An Interview With: Aster David

Who are you and where did you study?

My name is Aster Reem David and I was born in Pakistan. I have lived in England since 2003, the year my family emigrated to the country and it has been my home ever since. I've recently graduated with a First Class Honours in BA Photography from University of Westminster, London.

What is your artist statement for the body of work "Labyrinth"?

Labyrinth embodies a metaphysical journey to the desolate depths of my mind where traumatic memories from the past have festered over time. It’s a poetic reflection on the effects these memories have had on my mental state, identity, relationships, and the present.

Through images and text, Labyrinth examines these memories and the associated notions of time and history, all bound up in this architectural space employed as a metaphor for the mind, where these poignant memories prevail.

Where do your main influences come from?

Primarily, influences for Labyrinth were all bound up in travel and literature. For instance, it was merely by chance I stumbled upon this derelict location whilst travelling around in Holland last year. At first, it was just a diaristic record of this place. After I returned to the UK, I started reading essays by German philosopher and writer Walter Benjamin in preparation of my dissertation. I came across several passages, in which one of them suggested a notion of Benjamin’s mind as a labyrinth of memories. It was these passages that prompted me back to the images I had taken in Holland of this ‘labyrinth-like’ place and the impact it had on me at the time. The title of the project also emerged from Benjamin’s literature on the notion of ‘mind as labyrinth’.

What genre do you consider your work to be?

Personally, I’ve never felt the need to categorise my work into a genre as such, until I get asked what kind of photography I do and then the only relevant answer usually is, Fine-art. For me, it’s all very abstract and symbolic.

You seem to focus on light a lot, could you tell us more about the reason for this?

When I shoot, I’m always intrigued by the presence of light and the effect it has on me in that moment. Light, like in most of my work, embodies a metaphorical meaning. Although, the meaning evolves with each project depending on the concept, for me it is a symbol of hope. It has this overwhelming power to evoke physical emotions that encourage me to experiment with it.

In this project, the representation of a relentless battle with darkness that often comes from my past and poignant memories, the power to fight this darkness is symbolised through light.

How did you choose what locations to use?

Believe it or not, I didn’t choose the location featured in this body of work. In fact, it chose me, and it all started last year when I took up an internship in Amsterdam. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, my internship came to a halt and the loss of it amongst other things took me on a really unexpected emotional journey. For weeks, even months I went through all kinds of highs, the lows, and everything in between.

I needed to turn things around so, I started travelling in Holland with my cousin. My last stop was in the south of Holland, town called Maastricht, when I came across this huge derelict building. As luck would have it, the door to the building was left unlocked and we decided to take a look around not knowing the impact this place will have on me. Within a matter of minutes, I was wholly consumed by this place. As strange as it may sound, I felt such a strong connection to it, to the darkness, the eerie smell, stillness of the air, and the way parts of the building were lit by tiny streaks of light. In a way, it felt like this place was mirroring my mental state that it had been at that time for weeks. I started photographing not knowing then that it would later turn into a coherent body of work in the form of Labyrinth.

Why did you choose to not frame the photographs used for your installation?

It was a conscious and deliberate choice to not frame my photographs, as a way of experiment to allow room for other interpretations of my work, by the viewer. This project explores the notion of one’s mind as a labyrinth where traumatic memories prevail, and light, especially in the image with a staircase signifies hope and perhaps a way out of the darkness that these memories bring? This interpretation is entirely left at the discretion of its viewer. Similarly, I felt that framing the images would in a way confine the concept or the message that I was trying to convey in this body of work.

How would you like the viewer to feel in response to your work?

I’d like to encourage the viewer especially those who can directly relate to my work, that don’t be afraid to express your emotions, showing emotion isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. Burying your emotions can have huge consequences and in the long run affect your mental health. I have been lucky enough to have people in my life who have helped me realise that photography is my tool to express myself through art, and how it has enabled me to channel my emotions. And through this body of work, I’d like to think I am able to do the same, to be able to help anyone struggling to deal with their traumatic pasts find a channel to express through art.

What is the best piece of advice you could give the viewers of The Pupil Sphere?

One of my favourite artists Moyra Davey once wrote, “the more you put yourself into your work with honesty, better the chances of connecting to people”. This sentiment resonates deeply with me, as I’m a firm believer of expressing yourself in your art with all honesty. And I’d strongly encourage all young and emerging artists to find your voice and do your absolute best to stay true to it, even when others tell you otherwise. 

Be bold and courageous to experiment with your work, don’t be afraid to accept the failures and setbacks that will very likely arise from time to time, they’re all part of a learning experience. Believe in your work, in your decisions, your convictions, instincts and most importantly, yourself. Nobody’s going to believe in your work until you believe in it first. This is something I also practise everyday. Enjoy the journey that photography will take you on and learn to stay humble about your accomplishments.


All images copyright of Aster David.