PR Intern

Feb 23, 2023

Standing inside a warmly lit living space, a person holds in front of their face a black-and-white foldout brochure with cutout text

Before they put the finishing touches on the world premiere of their newest exhibition, the river runs slow and deep and all the bones of my ancestors / have risen to the surface to knock and click like the sounds of trees in the air, Wex Artist in Residence Sa’dia Rehman completed another inquisitive, thought-provoking work for the center.

Acting in collaboration with the Wex’s department of Learning & Public Practice, Rehman designed an exciting new edition of Insight, an annually published resource for educators that uses imagination and dialogue to inspire ways of thinking about Wex programming for classroom use. The multifaceted nature of Rehman’s design—from the decision to create exclusively in black and white to a cutout phrase that’s open-ended both literally and figuratively—has the potential to ignite endless creation and discussion. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rehman to discuss the work behind Insight, their upcoming exhibition, and what their residency at the Wex means to them.

While getting started, Rehman says, “I looked at previous brochures at the OSU Fine Arts Library, but they weren’t necessarily artist collaborations in the nature of my own.” They wanted to reimagine the physical form and color of the pamphlet, an idea ignited by the accordion-style pamphlet designed by former Wex artist-in-residence Bobby T. Luck.

“Cutouts are often in my work, as well as stenciling,” Rehman explains. “I grabbed construction paper of many different colors, and folded them into accordions.” Experimentation with different forms and sizes of paper further contributed to the brainstorming of the final project.

A person stands in a warmly lit living space with a table littered with construction paper and art supplies. They hold a small, colorful paper collage.

Sa'dia Rehman, images courtesy of the artist

There’s also a dynamic, interactive moment to Rehman’s pamphlet that transcends mere engagement with the text. Its ornately detailed designs and illustrations were deliberately left black and white. “First, I wanted it to be black and white because a lot of my work exists in that color palette,” they explain, “but I began to look at it as a place of creative exploration—this pamphlet could act as a place for someone to color, draw, or fill in the gaps I’m leaving behind.”

As educators engage with the contents of the Insight pamphlet while they explore the new exhibitions in the Wex’s galleries, they may begin to see parallels in thematic elements between the brochure and what Rehman has on view in the river runs slow.

“I’m not sure that my exhibition [with the Wex] was on the table when I was in the initial stages of creating the Insight brochure,” Rehman tells me, “When I was brainstorming the stenciling and the illustrations of the brochure, I realized that my designs were starting to resemble works in my exhibition.”

The river runs slow discusses the history of Rehman’s family’s displacement from an area of Pakistan along the Indus River, examining the intricate juxtaposition of physical erosion and the collective trauma of displacement. “I went to Pakistan in March and took a lot of photographs and videos,” they recall. “Some of those videos that footage was used to create a two-channel video installations. The other works in the exhibition are inspired by the photographs and the feeling of being there. I made Insight before the March visit, so the imagery I was working with was from imagination, from internet searches and partly family stories. I could see now that a lot of the imagery comes from those photographs and rock formations, and I realized that the lines I was creating for Insight were starting to look like the sedimentary rock formations I photographed at the dam.”

A larger connection between Insight and Rehman’s exhibition can be found in the pamphlet’s provocative, open-ended cutout phrase. “I started to think of the statement, ‘What do we build with the wreckage?’ And thinking of what it would look like with this imagery,” Rehman tells me. “Once I thought of that phrase, the drawing for the pamphlet felt more intuitive. I kept thinking about the photographs that I had taken in Pakistan, specifically of the hydroelectric dam. For instance, on the back side of the pamphlet, you can see electric lines that reflect those that are visible in the photographs.”

They particularly emphasized the deeper meaning of the phrase. “I wanted a balance of hope and also destruction or hopelessness, and I think that that statement captures and carries that,” they explain, “The world is falling apart, but there are ways of survival and resilience, always. What do we have to pick up and what do we rebuild with what we carry? Climate change is happening—it’s real.”

There’s additional meaning in how the phrase physically manifests: “It’s cut into the paper, so there’s something about the absence and presence of this statement,” Rehman tells me. “You’re looking through and you’re reflecting as you move it. It becomes a viewfinder through a barrier.”

To Rehman, the concept of visibility is an element that carries beyond Insight and their spring exhibition—it is something that carries through to the very position as a Wex residency artist.

When reflecting on the process of working with the Wex, Rehman tells me that the center has given them a bigger artistic platform altogether. “Here, there is more visibility because of the many years and connections and community that the Wex has built,” they say, “It’s definitely a bigger platform for me.” Despite that, they still feel that they have the ability to be playful and creative in their work.

“At first, I didn’t realize how big the Wex staff is,” they admit between laughter, “I got to collaborate with so many people from so many different departments. This position is also very financially supportive, and that is a massive change. It really makes a difference in scale and access; it elevates the work. Also monetary support brings time and space. more and pushes me to think more about the materials that I use now that I have access to more.”

These opportunities inspired Rehman to create differently. “For this exhibition, I had assistants and fabricators, and I experimented with new materials, like metal,” they say. “I also found myself getting more and more interdisciplinary, as I enjoyed collaborating with the Wex’s Film/Video Studio.”

One thing is for sure, this platform and playground for endless creative and personal growth has shown fruitful returns, especially in Rehman’s Insight pamphlet and their excellent, profound exhibition.