After we previewed Herakut‘s “Loving The Exiled” exhibition at 941 Geary in San Francisco last week, I was lucky enough to get a quick chat with Hera – the female half of the dynamic duo – and to get real deep in this Q&A about their twisted symbolism, wonderful partnership and the luxury of doing art. Here are some shots of the opening night as well as a few great portraits, photographed by Abby Wilcox.
LF: Tell us a little bit about the story behind this new show. Where did you pull the inspiration for the figures/symbols involved?
HERA: We came across poetry by exiled writers from Azerbaijan, from Kurdistan, Sudan and Iran, like a strong woman named Mehrangiz Rassapour. Their work fit so well to our style, because they, too, used very fragile, flowery imagery to describe some dark, unpleasant topics. Just like we do. That is how an exiled thought can build a bridge to reach out to the strangers around.
LF: Does a subject inspire your technique, or is it the other way around?
HERA: Thoughts are first, techniques are second. With every medium we choose, work is done, once the message is told. We don’t see the point in adding anything decorative. We are storytellers, not decorators.
LF: I read in a previous interview about the way you met; a day later you were painting together, and a few years later you were a couple. Can we call this artistic love at first sight? Who noticed who first? (How) has love affected your creative process / dialogue?
HERA: We were only a couple by accident, as we confused our love to create something together with a romantic love. We were best friends right away. That was the trick. And the gift. We have the same stupid humor. Exactly the same, and that is the foundation Herakut stands on. When it comes to our love lives, we both are in happy relationships with our “real life” partners. And then there is the “art world”, in which we’re like siblings, like twins really. And just like brother and sister we have crazy fights, too. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But over those past 8 years of working together almost every week, we are better at keeping a healthy balance. Plus, having our partners and a social live away from the art scene is probably the recipe to a healthy relationship with our work. It prevents you from being caught up with ourselves, like artists tend to get.
LF: How do you work the gender dynamics in your duo?
HERA: We are the opposite in so many ways, that the gender difference is just a footnote. Akut was born in East Germany when the Wall was still up and he was raised by his socialist parents and a socialist life-style. Hera’s background is all pro-West. In fact, it is not even all German, as her father is a Pakistani immigrant. Akut would be at risk as to be called a Nazi while Hera would be at risk to be assaulted by them. Theoretically. And then there is the difference between Akut being a small-towner and Hera the big-city-girl. Akut was a younger child, Hera the older. Akut is patient and diplomatic, Hera is always in a hurry and pretty opinionated. Really, so many things have defined us apart from the obvious male-female difference, that you cannot account our actions to our different genders. Most difficulties we face come from cultural not biological backgrounds. Let’s see what the future holds for us, because things will definitely change once there are real kids involved – let’s see when that happens.
LF: Being world travelers, how does any given city influence your craft? Is your work a product of your environment?
HERA: Keep your channels open and take in what you see, then pick up a tool to let it out again, intuitively to the most parts, but with a little bit of a filter going, that is your own ethics and your own style. Our Herakut filter does not allow us to paint cruelty although we might have seen it. We don’t want to let that out to spread. Neither sexism, racism, hatred. We have seen it, taken it in, but will not put it out there again unless it comes with a twist that allows the victims to be the victors. So, yes, our work is a product of our environment, but is never purely documentary, instead is always filtered and twisted in a Herakut way.
LF: One quote or piece of advice / wisdom that made you grow as artists. Any extraordinary anecdote you’d like to share from one of your trips?
HERA: Our most memorable moments of us being proud of a piece of work, where when this work put us in situations that we so odd and so unforeseen that they are truly priceless. These encounters always deal with the essentials in life, in fact the opposite of it: death. So it was on a trip to Rome – Akut was asked to paint a portrait of a graffiti artist who had just passed away. He didn’t know him, just did it anyway, and when he was finished painting and he turned away from the wall, he noticed that the entire family of this graffiti writer had gathered to meet him and thank him and hug him and cry tears in his arms. In fact, there are quite a few situations where people who have suffered the loss of a loved one found at least a tiny spark of happiness or hope or something looking at our work. What a wonderful thought. To be a band-aid. That is a pretty good reason for creating art. Maybe the only justifiable reason, for it is such a luxurious job to do – art. And every artist should use his talent to support his environment. To be only doing it for yourself cannot be enough. We strongly believe that your own happiness only comes through others and being in a healthy, loving and giving environment. Give to receive. Never put art first. Put people first.