Melbourne artist Deanna Hitti took home first prize at this year’s Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award supported by Little Creatures Brewing for her work TOWLA. We caught up with her when she was in town for the exhibition opening to talk about her work and what winning the award means to her.

Can you tell us about your career as an artist? 

I’ve always worked with printmaking since graduating art school and opened my own print workshop in Melbourne called Rambunctious Press. For 10 years I did custom printing for other artists and taught workshops in different printmaking methods and bookbinding. Four years ago I made the decision to solely focus on my own arts practice full-time. During this time I carried out extensive research during artist residencies in China (Guanlan Printmaking Base), Australia (Bundanon NSW) and Italy (Scuola de Graphica in Venice). Last year I had a solo show at the Counihan Gallery in Melbourne titled TOWLA. It was the release of TOWLA alongside large scale prints made from Cyanotype (3×2 meters). The prints are made up of 24 panels which fold down into a book. These books form part of an ongoing series of artbooks where I appropriate orientalist images of 19th and 20th century French painting to create a new reading through my own artist books.

In 2008 I was the recipient of the Libris Award in Mackay and 2009 The Book Beyond Words Award at The East Gippsland Art Gallery.

Is this your first time entering the Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award? If so, what inspired you to enter?

I have entered five or six times over the years and have been a finalist in the FAC Print Award twice. In 2013 with an inkjet printed artist book titled The Country Justice. The content comprised a collection of the top 1,000 banned books across the world. Then in 2015 another artist book title Assimilated Museum was short listed. The book was screen printed in China on an artist residency where I was invited to produce work at The Guanlan Original Printmaking base.

Can you tell us about the winning work?

Deanna Hitti, TOWLA, 2017, Artist Book Screen Printed, 34 × 53 (when book open) × 4cm

Deanna Hitti, TOWLA, 2017, Artist Book
Screen Printed, 34 × 53 (when book open) × 4cm

TOWLA is the first personal and family referenced work I have made. I decided to make a work that reflected the different cultural identities I grew up with. I wrote the instructions to TOWLA (backgammon) with my father (a migrant from Lebanon) as a cultural  transaction between us both. The instructions can only be read by people who understand Arabic and English. The Arabic letters spell out the English instructions to the game and the Latin letters spell out the instructions in Arabic. My father died suddenly before we completed the text, so the work was completed with my good friend Katarina Ackar.

The response to this work has been quite interesting and overwhelming. I would say that it’s largely because its the first work I have made that people can relate to. I normally create work that have a strong conceptual base and made more for the art world. Although people can’t understand the text, it’s evident that it’s a personal interaction with my father. An interaction that applauds and understands the place and importance of cultural difference, a topic that is debated heavily across the globe at the moment. I would say almost every household in Australia has a first generation Australian and people reflect on their own cultural heritage through TOWLA.

How was the work made?

TOWLA is screen printed. I printed it myself at Megalo Studio in Canberra. The printing alone for this edition took two months, I spent very long hours each day just proofing and printing.  I photographed my father’s backgammon table and used them for all the illustrations. I then digitally laid out the book in preparation for printing. I actually printed the book twice as I wasn’t happy with the first print run. Sometimes artwork takes on a few lives before an idea is fully resolved. There was a lot of blood sweat and tears with this book. It was a very emotional time.

Your relationship to your family and heritage is at large the inspiration for TOWLA. Are these themes usually a source of creativity for you?

In my arts practice, I am interested in the ways which Western culture has formed ideas about Middle Eastern people and how these ideas have been shaped through art history. As an Australian artist from a Lebanese heritage, I feel disconnected from media misrepresentation that often distorts. I appropriate 19th and 20th century French European paintings a lot in my practice. By bringing these images together I create a new reading. Much the same way the colonialists restructured a culture they were viewing. I create books that in turn have re-packaged the very same ideas.

What does winning this award mean to you?

It’s amazing. I still can’t believe it. I have been entering awards for 15 years. I still get very excited when I’m shortlisted as it’s a fickle industry. I don’t even think about winning as the finalists works are of such a high standard, so to win is such an honour. The industry holds the Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award in very high regard. It’s brilliant when when your peers connect and understand what your work is trying do. It’s a kind of validation in a way and the prize money doesn’t go astray either. It’s a tough gig surviving as an artist.

What’s next for you?

I’m really looking forward to exhibiting more widely around Australia and overseas. I have a few things in the pipelines , so I’m looking forward to seeing what new projects the next year brings.

You can view more of Deanna’s work here.