Q & A with artist Philip Soliman

Phil Soliman was born to Egyptian parents in the suburbs of Western Sydney. He studied Multimedia, Television Production and Graphic Design at Charles Sturt University in regional NSW. He has travelled through China, Egypt, and the West Coast of the US, and lived in Berlin and Edinburgh. He is in the final year of a Master of Fine Art at RMIT, and is currently teaching graphic design and photography.

Phil Soliman will be performing a piece titled ‘ The Coptic Liturgy of St Philip’ this Saturday the 29th of June as part of the Colour Box Studio Writing and Performance Program Launch. In this performance Phil Soliman mines his complex relationship with his devoutly Christian family, and Egypt, his ancestral homeland currently in the throes of political and cultural transformation. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this performance raises important questions about guilt, belief, morality, and all kinds of minorities. We spoke to Phil about his art and what inspires him.

To RSVP to the performance click here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a hairy, pleasant sort of chap from Sydney originally. I do a lot of different things, but mostly I make art, study postgraduate Fine Art and teach graphic design and photography.

Describe your art.
I make art about myself and how I relate to the world, using installation, sound, text, video and performance. My work asks serious questions about truth, language, guilt and morality, but definitely with a sense of humour and absurdity.

Photo Provided by Phil Soliman

How did you come to it?
I’ve been making art since I was quite young, but it was only in the last five years that I started considering myself a ‘serious’ artist, because I was making work that centred around recurrent themes or issues, instead of simply making for the fun of it. Opening a gallery in Sydney with a friend definitely inspired me to pursue art as a career.

Tell us about your past projects and what has been your most treasured creation?
Before beginning my Master of Fine Art at RMIT, I was working primarily in photomedia, digital images and video. In 2009 I photographically ‘mapped’ my friend’s body and displayed the resulting images as a 9m long collage, which got a lot of positive feedback. Last year I was obsessed with the idea of the sheer overwhelming torrent of information we have to deal with on a daily basis, and how we cope by sorting it into categories, measuring and so on. I created a massive wall installation that has gone through several iterations, that presented all this information (from a fairly personal perspective) as hierarchically equal. The interesting thing about it was that each person who encountered the work took their own path through it, and formulated their own theory on what it was about. I was happy with this work because I felt like it really captured the complexity of living, something that I’m really interested in.

Photo provided by Phil Soliman

Where did you grow up and has it influenced what you create?
I was born and raised in Sydney’s outer suburbs, which was quite multicultural. I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and ways of thinking, which meant I was quite open-minded even from a young age. I think I’ve carried that sense of open-mindedness, of not being dogmatic about anything, into my adult life and definitely into my art. Growing up in the suburbs meant that I didn’t have a lot of experience with the highly intellectualized, more ‘conceptual’ art that generally appears in the city. So art was mostly about aesthetics and technical skill for me for a long time. It was only when I moved to the city that I began to shed my need to make beautiful images.

What is your current project?
Recently I’ve been looking at the sociopolitical situation in Egypt, my Egyptian heritage, and my relationship to my family and the Coptic Egyptian community at large.

Who or what was your inspiration?
I generally don’t idolize particular artists, I am more likely to be inspired by a nature documentary or a particularly evocative song. That being said, Patricia Piccinini and Jason Maling just blow my mind with their commitment and their very experimental practices.

Photo provided by Phil Soliman
Where do you feel most creative?

In bed, at 3 in the morning.

What will you be working on next?
I’m continuing with my exploration of Egypt and my Egyptian heritage, but I really want to properly start to interact with my family on a much deeper level, to gain insights from their experience that I can use in my work. In late July/early August, I’ll be putting on an interactive performance at Colour Box Studio where I’ll be serving traditional Egyptian food based on conversations I’ve had with my grandmother.

What can visitors to expect to see from you when they visit Colour Box Studio?
We’ll be inside a church, and I’ll be wearing snorkelling gear.

Where can we see more of your work?

Photo provided by Phil Soliman