"Where We Were After The Storm" by Corey Habbas
"Where We Were After The Storm" by Corey Habbas

In this conversation with Minneapolis based artist Corey Habbas, she explores the idea of structural discrimination and alienation caused by prejudice, which is conveyed in her piece “Where We Were After the Storm.” 

About the Art

At the time, I wore a headscarf and had 
noticed prejudice against myself, as well as 
when I was in groups of others [with darker 
skin] wearing a headscarf. I wanted to take 
this universal idea of prejudice and make it 
comprehensive in the art. 

The people in this piece have no definable 
features, because they could be any of us. 
The dynamic of these two people ruins 
what could have been a beautiful landscape. 
When I was creating it, I felt a sense of 
sorrow. There is collective loss when there 
isn’t a feeling of support. There’s no intimacy 
in this work. You need dialogue, you need 
to be able to see each other, in order to 
work through a relationship, and that can’t 
happen with people not knowing each other, 
not coming together. When I was working 
on this piece there was that distinct sense of 
social exclusion. 

I was learning from the ideas of Dorceta 
Taylor, who wrote “Toxic Communities: 
Environmental Racism, Industrial 
Pollution, and Residential Mobility,” as well 
as Dr. Tricia Rose of Brown University who 
spoke of structural discrimination. It’s such 
a vast topic. 

The Shock of Prejudice

I’ve always been a very open-hearted 
and embracing person, and I realized after 
putting the hijab on that people did not 
always feel that toward me. I was aware of 
the difference of how it felt before people 
saw me as Muslim. It was shocking to me. 

At one point I realized that even though 
I had, since childhood, been outraged by 
racism, that my understanding was only an 
intellectual one. I could sympathize, I could 
try to empathize, but until I had so much 
directed toward me, I was unprepared for 
how it affected every waking moment of my 
life. Even small things like a dirty look from 
someone built up inside me day after day. 

I would feel unsafe [wearing a hijab], 
sometimes devastated. Like people didn’t 
want me to exist. It’s taught me a lot about 
how open I want to be, as a Muslim-
American and as a woman — and any other 
category I can be put into by the external 
gaze of others.

I want to always remain open and 
non-reactive. I am not wearing the hijab 
anymore. I’m not wearing it in order to give 
myself a psychological break. Some people 
can handle that prejudice. I was not able to. 

Capturing the Inner Space

A consistent aspect of my work is “the 
beyond”. Rather than contemplating what’s 
in our physical space, my work is more about 
the inner space. Our thought processes, our 
spirit, the way we interpret life, the way we 
process trauma, what hope means. 

I spent a lot of time on this idea about 
the physics of wishing, which started 
out as abstract and then slowly became 
more representational and focused on the 
dandelion as a symbol of hope — but also 
of how we are connected because of those 
particles that fly off the dandelion. 

That’s like us. We see ourselves as separate 
because of our interpretation of physical 
space. We take for granted that everything 
is separate and we are self-reliant and self-
sufficient. But we are very much connected. 
There is an unseen connection that’s far 
beyond what we’re presented with day-to-
day unless we really sit down and think 
about it. 

So I try to bring something to my work 
that feels likes it is from the beyond.