“I really like my work to feel like you are peering in on someone’s phone,” says artist Hannah Ward on the specific sensation she hopes her pieces evoke. That slight sneakiness, or the feeling of knowing full well you’re viewing something you shouldn’t, is a definite quality of the Bolton-born artist’s work, in which she intricately recreates nudes with Hama beads.
Despite often working with the same subject matter, and always the same resources in Hama beads, Hannah’s practice is multi-layered in its points of view and influences. Immediately upon viewing Hannah’s nudes there is a humour to them, an approach she describes as “fun and cheeky” but driven from an attempt to “poke fun at things that can be quite raw and personal”. This mix of emotions is also influenced by relationships being a key inspiration, from those quickfire back-and-forth text conversations with a crush, to overly rethinking something Hannah wishes she’d said in real life. Each of these pieces, whether they’re one of Hannah’s own nudes, a still from a porn film or a submission (she takes commissions too!) are crucially approached from a feminist point of view, “and a way of women reclaiming their own sexuality away from the male-gaze,” says Hannah. “Female sexuality from the female perspective.”
It’s here that Hannah’s use of Hama beads is so ingenious, not only offering an instant hit of nostalgia to the work but dually tackling the subject of censorship – especially in a social media context. In pixelating the nude by using the block effect Hama beads allow for, the artist’s work “is a play on the current censorship that is happening on social media platforms right now,” in which “Instagram is deciding what is sexual in terms of women’s bodies,” details Hannah. “In a way of ‘rebelling’ I use the Hama beads to censor the nude image before it can be censored, then the piece becomes a pixelated nude artwork and it is up to the owner of the image whether it is sexual or not.”
Creating these pieces since 2015, as mentioned Hannah began the practice as an exploration of portraits of herself. Once settled in the medium, “I really wanted to reach more people, and for all women to see their body type represented in my work,” deciding then to open submissions for personalised pieces. Describing creating these pieces as a “liberating feeling” especially when having the responsibility of recreating such a personal or private moment, “my aim is to share this feeling with more women,” adds Hannah on this shared empowerment quality to the works.