Some time in 2009, while searching for people writing about Italian art online, I came across this blog written by a mysterious guy who signed his name only “H.” I commented on his blog, and he commented back on the one I was running at the time about art for the Region of Tuscany. That year he visited Florence, and asked to meet up, but frankly I wasn’t about to meet some random guy that I met on the internet. He could be a killer.
Hasan and I finally met in November 2012, after a long epistolary friendship that grew after I realized he just wanted to talk about art and not slice my head off. I was responsible for the selection of bloggers to cover the major international cultural event, Florens 2012, and I made it clear to the jury that Hasan was the top choice for this role. He’d been live blogging from an art history conference in Madrid a few months before, and nobody else could have done as good a job summarizing erudite concepts as he did.
Over the years, Hasan and I exchanged about a hundred emails. Sometimes his were long and demanding, and too often I didn’t give them, and him, sufficient attention. Sometimes they were difficult, even hurtful, as he told me things I didn’t want to hear about myself, things that in the end have helped me change the way I deal with people both online and off. His last email to me was Saturday, and he died, suddenly, on Monday. I hadn’t yet had time to do what he asked in the email – read and comment on his latest article.
It is hard to express my grief; it is surprising and complete, and I am one of many who feel this way. Hasan was a connector of people. He approached them when there was no clear need to do so, and engaged in long written conversations to no apparent end. While he wasn’t always able to travel, he fostered local communities, encouraging his friends in each area to meet up.
With each person he established a special connection, something I’m realizing just now as I see what people are saying on Twitter and blogs now that he is gone. Between us, it was a kind of game. He said I was the first art history blogger and that I should be more academic, and he encouraged everything I did. I said he was nuts, and that he read more than I did for my PhD, and that he had more passion than sense. For Hasan, everything was beautiful, groundbreaking or amazing; me, I’m more cynical. We were opposites, but we had a goal in common: make art accessible, online.
With Hasan gone, who will tell me difficult truths about myself? Who will force me to write difficult exhibit reviews (and edit them for me!), encourage me in larger academic projects, or see the deeper side of everything I do (while I continue to insist that it has no deeper side). Who will make sure I stay connected to the world of “digital humanities” (whatever that means) and to these people who don’t fit into my daily routine?
What we can do
I didn’t want to write anything on my blog until I had a concrete suggestion about what we can do to properly commemorate him. I think that a coordinated action is an important way of expressing both grief and appreciation, and I see that people want to do both. But more so than any formal action, I think we have to keep going with a little Hasan on our shoulder telling us do pursue our dreams, to make that contact, to act on difficult decisions.
In my very logical way, I’ve determined a twofold goal: to continue the networking and discussion that Hasan established in his own particular way; and to preserve and continue the work he has begun.
In collaboration with some of Hasan’s closest friends, we’ve thought of the following ways to celebrate Hasan, that we think are in his spirit.
1) Reach out and connect, the Hasan way. Probably you’ve already done this in the past few days. Hasan’s friends are banding together, hugging virtually on Twitter and emailing each other like never before. But what about those people you saw online who seem interesting, or that Hasan said you should reach out to but you didn’t? Do it now in his memory.
2) Keep in touch with a facebook group. Hasan’s most endearing trait was how he wrote to so many people, so often, to share his articles or point out new material or thoughts in art history, video games, and online communication of the humanities. He also used email and Twitter to put people in touch if they were traveling to another’s area or if he thought they might have common ground. I propose a Facbook group in which we can share material and encourage conversation in a friendly environment in which most of us are already present. The idea is to try to continue the community that centered around Hasan. The details of this group are being worked out in Charlotte’s google doc and will be announced, perhaps on 3PP, soon.
3) Raphael’s birthday, April 6, 2014. Benjamin Harvey (@obridge) came up with this one, and Monica (alberti’s window) passed it on to me – what a great network! Raphael died at age 37, just like Hasan. The suggestion is to write tribute posts on our blogs, either about Raphael or maybe just something Hasan would have liked. Those without blogs may guest post elsewhere. Detailed instructions will be published around February and we’ll look into where we might link all the posts – hopefully again on 3PP.
In addition, some of us are thinking about how best to preserve and continue Hasan’s work in the digital humanities. It is clear that no one person could ever replace him, nor do all of the things he did, so this is going to take some time to work out what we are able to do.
Hasan didn’t sleep more than 2 or 3 hours a night, so in this way he lived more in 37 years than most. Reading and writing when the rest of us slept, he got a lot done, but knew there was a lot left to do. Once he wrote to me: “Knowing that a topic is vast and that we cannot hope to do it justice is testimony to one’s wisdom.” This is why I will stop here, for more could be said, much is left to do, and we can only try our best.