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Issue 169

Questionnaire: Sophia Al-Maria

Q: What music are you listening to? A: Things that would disgust my teenage self; I have betrayed her.

BY Sophia Al-Maria in Interviews | 23 FEB 15

Car decal for drag racers in Doha

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

On the walls of my studio there are two versions of the ufo poster that was in Fox Mulder’s office in the X-Files (1993–2002). One says: ‘I Want to Believe.’ The other says: ‘I Want to Lieve.’ There is also a car decal for a drag racing ‘gang’ from my neighbourhood in Doha. Their motto is: ‘Don’t Trust Anybody.’ Lots of my younger sisters’ passport photos are scattered around for some reason. My computer desktop is a big mess. There are JPGs, PNGs and GIFs of Robespierre’s death mask, a Symbionese Liberation Army snake, a dancing goat, screengrabs of Skype conversations etc. Lastly, there is a dying money plant placed prominently on my desk like some kind of a bad omen.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

On a school trip to a provincial art museum hosting a touring show of Spanish masters, I saw a red shoe with a tuft of pubic hair and a lobster claw and a pornographic image pasted to the heel. I went home and looked up ‘pubic’ in the dictionary. I’ve just googled it by the materials I remembered – ‘red shoe, pubic hair, lobster claw, wax, porn’ – and found it! It is a work by Salvador Dalí called Surrealist object that functions symbolically – Gala’s Shoe (1931/75). Which is actually a little bit disappointing.

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?

I don’t think I could be monogamous to a piece of art.

What do you wish you knew?

What I am doing.

What is your favourite title of an artwork?

Your Future is the Sunlight that Will Scatter them like Cockroaches into the Darkness of the Past. Although it evokes a title, this is actually from Susan Silton’s 2006 series, ‘By power of suggestion, which in favorable circumstances becomes instruction, #2’. It reads like a mantra and emanates a strange magic. No wonder: the text is a translated extract from one of the propaganda pamphlets that were produced by the us and British military psychological operations units and distributed in Iraq between 2003–04. Nearly a decade later, it still resonates.

What should change?


What should stay the same?


What are you reading?

Some submissions for Maria Fusco’s experimental art-writing journal The Happy Hypocrite (which I’m thrilled to be guest-editing this year) and a lot of screenplays for unmade films.

What do you like the look of?

Boulder opals, blushing emojis, corrupted data, goats and deserts.

is a Qatari-American artist and writer based in London, UK. Her memoir, The Girl Who Fell to Earth (Harper Collins, 2012), will be published in Arabic by Bloomsbury Qatar this spring. In 2014, she had her first solo show, ‘Virgin with a Memory’, at Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK. She is the recipient of a 2015 Sundance Institute Fellowship and her work is included in the New Museum Triennial, New York, USA, which runs until 24 May.