Harbouring Doubt

Posted by Soraya on: 12/12/2017

Harbouring Doubt

My harbouring doubt book has been in gestation for a while. One usually harbours doubt in secret because verbalising negative thoughts is seen as confrontational. But to harbour is also to give shelter, which in the domestic realm is welcoming, warm and comforting. My book encompasses both.

Like many artists I wrestle with the process of making and also explaining the reasons why I make. Being an artist can be a lonely occupation even if you work in a shared studio space or workshop. Ultimately one is alone with the ‘blank canvas’ and translating the kernel of an idea into something complete is a struggle.

Doubts chirrup in my head as I make my work. harbouring doubt is my way of confronting, acknowledging and pushing against such words and thoughts. This is not an ironic self-help book. It is meant humorously, but it is an object, a thing made by me, a piece of art. For alongside misery there is also elation.

I make things, mostly on a small scale and themed around ideas of negotiating the domestic sphere and beyond. I have always felt somewhat disjointed; wrong place, wrong comprehension, wrong me. I make work as a means of formulating myself, to plug the holes in my identity and to feel my way around my confusion. I create things to take up space.


I choose to cover the books in saffron cloth to separate it from those charming little books found by the till in a bookshop. Why yellow? What reason could you need beyond it being a great colour? In Hinduism yellow signifies the quest for the light and salvation. In Italian ‘Letteratura Giallo’ - ‘Yellow Literature’ is crime fiction. It also reference Yellow Book, which in turn was a nod to illicit French fiction. The Yellow Book, (1894-1897) was a quarterly magazine containing poetry, short stories, essays, illustrations and art images, which broke with the Victorian convention of cluttered publications in favour of a clean demarcation between content and an abundance of white space. Yellow Book could be said to be the first magazine to be beautifully poised between art and text. The philosopher GE Moore said, “that which is ‘good’ or ‘yellow’ cannot be put into words”.  By which he is trying to argue the untranslatable quality of ‘things’ in themselves. As a maker of ‘things’ I rather like this.


Each imprint of harbouring doubt comes with a glazed ceramic rock. This makes it awkward to slip into the bookshelf and reiterates its ‘thingness’.


The size is based on a Beatrix Potter book. Potter wanted her books to fit comfortably into the hands of her readers. This emphasised that the ownership of the book was with the child not the adult, both the object and its content - the words. Also, I love small colourful things. There is a child’s playfulness in me, so small handleable things are appealing.

By focusing on one word per page the book becomes a list of the elementary principles of doubt, an  ‘Art Primer’


As a dyslexic words are full of perils and one is always at odds with non-dyslexics. However, like many dyslexics, I am intrigued and drawn by words even as their impenetrability seems to be repelling me. I now find humour in my misunderstandings of words, their true meaning and my interpretation. In an essay (1934) on Walter Sickert, Virginia Woolf wrote ‘words are an impure medium…. better far to have been born into the silent kingdom of paint’. I understand her remark to mean that words are slippery and it is harder to write succinctly, with great clarity than it is to paint a picture that conveys a wide array of meaning and emotion within the confines of its frame. To read, to write, to think, words are simultaneously mutable and immutable. And as a dyslexic I find my journey with words difficult; they have defined forms, with meaning (to others) but I find them hard to grasp.

I think harbouring doubt is my way of trying to take ownership of these words; confronting their meaning and thus processing the doubts I have around making art and presenting it to an audience. Somehow by selecting, typesetting, printing and binding these words into a little book I have embraced them, made them mine and translated them strangely into positives. Dyslexics develop strategies to conceal their failure to understand and quirky ways to express themselves in words. harbouring doubt is my way of taking refuge within these words and then moving positively. Making art is a tussle of perseverance over self-doubt.

And the reason there are no capital letters in harbouring doubt is because the Leicester Print Workshop set of Walbaum lead type does not have any.