thinking about / working on: Isabel Herguera


The series “thinking about / working on” features projects and processes of students, teaching staff and guests of exMedia, asking them to share thoughts on their current topics and give insight into their practice. The questions vary slightly each time and can be adapted by the interviewee. Our next guest in the series is Isabel Herguera, deputy professor for animation in exMedia since October 2016. Together with Zil Lilas and Stéphanie Beaugrand they are taking care of the animation and 3D emphasis in exMedia.

*  What is the current focus of your work?
A couple of years ago, in an old bookshop of Ahmedabad, I came across Sultana´s Dream, a short story written in 1905 by Rokeya Hossain, a Bangladeshi and Muslim woman who grew up in a religious and conservative household and with no access to education. The tale describes Ladyland, a place where women dedicate themselves to science and are in charge of making decisions, while men live in seclusion, hidden behind curtains, and take care of the domestic chores. I was overwhelmed by the writer’s fantasy, that despite all odds had imagined such a feminist utopia. Inspired by the story I conducted a series of workshops with various groups of women of all ages, and different social and cultural conditions in India and in Spain, in order to revisit Rokeya Hossain’s story. We read and re-read Sultana’s Dream in museums, schools, temples, ashrams, homes for battered women, old age residencies, elephant stables, markets and women cooperatives, and drew, painted, wrote and imagined this upside-down world Rokeya Hossain had imagined 100 years ago, today. This ongoing experience is evolving into a bigger project, during which I am learning about the importance of utopias, that has changed the way I look and make films, the way I teach, and I relate to art.

*  What kind of materials are important to you right now and how is this expressed in your work?
I like to work on paper and color paints that I mix with; bleach, salt, oil or any other material that can provoke a reaction; the color may crack, disappear and or give birth to a shape I could never had dreamed about. Through this, sometimes random sometimes controlled experiments, I try to achieve an image or texture that defines the nature, the dynamics and the atmosphere of the universe where the story that I want to tell takes place.

*  What are you thinking about today?
Today I am thinking about a film I saw during Annecy last week: Tehran Taboo by Ali Soozandeh. I liked it because it focuses on one single thing, there is no room to breathe, no sidekicks. It points straight to the core of the matter; you feel the dramatic tension throughout the whole film. I came out of the cinema feeling I had grown old. When there is courage all the pieces of the storytelling puzzle fall into place, nothing else matters.

image: drawing by Isabel Herguera portraying herself