Sundus Abdul Hadi | Intuition as Creative Force
Family Portrait, from THE NEW SUMERIANS,
Photography and digital composite, 2020
Sundus Abdul Hadi
[ An excerpt from “Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation”]
Know yourself that you are the world’s soul.
In Arabic, the words self, soul, psyche, and breath all share the same word: nafs. Manifested through the breath and connected to the ego, the self can take on many states and both positive and negative attributes. Of the positive attributes within self, self-awareness and acceptance arises, as well as peace, inspiration, care for others, and in its pure form, spirit [rüh]. Rüh can be defined as ‘the source from which souls emanate, the source at once of their existence and of their light.’ (Abdul Hadi, 2020)*
I’m at a moment in my life where my spirit is in shift. I wouldn’t call it a spiritual disconnect or a pause, because gratitude – the foundation of my spirituality – is ever present. I consider this moment a return to baseline after a series of highs and lows, a patient longing for higher knowledge. Being asked to write an essay on spirit at this particular juncture in my life is akin to being asked to bare my soul. My practice thus far as an artist and a writer is already so intimate. To reflect on my evolution is to trace my spirit’s descent and ascent, it’s ebbs and flows, its light and shadows.
To remedy this vulnerability, allow me to set an intention moving forward.
To be spiritual doesn’t mean knowing how to express it and articulate it, but rather how to nurture it and protect it.
I spent my early years as an artist exploring war and trauma. Through my project Warchestra (2007-2010), like the goddess Inanna, I journeyed among the shadows that lurk in the darkness belonging to Ereshkigal, the Sumerian goddess of the underworld. As war enveloped the lives of Iraqi’s —my kinfolk— in 2003 and beyond, my imagination was occupied by stories of loss, violence, and extreme injustice. By taking images of militants holding weapons and replacing them with instruments, I was being called to reclaim this space of violence and replace it with one of culture.
It was work fuelled by re-imagining, re-telling and re-interpreting these stories, but this project drained me emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Over time, I have learnt that this body of work is a time-capsule of this particular era of our collective history, told through a subversive, sensitive lens on representation and power. Sitting in my studio today, I am surrounded by the weight of these works, recently brought up from the underworld (literally, from my basement storage locker). These works on stretched canvas, collage, and acrylic paint are physically and spiritually heavy.
“Impossible to understand, too difficult to perceive’
— Enuma Elish
There is a moment of inspiration that visits me when the portals open up between sleep and wakefulness. It is a gift from beyond, a key to the subconscious otherwise inaccessible in waking life. It is always in this state when I access my most inspired ideas and visions. Nowadays, its harder to reach. It’s that tiny, short space when I am not yet fully sleeping, but not quite awake. It’s a state between consciousness and subconsciousness. Its sacred and doesn’t abide by the laws of logic and reason – it is the pathway to and from dream state. It is your soul communicating back to you. It is abstract, and exists in the unknown.
It is not predictable and sometimes, you will forget the idea or vision before you even have time to register it. But if and when you do, its unforgettable. My best ideas have manifested themselves to me in that space. Our creative energy is sacred. I read somewhere that inspiration visits you, as a spirit would. It is akin to being visited by an otherwordly spirit. It’s being one step closer to God. It’s like the container that holds you suddenly loses its form and blends into spaces you didn’t know existed just beyond its shape.
The short story that became my book, Shams, came to me through this portal. “Shams” is a children’s book I wrote and illustrated about a little girl made of glass. One fateful day, Shams breaks into a million pieces. Through the story, we follow Shams’s transformation from a fragile little girl into a survivor, with the help of her own imagination and the guidance of Shifaa, the healer. A story of trauma and empowerment, “Shams” transforms tragedy into magical realism, guided by ancestral wisdom. Blending storytelling and illustrations, Shams is brought to life as an otherworldly being in her small universe.
Semi-autobiographic but universal, the story of Shams was my spirit speaking back to me. It was my higher self, the ascent. I followed the portal that Shams came hurtling through. Through it, I found care — in theory and practice — and started seeing it everywhere.
When I started thinking deeply about care, there wasn’t very much I could reference on the subject that spoke directly to my experience as a deeply-rooted woman invested in care, community and culture. So, I wrote a book about it. I called it, “Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation”. I channelled a lot of my lived experience, my ancestral knowledge, and the gift of community in my work on care. Through the writing and publishing process, I had to make many important decisions regarding how much of my self I wanted to share with the readers.
A book is such an intimate space to share with a reader; it is a medium articulating the writer’s deep thoughts and reflections literally held within a reader’s hands. As much as these thoughts belong to me and came through me, once they’ve been printed and bound, they belong to the world. It was crucial for me to learn how to protect this sacred vessel so that I don’t feel exposed on a psychic level. I would like to believe that my spirit is imbued within the pages, but implicitly, and not explicitly.
When it comes to matters of the spirit, I am careful. I am all too aware of the ills of spiritual appropriation, hoax healers, and care as commodity. In my chapter Decolonizing Care, I call for us to ask: “How do my acts of self-care impact the communities whom I may borrow from or whose wisdom has served me?”
After writing both books, I went through a physical and mental burnout, followed by spiritual exhaustion. Riding the wave of inspiration can be ultimately exhausting. By the time you reach the shoreline, you’re gasping for breath, coming down from the rush. You have to gather your bearings, re-centre your self, maybe take a long nap. Sometimes you need to repeat that ritual every day for a few weeks.
Today, my work is returning to it’s origin. Not where I began, in the dark spaces of the underworld, but rather, before time… I am finding myself somewhere along the arc of creation stories and new narratives, still informed by the knowledge gleaned from each of my past works.
Ultimately, the through line in my work is a heavy insistence on following my intuition. Whether it is about pursuing a creative idea or starting a project, or for when to stop. My intuition guides me towards people I want to collaborate with, and pushes me away from people I shouldn’t share my sacred creative space with. This is the spirit’s work; intuition as creative force. Intuition is communicating with your soul. It is ancestral knowledge awakening from within. It is being in contact with your higher self, and knowing that you are in fact, a vessel.
This spirit dwells in dark spaces, with the ancestors in the underworld. It also rests on ancient waters, flowing, floating.
This spirit restores itself by the warmth of the fire, telling stories, and listening. Sometimes this spirit becomes the fire, burning, one with itself.
Sometimes it rests on the earth, grounded, deeply-rooted. Other times, this spirit elevates, levitates, dream-state and air-like, flying high from what keeps it rooted below.
It ebbs and it flows. It ascends and descends. It is exactly what it needs to be, an ancestral knowing, older than time, carrier of all the wisdom of every body it has ever inhabited… still burning, ancient as the water, light as air, grateful to be earthbound and to be a medium for making art and weaving words.
*Rüh, as defined in The Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture, a book that has been greatly
influential throughout my artistic practice.
Abdul Hadi, Sundus. Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation. Common Notions Press.
Bio Sundus Abdul Hadi
Sundus Abdul Hadi is an artist and writer of Iraqi origin. She was raised and educated in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, where she earned a BFA in Studio Arts and Art History and a MA in Media Studies. Articulated through her artistic practice, writing and curation, Sundus’ work is a sensitive reflection on trauma, struggle, and care. She is the author/illustrator of “Shams” and “Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation”. She is the cofounder of We Are The Medium, an artist collective and culture point, and the founder of Maktaba Bookshop in Montreal. Abdul Hadi’s work has been exhibited in Palestine, Canada, United States, United Arab Emirates, France, United Kingdom and New Zealand.