By: Judy Nyquist and Laura Worth
Rabéa Ballin calls Houston home now, but she grew up in southern Louisiana and Germany, and spent additional time abroad at the German Göthe Institute and in Italy studying art history. She received a BFA from McNeese State University, aMFA in drawing and painting from University of Houston, and is currently the Department Chair of Fine Arts at Lone Star College-North Harris. This incredible array of experiences has given Rabéa a diverse palette of subject matter and points of departure. The daughter of a hairdresser, Rabéa learned early about the skill and trade involved in working with hair, and the power hair has to transform, communicate, beautify, and define. Hair has always been core to her subject matter, and this can be seen most recently in her works displayed in our neighboring San Antonio’s Southwest School of Art in Spring 2020.
Rabéa is innovative, creative, and loves to be collaborative – working with fellow artists all over and developing shows and projects nationwide. She works primarily with drawing, digital photography, and printmaking, but isn’t shy to pursue sculptural projects and unique new endeavors. Read on to see what she has planned – especially for Houston!
All photo credits are Courtesy of Artist, Rabéa Ballin
Rabéa Ballin Q & A:
What are some things about Houston that have inspired you, and helped you develop as an artist?
The support I have received from the artist community in Houston has been a huge inspiration. I have lived in Third Ward for about 13 years now and have had my studio at Project Row Houses for nearly as long. I have shared a studio space with some amazing artists and have been privileged to share their energy. Although the culture in my neighborhood is changing drastically, there are aspects that continue to remind me of home (Louisiana).
How does your voice as a woman influence your projects, informing which ones you choose to do, the subject matter, etc.?
The fact that I even have a voice is a great gift and a great responsibility. I found my “why” early on and have been blessed because of it. Of course, being a woman gives my voice a label that often comes with expectations. Expectations that are fun to defy! Being a woman also affects the type of emotional responses I have to things going on around me. I have definitely made work that is woman-centric, and have also experiences where my work was mistaken for masculine. I like lingering in that intersection. I have always shared studio space with men, and most of my mentees are male. I feel inspired by the exchange of ideas and perspectives that that brings to my practice.
What are some of our dream projects or goals as an artist?
One of my current goals is to exhibit internationally. I would love to expand my practice overseas to Germany, where I was born. I see that manifesting in terms of artist residencies that will connect me to artists abroad.
What is your process like when you work? Do you work with others, listen to music, juggle several things at once – what works for you?
It is hard for me to concentrate with other people around. When I am in production mode, I prefer space and isolation. I am rather shy when it comes to working in front of others. When I need feedback or struggle with an idea, I have a great support system of artists whose opinions I trust. I am in an amazing printmaking collective called ROUX with Delita Martin, Ann Johnson, and Lovie Olivia. We don’t work around each other, but it is truly magical when we come together, and our work aligns. Working as part of a collective has been extremely healthy and has made me “bring it” in a different way. These women are unparalleled, and I don’t want to let them down. As for music… there’s always music! Music and lots of coffee.
Many of your projects are site-specific or interactive (like ‘What is Natural’ and ‘Organize’); how do you go about documenting and cataloging these?
I am definitely a documentarian at heart. This began as a result of constantly moving around. My dad was in the army so significant records of my past (be it through photos or ephemera) help trigger those memories. When I create work in terms of site-specific installations, I try my best to document everything I do with photography and video. I archive and keep myself very organized. I am better at keeping a digital filing system now that I lost so much due to my garage and studio flooding a few years back. I even have a body of work that came from that experience – called “The Reclamation Project”.
Any hints/previews you want to give our audience of what you are working on now? Any new medium you’ve enjoyed working with of late?
I am currently working on something completely out of my wheelhouse: I am designing an outdoor sculpture! Last year I was fortunate to have been selected as an artist for a series of 11 public art experiences created for each Houston City Council District. I have chosen to respond to an area that is neglected and become victim to environmental racism. Unfortunately, the project was halted due to Covid-19 but is currently back in production. Additionally, I have the distinct pleasure of having worked on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. This exhibition, “Slowed and Throwed”, is currently paused and is scheduled to reopen in January. Lastly, I am extremely happy to support “Collect it for the Culture III” coming up in December, curated by Robert Hodge in conjunction with Black Buddha Creative Agency (founded by India Lovejoy). This series began in 2017 as a way for collectors to identify highly collectible artists at all stages of their careers outside of traditional museum/gallery settings.