Tanisa Sharif: Vessel

ADC Member creates installation for 'Art. Storytelling. Impact' exhibition

Last week, ADC — in partnership with Shutterstock — played host to Art. Storytelling. Impact, an exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of Chicken & Egg Pictures. As part of the exhibition, five ADC Members were selected to partner with five documentary filmmakers to create art installations inspired by their cinematic creations. We’re featuring the artists, films and installations here on the ADC Blog, but we invite you all to visit the ADC Gallery to experience them first hand.

Directed by Diana Whitten

Designer, Art Director, Artist
Washington DC



Tell us about your installation

My installation was inspired by Vessel, directed by Diana Whitten, which is a film that follows the journey of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts who finds loopholes in the law to provide access to abortion to women around the world.

The installation is comprised of two parts: a “deck” and a “sail”. The deck portion is a walkway marked with anti-abortion remarks, religious slander, and transcriptions of political smear in different languages. In the film, Dr. Gomperts traveled on ship to several countries, each time finding more loopholes in the law to succeed in their mission. The words are in Portugese, Arabic, French, Spanish, Swahili, and English and is depicted in lettering painted with Sumi ink and acrylic paint. Poplar wood was used to create deck. The viewer metaphorically follows the steps of Dr. Gomperts as she surpasses the setback each time she would come on and off the ship.

The counterpart to the type-smeared deck is the sail. The arrangement of brackets made to resemble spars or the masts of a sailing vessel is mounted on the wall. Drawings on vellum paper hang from these brackets with fishing line and overlap in layers in front of another. Each drawing is the abstract figure of a woman staring forward with hands extended. The faces of these women seem familiar and identifiable, as I tried to represent the different countries that the ship went to (Equador, Morocco, Spain, Ireland, and Tanzania). The hands of all five women are connected, symbolizing strength in solidarity and unity. The line of woman holding hands can only be seen from one vantage point, but as you get closer, they distort and separate.

The arrangement of the vellum drawings relate to the incredibly lonely space when women go through abortions and are faced with the challenge of choice. They are also a metaphor of sailing through loopholes, seas and the waves and the (sometimes forced) distance to the docks. Other elements include botanical drawings of flowers (related to the countries the women are from) that symbolize the placenta or growth in the woman. The women are abstractly on waves (another connection to the film and the name of the organization “Women on Waves”). Blue pills (Misoprostal is the abortion pill) are also scattered in the drawings and melt into the water forms. Vellum paper is usually presented in clean architectural contexts, but in this installation, they are distressed from the application of water and are floating with the natural wind in the room. The two parts work together as parallels with symmetrical elements between them.

Overall, I really wanted people to be in the installation and question where they stand in the whole issue of abortion. Would it be strange to walk on type that was so aggressively presented? And also, how would it feel to come face to face with these women and to stand with them to join them in solidarity?

What was it about Vessel that inspired you to create this? Was there any key moment where you said “Aha! That’s what i want to express!”?

The film Vessel is really beautifully made (and I’m not just saying that because it’s the film I chose to work with). There are so many layers in the film – the stories and letters of women asking for abortions, the story of Rebecca Gomperts personal journey, and the overarching story tracking ship and Women on Waves. In addition, the cinematography and pacing of the film is remarkable. There are pauses where we see water and waves and hear voiceover of characters in the film, there are scenes of tension of the sails on the boat paralleled with tension on the expressions on faces of the women in the film, there is animation that shows infographics and the process of abortion, and there is also the mesmerizing soundtrack of looping cello music. It’s just incredible how Diana Whitten connected it all to make a cohesive and beautiful narrative.

All of these elements and layers is what I wanted to translate in the installation project, while still channeling my personal story and aesthetic. I’m also obsessed with anything ship-related, so this project was perfect. The materials I used were really important. Water, type, vellum, cardboard stencils, hobby wood, poplar wood, fishing line, etc. all of that had to be in there to connect with the film.

What was it like to collaborate with the filmmaker?

Working with the director was the best part of this entire experience. My first step in the process was to meet Diana in person. I traveled from DC to New York to the ADC Gallery, where we sat on the sofa and had a great conversation sharing personal stories, experiences and feedback over the concept of the installation. She was incredibly insightful and helped me find metaphors in my ideas and her film. There was a moment when I hesitated on what images to depict on the sail. I initially had a typographic idea, of presenting the word “ACCESS” in large letters and focusing on the blue pill. But after the conversation with the director, we collaboratively decided to balance type with image and show women holding hands in solidarity. I had done all the vellum drawings on-site in the gallery from Monday – Wednesday and Diana had come for a quick visit to see the progress before the big opening party on Oct. 22. It was a really emotional moment for me. After the big event, she shared photos of the installation with Dr. Rebecca Gomperts who even reached out to me with complements and gratitude. I was just so touched!

How does this installation compare to what you normally do?

I am a full-time multidisciplinary designer and art director working on several different projects at the moment. My design work ranges from branding, infographic design, to exhibit design. I also do lettering for different applications (exhibit posters, logos, etc.). For as long as I can remember, I have also always been an artist. I painted from an early age, and would always combine different methods of drawing, painting, and design.

Prior to pursuing design as a full-time career, I taught drawing and graphic design for seven years. My academic experience combined with my design experience really allowed me to approach this project with a plan and an end goal. From the initial sketch. I used the computer as a tool for the overall design, accuracy of measurements and perspective. The most exciting part was that though the design was rendered digitally, the actual execution was all done by hand. The physical experience of working on the floor allowed me to get totally immersed in the project. I loved the freedom of making washes from inks and watercolor while also thinking of structure and form on other parts of the installation.

There are so many people out there who don’t necessarily want to categorize themselves as artist or designer, but just want to make work to convey a strong message. It’s those people I really hope to connect with. Hopefully, this experience will lead to more collaborations in the future. Whether the end product lives as art installations in a gallery or designed printed matter, it won’t matter. It’s the journey on how to get there that will.


Brooklyn, NY


For me, working with Tanisa on her installation was quite a meaningful experience. It was so interesting to see Vessel reinterpreted in new medium, and I thought what she did was so thoughtful and lovely, capturing the metaphors of the film in an entirely new way. I was so moved!


Tanisa’s installation, along with four others created by ADC Members for this exhibition, are on display at the ADC Gallery until November 5.