Breaking the glass ceiling

             Hasna Sal
Breaking the glass ceiling

Text: Priya S

Photos: Bob Cooley

“Glass sculptors are a very rare and special community. We get hurt every day; every day, we choose whether to get burnt under the torch or to bleed from shards,” shares Hasna Sal, a US-based glass sculptor. Hasna- who loves to give her glass sculptures a voice and then let in serenade and seduce the senses of the onlookers. In her own words -her creations of glass are a cornucopia of planes, textures, tonalities, resonances, moods, emotions, morality, chaos and more. And yes, her sculptures are also the voice of colour which she believes is fundamental to the human spirit as it alleviates, invigorates and humanizes.

The Beginnings

Tracing her roots to the coastal district of Vypin in Kochi, it was Hasna’s education in a Catholic school that exposed her to stained glass. A fascination took birth and never let go, as she says, “As a child, I used to stare in awe for hours and hours at the images in glass at the chapel. But the metal in the glass always bothered me; I felt like it was an aberration.” Her fascination with the medium of glass never went away and influenced her higher education. She talks of the time during the third year of her 5 year architecture professional degree program, “I took glass as my elective and went on to study this material and experiment with it for the rest of the time I was in architecture school. When I graduated with a degree in architecture from Boston, MA, magna cum laude, I always thought I would be an architect specialized in glass.” But then, what goes according to plan? While doing her architecture practice and as a lecturer at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, she incorporated glass into her work at every opportunity and studied the material at great length.  The result of that hard work found fruition when she went to Harvard University for her PG in landscape architecture. She recalls, “I presented my work in glass and my professors said I have a unique gift and that I should pursue it.” Hasna paid heed to the words of her teachers and after leaving Harvard further enhanced her education in glass from glass sculptors all over the world

Light and glass are like sun and sky; pure poetry to watch. I have the unique ability to manipulate the way light travels through glass, I can make it reflect, refract, bend and glow. For me, it is like music - frozen music. I am the cellist and glass is my cello. I play the material so it plays its deep, beautiful music and enchants the world.

Turning passion to profession

“I have created my unique style and voice in the glass world. I started my architecture practice and in addition to architectural design and space planning, I began to create custom sculpted sinks, light fixtures, table-tops, back splash, wall fixtures, window treatments- all in glass” These projects received much recognition in the community and Hasna started getting orders for more custom sculptures for home and commercial spaces. Eventually, she quit her architecture practice and started creating glass sculptures for indoor space. Hasna started her company Glass Concepts 360 in 2015 and has never looked back since then.

Being part of the New York Fashion Week

Stating that the reception of her work, both last year and this year, was phenomenal she expands at large. “I brought glass as a new medium to the runway of New York Fashion Week. Glass is so reflective under the ramp lights that they glowed and captivated the audience. ‘Wearable Sculpture’ was the theme of my work. Sculpture should be fluid, adaptive, universal, multi-functional, borderfree, and expressive,” she answers, adding that she makes wearable pieces that one can don to a special event, and then place it on one’s coffee table or the wall as a decorative object d’ art. That proved to be a hit, “The New Yorkers loved this dual functionality; they embraced the concept. People want less clutter and have less storage space. So the more versatility you give them, the happier they will be.”

 

Working with glass as a wearable medium

“That’s very tricky,” she begins, adding that creating wearable work is a whole new ball game. Shedding more light, she explains,“The human body is so individualistic and intricately contoured, it is super hard to get it right. We had a moment at the New York Fashion Week runway show, when a glass crown, which I had created for the final model to wear on the ramp, would not fit her head. It was not sitting right and I nearly fainted with anxiety! We had to secure it with tulle and pins, but it looked glorious in the end- the light bouncing and shimmering off the crown, above the wedding gown she wore which was a proud moment.”

I brought glass as a new medium to the runway of New York Fashion Week. Glass is so reflective under the ramp lights that they glowed and captivated the audience. ‘Wearable Sculpture’ was the theme of my work. Sculpture should be fluid, adaptive, universal, multifunctional, border-free, and expressive.

the final model to wear on the ramp, would not fit her head. It was not sitting right and I nearly fainted with anxiety! We had to secure it with tulle and pins, but it looked glorious in the end- the light bouncing and shimmering off the crown, above the wedding gown she wore which was a proud moment.”

The process

Hasna adds that there is an insane amount of experimentation with each work, especially since there is no paradigm or pattern book. Everything she creates spontaneously evolves from idea to concept to design to three-dimensional form. She divulges, “Sometimes, it takes weeks to have it all figured in my head. But once it is established in my head, then it is off to my lab studio for production. The journey continues there, with all its twists and turns, before the final product emerges, pure and original.”

Challenges of working

with a very fragile medium? Hasna no doubt has her work cut out, but she is more than up to the task as she elaborates, “My task as an architectural sculptor is to make this ‘fragile’ material into a hard, selfsupporting sculpture. That’s why glass blowing has never entranced me even though I know how to do it. I prefer casting, fusing, torch-working, and cold working, and that’s how I make sinks that are heavy and load bearing; coffee table tops that can take weight or wall sculptures that hang off nails in the wall.” Coming to the challenging part, she talks about figuring the firing temperature, heat shelf, temperature gradient, working against gravity and viscosity of the material among others, “It is a lot to learn; it has taken me 20 years to master the craft and the material. Now I can do anything with glass; the extents of my imagination is the only limitation,” she reveals.

Fascination with glass Hasna works with glass with different coefficients of expansion. She works with float glass, tekta, etc, and also uses a lot of waste glass, from wine bottles, tumblers and discarded pieces of glass. There is a lot of experimentation and hidden dangers involved as she cites an example,  “Many times, it backfires when I use glass I don’t know the history of! But I believe in recycle and reuse to better the environment, so I enjoy experimenting with glass to see what evolves. Talking of her entrancement with the medium, she gushes, “Glass is a medium with the unique ability to let light pass through it, and does magical things to the material when this phenomenon happens.” She goes poetic, “Light and glass are like sun and sky; pure poetry to watch. I have the unique ability to manipulate the way light travels through glass, I can make it reflect, refract, bend and glow. For me, it is like music - frozen music. I am the cellist and glass is my cello. I play the material so it plays its deep, beautiful music and enchants the world.”

I love the little shrine dedicated to Ezhuthachan at Tirur and the pond by which he sat and composed his works. When I am there, in time and place, I feel connected to him so profoundly it’s like his spirit is there, watching us young artists trying to find our wings.

               

 

An evergreen love

It is not an easy job-physically and mentally. Hasna mentions that the fumes from the torch give a metallic taste to the mouth, the nose itches from glass fibers, and it’s carcinogenic as well. “Sawing and grinding glass gets tiny bits of glass on your body and hair-everywhere. It is messy, tedious, repetitive, unexpected. It can shatter on you when you least expect it. The results can be fatal.” But she loves what she does. Terming it a meditation, a frenzy, a passion and an obsession she staunchly states, “I cannot imagine anything I have loved more. I cannot imagine doing anything else. At some point in my journey, we have become one - my glass and I. Take my glass away from me and I will die.”

Future plans

Hasna exclaims that her calendar is full until early next year. With several projects going on, her three biggest projects for the future areprepping for the New York Fashion Week 2020. “After being the collaborating designer for my 2018 and 2019 New York Fashion Week shows, this time I plan to go solo, with my business partner Ari P.” She is also working with Habitat for Humanity on a public project installation that addresses the growing problem of crack addiction and sex trafficking. Last, but not the least, “My nativity sculpture installation at a church in Kansas which addresses the topic of religious tolerance and hybridization of cultures. I have to present on Art, Architecture and the Public Domain to the community.” She laughs and adds that being a lecturer in her previous life has given her the ability to speak to an audience about her vision and about how it would enhance space, and create a legacy for future generations.

Incorporate the land into the design so that its homogenous. We should build with indigenous trees and sand and rocks; replace cement with kumayam. The cladding should be wood, not concrete. We should have greater laws prohibiting the use of material that will harm the environment.

Favorite travel destinations in Kerala

“That would be Thunjan Parambil, in Tirur, because it is my mother’s birthplace, and also the birthplace of the father of Malayalam, Ezhuthachan. The tranquil grounds, the elevated podium that hosts cultural festivals, the incredible nature with trees and birds, the yrical music that one can hear when breeze flows through the branches, the myth about the Nux Vomica tree, the expansive library brimming with books, and the museum with relics of the bard- it’s all so enchanting and frozen in time. It is like a secret haven within the madness of the bustling city.” Hasna loves nothing better than wandering through the maze of trees and grounds. She adds, “I love the little shrine dedicated to Ezhuthachan and the pond by which he sat and composed his works. When I am there, in time and place, I feel connected to him so profoundly it’s like his spirit is there, watching us young artists trying to find our wings.”

There is no place like home and Hasna absolutely loves the   un-spoilt and ethereal beaches of Vypin, where her ancestors originated from. She says, “These beaches are clean and unsullied. People are very respectful to tourists, and give them their space. Fisherwomen on the island are so enterprising they have opened up little thatched restaurants that add to the allure and authenticity and vernacularism of the land and the cuisine.”

What she finds unique is that one can walk along the fingerlike sandy lanes meandering through the fishing villages, and find a mosque, a temple and a church spaced within yards of each other. She states ,”There is a charming homogeneity in the heterogeneity. I love the inclusiveness of the community.”

Steps to improve tourism in Kerala

Hasna believes in incorporating natural elements into daily life. She cites instances like building resorts with local material. “Incorporate the land into the design so that its homogenous. We should build with indigenous trees and sand and rocks; replace cement with kumayam. The cladding should be wood, not concrete. We should have greater laws prohibiting the use of material that will harm the environment.” Kerala, she feels is blessed with a great ecosystem which needs to be conserved and not destroyed.

An aspect that pains her is the poor condition of the roads. The roads are lamentable, she says, adding that roads are the lifeline of a state, ensuring better functioning of a system. “If you cannot get that right, then it is a huge loss of time and business- both centric to a growing economy.”  Hasna is all for engaging local charitable groups such as Rotary Club, and Inner Wheel of Kochi, which is an all women’s charitable club. “It is all about taking baby steps towards a grassroots revolution in global development.