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RASSA Arts and Culture Magazine  values the timeless art of the interview where legends and change-makers have been given the opportunity to allow us to step into their creative space, mindset and journey.

 

We get intimate as they take us through their current and previous works of art and how their artistic path will be shaped as they move forward in this unpredictable industry.

 

Stay tuned for interviews with both established names in the industry and up-and-coming artists as we dissect their inspirations, influences, purpose for creating, their opinion on the purpose for art and the future of art.

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‘Color is my language of communication, it is my strength’:
 

First Generation Artist, Shima Bhamra on her Kaleidoscopic portrayal of Womanhood.  

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Being a first generation anyone is an unprecedented struggle, one that is often plagued with self-doubt, hesitation, lack of confidence and constant questioning of an unfamiliar path. First generation artists especially face this onslaught of doubt not just from themselves but from their families. As such, it is a notable feat when one is able to drown out these internal and external voices and truly begin listening to the artistic voice that has been feeding you ideas and opinions for an incredibly long time. Shima Bhamra has experienced this first hand, not only living her life now according to this artistic voice but producing artwork that uplifts women and highlights the plethora of political, socio-economic and environmental obstacles women continuously face. Her work is unabashedly colourful paying homage to the delicate curvature of the female body, our consistently shunned and neglected reproductive organs and ultimately the role women play in the ecosystem of life and continuation of humanity. The abstract nature of the pieces give the illusion of a maze, seeped into a myriad of hues one would not expect to blend so effortlessly. But they do, much like Bhamra’s messaging and voice in portraying issues so close to her heart. Being a woman is a multidimensional endeavour and works like Bhamra’s are pivotal in conveying the vast nature of womanhood, complexities in femininity and sexuality. It can be a rather dull affair facing so much antagonism and vilification as a woman so why not add some colour like Bhamra. Have a read to know more about Bhamra’s journey to get where is now, some of her inspirations and what she hopes her work can convey. 1.Can you give us some insight into your journey to become an artist? I grew up as a first-generation immigrant, who’s family were exiled from Kenya, Africa in 1972. There were no artists in my family nor are there any now. My first experience viewing art was on a primary school trip to Tate Modern, I remember saying to myself as a young 6 year old child that maybe one day I could be an artist. Around this time my teacher told my father that I leaned towards the arts and as soon as I got home, I was berated for it. I had absolutely no access to paints or drawing materials the only place I could be creative was at school. I am the first in my family to graduate from The London University of Arts. 2.What rituals or routines do you have in place to support your mental and emotional wellbeing whilst creating art? I usually wake up very early, between 3 and 5am, if I am struggling, I will start my day with some positive affirmation meditations. Whilst I begin to paint. I started to get up early as I have children and anything can happen where I may not get a full day in the studio. Getting a head start on the day means that I have achieved something productive. 3.Can you share a specific moment when you overcame a creative block, and what strategies helped you navigate it? I have had many years where I had given up on being an artist, right after finishing University. I didn’t study women artists nor those of colour. I did not see them in galleries and museums so I felt little hope that I could make it. I had years of being creative and then years of absence. In the last decade I returned back to making art and now it feeds itself. My mind is constantly buzzing with images and ideas. In terms of blocks, sometimes that can be fear based I always say that no one else can make the marks that you make, no one else has lived the life that you have lived and those are uniquely yours. 4.Are there any unrealized projects or ideas you’ve been longing to bring to life? If there were no financial, time, energy, and capacity constraints, what would you create or exhibit? What’s holding you back, and how do you plan to overcome those obstacles? I have lots of projects that I would like to move forward with, constraints are financial and space and time. I’m constantly thinking about what’s next, how do I pull together the next body of work, where can it be seen? Can I get funding and support to realize these ideas? All I know is that I need to keep working and that it will find it space and place. I try not to burden myself with obstacles instead I focus on what I can do at this present moment. 5.In your opinion, what role does self-care play in maintaining longevity and fulfilment in a career as an artist? Interesting question, I feel that being true to yourself creatively is a form of self-care, creating the Art that you believe in. In terms of maintaining longevity, I look towards Art History and understand that there are many artists who did not live long live and yet their works are recognized globally. The key for me is to remain healthy, to continue producing and creating. It fulfils me to see that idea through, to constantly challenge myself, to keep growing as an artist and as a human being. 6.Can you give some insight into some of the challenges you faced to become the artist you are today and create the change you have made? Some of the challenges I have faced are how to navigate the artworld. Coming out of Art School, not knowing the business of art and how to build a life long passionate career. I just know that persevering, believing in the work that I make which challenges the status quo is what I need to do. All the ‘no’s light a fire in my belly and makes me double down. For example, the criticism that I receive from the way I instinctively use colour, it makes me want to use more colour. I push through and keep creating whether I am understood or not. 7.Can you describe a project that challenged you personally and emotionally? How did you manage your wellbeing throughout the process? My recent solo exhibition “Too Controversial” has been my biggest challenge so far. The art works titled “Women at Work” a series that faces the issues of forced labour and the rolling back of women’s rights that continue to happen whilst I am being interviewed. This body of work was created 4 years ago, I sat on it in fear that it would not be understood, that it was too graphic. I had moments where I thought I should not do this, yet I knew my work was strong and straight to the point. The work itself is challenging the system that is removing the rights for women to have autonomy over their own bodies. I just knew that putting the solo show together if anything would inspire the generation of women artists to continue the dialogue which is essential to our humanity. 8.What are some of the common themes or messages you like to incorporate in your artworks? Color is my language of communication; it is my strength. The saturated chromatic hues reflect my cultural heritage. It’s the through line incorporated within my artistic process connecting each body of work. Being a BIPOC woman and mother are significant to sharing my lived experiences. I am often thinking about the next generation, my environment and the complexities of the political climate. I ask myself how can I contribute, how can I help with the skill sets that I have, can I make a difference? Can I impact a change by curating a space that will engage a conversation on some difficult subjects? I tend to respond by making art, sometimes it feels like a safe place to communicate how I feel. 9.How important is representing your heritage, background and culture in your creative endeavours? We cannot escape from what we are born from and into, its subconsciously there. I feel it seeping out in the form of color, the method in which I apply my paint to the canvas, it is often flat in colour like Indian miniature paintings. The forms in my work refer back to classical archetypal goddesses broken down into abstracts shapes. I don’t feel that I have one culture from which I was brought up within. They are many from African, to Indian inspired by the multiculturalism of London and now the United States. 10.Who have been some of your artistic influences (past or contemporary) and why did their art appeal to you? I am defiantly inspired by Women artists, the biggest influence to me still to this day is Madonna. Through her I leant about Frida Kahlo, Tamara de Lempicka and Marylin Minter. These were the first women artists I was introduced to. I found that she gave me permission to be creative, empowered me to use my voice, my skills to say something through the work. That being a woman means breaking boundaries, pushing through the lines that have been drawn for us. Keep up with Shima's brilliant work by following her on IG: @shimastar_ or check out her website: www.shimastar.com

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‘The process of uncovering and piecing together my ancestry came with unexpected revelations and moments of intense emotional discovery…’
Sabrina Tirvengadum, celebrated artist and advocate for Disability justice on her journey of exploring her British Mauritian identity within her Art.
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Sabrina Tirvengadum is a multifaceted artist who has been exploring her family ancestry and coming to terms with her heritage like many individuals across the diaspora. Her insight on connecting with her rich and beautifully complex roots as an artist will offer solace to those who are currently on their path to understand who they are based on who and where they come from. Whether it be AI, ceramics, graphic design, photography or film, Sabrina has created an impressive portfolio that resonates with people of the global Indian diaspora and encourages its viewers to reflect upon the multi-coloured threads of their own existence and identity. Apart from her artistic endeavours, Tirvengadum, who is deaf, is also a staunch advocate for Disability justice becoming the co- founder of ‘We’re All Human’, a platform that advocates for more accessible content for persons with disabilities. She does not stop there as she is also an enthusiastic supporter of more artist led and created spaces collaborating closely with Parallel London, an artist-led gallery. Whew… do we feel inspired! Find out more about her advocacy for more accessible content, her collab with Parallel London and her take on the industry trends today. Read on to find out how she does it all and at the end of the day, prioritises her mental wellbeing, avoids burn out and still keeps on top of her game! 1.Can you give us some insight into your journey to become an artist? My journey in the art world has been exciting and very personal. I started studying Photographic Art at University, but when the economy got tough in the UK, I switched to web design. After working in graphic design for over ten years, I felt a strong need to make art that is personal and has a bigger impact. This led me to work closely with the disability justice movement and take part in projects run by people with disabilities. Later, I started to explore my own identity more and think about what different labels mean to me. My recent projects look at my family history and how it connects to DNA, truth and storytelling. Since 2022, my art has been shown at exhibitions in Europe, and I've been up for several awards. I've even had my art displayed on a billboard, been part of artist programmes, and been in articles. Right now, I'm working on a short film and I'm getting more involved in art projects led by the community. I’m using art to connect with others and make a difference. 2.What rituals or routines do you have in place to support your mental and emotional well-being while creating art? To keep my mental and emotional health strong while I create art, I've learned how important it is to find joy and meaning in my work. I make sure to take breaks regularly to keep my art life from feeling like a regular 9 – 5 job. A lot of my art looks at themes of identity and heritage, which means I often go deep into my own experiences. This can involve thinking about memories and difficult experiences, which requires me to feel and think about these deep emotions again. To handle this, I find it helpful to talk about my ideas and what I've found with others. Having conversations helps me see different viewpoints and manage my emotions better. 3.Can you share a specific moment when you overcame a creative block, and what strategies helped you navigate through it? One challenge I often face is not running out of ideas but having too many at once. I'm naturally good at coming up with lots of creative ideas, which can make it hard to choose which ones to focus on and when. To deal with this, I create plans and set goals for each project. This helps me organise my time and make sure I give enough attention to each idea without getting overwhelmed by them all. 4. Are there any unrealised projects or ideas you've been longing to bring to life? What's holding you back, and how do you plan to overcome those obstacles? One of my big goals has always been to explore my projects more deeply and closely. But I've run into problems because I don't have all the resources I need in the UK. To fix this, I plan to go to Mauritius next year. There, I'll be able to use family and national archives to help with my work. 5.In your opinion, what role does self-care play in maintaining longevity and fulfilment in a career as an artist? In my experience, taking care of yourself is important if you want to keep being creative and fulfilled in your work. In freelance work, it's easy to fall into a routine where you don't make many creative decisions because they're made for you, or the work gets very repetitive. This can make you feel disconnected from your art. Making sure I have a space where I can freely express myself helps me grow as an artist. Regular self-care lets me stop, think, and recharge my creative energy, so I can keep making work that is true to myself and meaningful. 6. Can you give some insight into some of the challenges you have faced to become the artist you are today and create the change you wanted? One big challenge was learning how to fit into the art world. It can be a very closed-off place with tight-knit groups that are hard to join if you're new. I also noticed that some people aren't very welcoming or helpful, which can be hard for new artists who need advice or opportunities to showcase their work. Plus, it's tough for newcomers to get noticed or recognised if they don't already have connections. To overcome these challenges, I've focused on building real relationships and finding people and communities who value inclusivity and working together. I'm constantly learning how to navigate these tricky social situations while staying true to my beliefs and what I want to achieve as an artist. 7. Can you describe a project that challenged you personally or emotionally? How did you manage your well-being throughout the process? Exploring my family history was both enlightening and emotionally taxing. The process of uncovering and piecing together my ancestry came with unexpected revelations and moments of intense emotional discovery. To take care of myself during this sensitive project, I made sure to take breaks. These breaks helped me process each new piece of information, reflect on its importance, and emotionally deal with the impacts of these discoveries. This approach not only helped me keep my emotional balance but also ensured that I could engage with the research thoughtfully and respectfully. It allowed for a deeper connection to my work, my family and my heritage. 8. What are some common themes or messages you like to incorporate into your artwork? My artwork includes the exploration and understanding of my own identity. I also focus on helping others revisit and acknowledge their past experiences through my work. This involves creating pieces that encourage reflection and provide insights into histories, aiming to create a deeper connection between us, ourselves and our own life story. 9. How important is representing your heritage, background and culture in your creative endeavours? And why? It’s very important to me. It’s a form of therapy that helps me understand myself better — knowing who I am and why I am. I also believe representation is crucial for others; it helps people feel seen and understood and helps them know they're not alone in their experiences. 10. You are also involved in the running of the artist-led gallery, Parallel London which is amazing. What advice would you give artists wanting to do the same in the set-up and running of these galleries? Being involved with Parallel London, an artist-led gallery, has been an incredible experience, largely due to the collaborative process with the main artist-curator, Tony Patterson. It’s a great way to showcase your work in a group setting and to engage with the art community. For artists looking to set up and run a similar gallery, I recommend focusing on collaboration. Work closely with other artists and curators who share your vision. It’s also important to be proactive in organising and promoting your events for your gallery to gain visibility and attract an audience. This approach not only helps in getting your work out there but also in building a supportive network. 11.Would you describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist? We see that you have delved in AI, ceramics and film. How do you keep motivated to pursue so many different creative pursuits? I consider myself an artist. My involvement in diverse fields like AI, ceramics, graphic design, photography and film shows my commitment to constantly develop as a creative. I stay motivated by keeping my options open and embracing a variety of techniques. I find that exploring different mediums not only improves my skills but also broadens my perspectives. 12. What are your thoughts on the current state of the art world, and do you see any trends or shifts that excite or concern you? I'm interested in how generative art is explored. As this form of art becomes more mainstream in the corporate world, there's a concern that it might not be deeply engaging. While the possibilities of generative art are exciting, it can enhance the storytelling rather than becoming a technological gimmick. Creatives need to use these tools thoughtfully to maintain the authenticity and personal touch of the artwork. 13. What do you think should be done to support artists from underrepresented backgrounds to succeed in the UK art world? To support artists from underrepresented backgrounds in the UK art world, it's crucial to expand our search beyond traditional art circles. We need to give emerging talents from diverse backgrounds opportunities to develop their skills. Actively seeking out artists from all walks of life and providing them with the support they need will help build a more inclusive art scene. 14. How do you navigate the tension between staying true to your artistic vision and meeting the expectations or demands of the art market? I navigate the tension between staying true to my artistic vision and market expectations by focusing primarily on my creative desires, rather than the art market. I believe in not letting the prospect of making money dictate my art. Instead, I have a separate job to handle financial needs, allowing me to create freely without pressure. I trust that if I stay authentic, my work will eventually resonate and attract attention on its own terms. 15. What advice would you give to emerging artists struggling with self-doubt or imposter syndrome? My advice to emerging artists dealing with self-doubt or imposter syndrome is to keep moving forward and actively celebrate your achievements. It’s important to hold a strong belief in your capabilities. Sometimes, you might need to boost your confidence by reminding yourself of your successes and the unique qualities you bring to your art. Stay committed to your growth and remember that every artist faces these challenges at some point. 16. Reflecting on your journey as an artist, what are some lessons you've learned about prioritising your own happiness and fulfilment in your creative practice? I’ve learned several important lessons about prioritising happiness and fulfilment in my creative practice. First, never give up, but remember it’s okay to take breaks. You can always return to your work when you’re ready. The door to creativity is never really closed. Understand that bad days are part of the process and don’t let them stop you. I’ve also learned that talking about my work can be challenging, but with practice and preparation, I improve and gain deeper insights into my practice and myself. Managing administrative tasks is tough but I recognise that effort is crucial for gaining exposure. Most importantly, move at your own pace, not someone else’s, unless you're working against an important deadline. Follow Sabrina on her IG account @another_hellosabsab or visit her website: https://sabrina.wereallhuman.uno/

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The Bridge Connecting Indian Folk and Tribal Artists to the West
Founder of Anrad Gallery and Curator, Anuradha Nayar on preserving and celebrating Traditional Indian Art 

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In an era where physical on-site galleries are facing closures, the future of art is undoubtedly in virtual gallery spaces and AR/ VR experiences for the public to engage in thought-provoking art. Curator and gallery founder, Anuradha Nayar is part of this new-age wave of art aficionados who have founded their own platforms to uplift artforms close to their hearts. We are witnessing a digital renaissance and also a departure from the dependance of white space galleries to unconventional and chronically online methods of consuming art. It is refreshing and quite frankly deliciously rebellious to witness art from underrepresented artists finally take center stage by curators who understand their purpose, background and artist goals. We at RASSA cannot wait for digital platforms and more virtual spaces curated by artists or gallery owners! As a long time Indian art enthusiast and advocate, Nayar has always fostered a love for traditional Folk and Tribal art. Eventually, this adoration blossomed into creating Anrad Gallery, a virtual gallery that represents artists who still produce Kalamkari, Kalighat, Pichwai, Mata Ni Pachedi, Orissa Pattachitra, Warli, Gond, Cherial painting, Madhubani, Kerala Murals, Palm leaf etching and Phad paintings. The Gallery truly is a bridge between the East and West showcasing artforms that are not generally in the mainstream media but still integral to India’s vast cultural identity and DNA. Nayar is proud to work alongside artisans who have carried on these traditions for centuries relying on sustainable practices from upcycling to using natural dyes to produce creations that reflect their heritage and artistic legacy. It was an absolute honor to interview Anuradha on her path to setting up the gallery, working with artists and ensuring traditional Indian artforms receive the recognition and acclaim they deserve. Check out Anrad Gallery’s next showcase at the Asian Art Fair in November 2024! Find out more by visiting their website and following them on IG as well as keeping up to date with their blog! 1.What inspired the gallery to focus on showcasing Indian art specifically classic folk and tribal art in London? It was set up with the sole purpose of developing patronage for this under-represented form of art. I am in awe of the skills possessed by these artists who have learned their craft from their fathers and grandfathers. Very few have been to art schools, yet the understanding of proportion and composition, as well as the use of color is second to none. Their respect for sustainable materials, the devotional fervor that informs their attitude towards their work and their belief in their artistic traditions and craft touched me enough to want to be that bridge who could help bring their work to the West. 2.How does the gallery select the artists and artworks to exhibit? I have always looked for artists who are sincere practitioners of their craft. This could be through recommendations of their clients who I know or my own interaction with them whenever I have looked for work for my own collection. I now have a core group of artists that I would with, several of whom are recognized for their work at the national or state level. I tend to buy, or promote, work based on how I respond to the work and the theme portrayed, the finesse of the work, the use of sustainable materials and if it is true to tradition. 3.How does the gallery contribute to the preservation of Indian cultural heritage through its exhibitions? The gallery contributes to the preservation of Indian cultural heritage by its insistence on showcasing work that is true to the best-in-class artistic traditions. The aim is to develop patronage such that the artist, and their apprentices, view this vocation as a viable way to support their lifestyle and they work towards creating works that are the fullest expression of their respective art forms. I also hope to be able to provide the impetus to help them further develop their techniques and materials with which they work. This will in time, I hope, encourage the next generation to apprentice within the family and be proud of their tradition. 4.What types of Indian art does the gallery primarily exhibit? Folk and Tribal art 5.How does the gallery educate visitors about the cultural significance of the artworks on display? I use a few ways to educate visitors about the cultural significance of the artworks. My Instagram page has quite a lot of information in bite sized chunks. I also write a blog which is on the website about various aspects of this art – I wish I were more regular as I do enjoy sharing what I have learnt about the themes, techniques and most of all the mystic symbolism of some of the works. And last, I try to speak to all those who are interested and come to visit my exhibitions to view the artworks. 6.What efforts does the gallery make to engage with the local Indian community in London? I (hope to) exhibit once or twice every year and I do reach out to people who have connected with the gallery and those who support its mission. 7.Can you discuss any upcoming exhibitions or events focused on cultural preservation? Anrad will exhibit at the Asian Art in London week in November ‘24. Every work procured and shown at the show helps to preserve the artistic culture that belongs to us all, not just to India. In addition, we are exhibiting at Fitzrovia Gallery from June 24-30! This will be a curated exhibition showcasing the finest examples of a variety of artforms. I am excited for this show! 8.How does the gallery support emerging Indian artists and foster their talent? I show artworks made by as many different artists as feasible to clients before narrowing the selection. I often commission works around themes. For example, I worked with our Kalighat Pattachitra artist to commission 27 paintings showing the main episodes of the Indian epic, Ramayana. 9.What role does the gallery play in promoting cross-cultural understanding through Indian art? I particularly like that the long association between India and the UK has resulted in a strong appreciation for the artistic expressions of Indian communities here. Through this gallery, I aim to highlight the essential oneness that underpins our world and all the communities within it through the imagery used in the paintings. I use my blog to bring this aspect to the readers’ attention, and often speak about it to people who come to view the artwork. 10.Does the gallery offer educational programs or workshops related to Indian culture and art? If not, would this be a future endeavor? The gallery does not offer educational programs or workshops but may think about doing so in the future. 11.What have been some highpoints of your journey as an organization and what have been some difficulties on your creative journey? Every sale gives me joy, but the best sorts of sales are when I am able to help an artist when they are in need. The power in connecting a buyer with an artist in need is very satisfying and makes my otherwise bumpy journey softer. The difficulties are of course breaking through my own limitations and fears as pursuing a passion can be quite expensive. It worries me that I might have to be develop a more practical approach to it. 12.How does the gallery ensure authenticity and ethical sourcing of artworks? I personally know each artist I work with and have visited, or have a plan to visit, each of their studios scattered across the country. Each painting is sourced directly from the artist by me. 13.Are there any specific regions or artistic traditions within India that the gallery focuses on and why? At Anrad, we have been focused on wall art/ paintings made on paper, cotton, silk or palm leaves! That’s mainly because my business is small, and I have not been able to bring in other categories of art such as sculpture … yet. 14.How does the gallery interact with other cultural institutions and organizations in London and beyond? Anrad Gallery is a member of Asian Art in London, which promotes London as a London as a Centre of excellence for the arts of Asia. During October and November, in and around Central London, a varied and extensive programme of specialized exhibitions and auctions are offered for sale by its Participants who are respected dealers, galleries and auction houses specializing in Asian art. 15.What are some myths of Indian classical folk and tribal art that you would like to debunk? I would love to debunk the idea that it is unworthy of being viewed through the same lens as all other contemporary art, and that it is inexpensive work found while wandering in ‘bazaars. To my mind, the works are captivating and beautiful, all the more because of the strong connect with traditional and sustainable practices, and Indian culture. 16.A key component of the creations presented is their sustainability and the artisans’ respect for the environment. How do you think these practices have survived throughout the ages and how do you think they will continue on within these communities and throughout the culture? I have always been impressed by their respect for nature’s bounty and her resources. Upon visiting the artists’ workspaces, I was blown away by how this pervades their way of life. Everything (for example, dyes or pigments or even tree gum to prepare a canvas) is made using materials found in the natural habitat of the local region and is made to meet immediate requirements. No excess - and no waste. Even old worn-out sarees are treated to make the canvas on which graceful figures and detailed scenes hint at the mystical symbolism of the composition. 17.What long-term goals does the gallery have regarding the promotion and preservation of Indian art and culture in London? The gallery aims to keep showing traditional arts through curated exhibitions and to generate greater exposure for these works. I hope in time we will be able to add to the collection by including sculpture and terracotta, to name a couple of other art forms. 18.If time, financial resources and capacity were not constraints, what would be some projects or endeavors you would undertake, the organisation’s unrealized projects? Without constraints … I would first and foremost get a physical space that I would make into a hub for the traditional forms of art from India. It would be a space dedicated to artists for their work and for them to come and work here, a space for collectors and art enthusiasts to see and learn about different artistic traditions and a space for academics and historians to document these crafts. I would also collaborate with others to create efficient platforms from where artists can interact with a wider market, and I would participate in may more shows in the UK and abroad. Last, but not least, I would spend curate tours to take people who engage with the arts through my ‘hub’ to artist communities to immerse in the practice and culture of the area. 19.If someone wanted to learn more about the vast array of classical Indian folk and tribal art, what resources would you recommend for them to check out? There are some coffee table books that have been published on the indigenous arts of India. A few museums in India and in the UK have works on display or in their archives. Visit Anradgallery.com or follow their IG page @anradgallery for updates on their exhibitions as well as to learn more about traditional Indian art from their blog!

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When one door closes, a Gallery Opens!

Founder of Motayo Gallery and Acclaimed Artist, Joshua Akinwumi on creating his own Opportunities and Space

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Joshua Akinwumi, successful visual and AI artist allows us to delve into his career as an artist and his journey to becoming a founder of his own gallery, Motayo Gallery. After recognising the vast disparity of art and artists that represent him and his rich heritage, Joshua like many other pioneers in art before us decided to take things into his own arts. When one door closed, he decided to open the doors of Motayo Gallery allowing underrepresented artists to express themselves freely without fear of judgement, misrepresentation or being misunderstood. The spectrum of the digital age can both reward and confuse artists with social media allowing artists to build lucrative careers whilst AI seemingly stealing and replicating their designs by the second. However, Akinwumi belongs to the legion of artists that are deciding to venture early and boldly into the AI and virtual gallery space carving out a place for artists whose work we have yet to learn from and love. Motayo Gallery is currently accepting submissions for their upcoming virtual art exhibition, ‘Serenity’. For more information visit: https://www.motayogallery.com/serenity/ 1. Can you give us some insight into your journey to become an artist? Answer: Like I always say to my friends “Art Chose me not the other way”. As a child, I found myself always sketching what I am able to describe now as abstractions and figures but back then, I had no idea of what they were. They were not as pleasing to me as the other things I would see my peers would draw. That sequence went on till my early days in University. This was the period I consciously delved into how art works and yes today, the rest is history as people say. 2. What rituals or routines do you have in place to support your mental and emotional well-being while creating art? Answer: I try as much as I can to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It is very easy to get lost in the studio for hours trying to perfect paintings and all that, but I always ensure to carve out time to look after myself and relax. I go on random walks, I spend time with loved ones, I love music, so I listen to loads of great music. I found out that taking a break from my work allows me to recharge and return to it with renewed energy and new directions. Also, I find comfort in making connections with other artists in the creative space, we talk through our struggles, and they are figured out. This specific process reminds me that I am part of an ecosystem bigger than just myself. 3. Can you share a specific moment when you overcame a creative block, and what strategies helped you navigate through it? Answer: 5 years ago, I was stuck on a certain body of work that was of high interest and importance to me. As a devoted Christian, all I did was to pray. I just had a genuine heart to heart conversation with God and that was it, my idea bank flung open. 4. Are there any unrealized projects or ideas you've been longing to bring to life? If there were no financial, time, energy, and capacity constraints, what would you create or exhibit? What's holding you back, and how do you plan to overcome those obstacles? Answer: I have 2 specific projects titled “Ifeduro” and “Bloom Again”. They are currently being created and would be ready before the Q3 of the year. Without any form of restrictions, I would still create the kind of works I am currently creating. Because my art is political and inspire hope, I do not see them being restricted by any factor or condition. 5. In your opinion, what role does self-care play in maintaining longevity and fulfilment in a career as an artist? Answer: This is very essential and paramount. As an artist, you want to be in good health and good age while the body of works you created ages back are still relevant many years after. Self-care and evolution are ways by which you can achieve these. 6. Can you give some insight into some of the challenges you have faced to become the artist you are today and create the change you have made? Answer: There was the challenge of acceptance, quite a few people could not relate or accept my artistry because it was not what they were used to. Creating works but not being properly remunerated was also another topic to touch on. 7. Can you describe a project that challenged you personally or emotionally? How did you manage your well-being throughout the process? Answer: I recently hosted a Solo exhibition titled “LIMITLESS”. There were 20 bodies of works in the show, they were systematically and artistically curated from my body of works over the last 5 years. It was really challenging because I was specific about certain things like the layout of the artworks, the body of works that were curated, the lighting of the gallery, the installation, the arrangement, the choice of sounds and a host of other things. I am kind of old fashioned, I would rather use my pen and paper to make notes rather than type on my laptop or iPad. So, the whole concept is drafted out in my art book, you know from the incubation, to ideation, to meeting with stakeholders. However, I am very lucky to have in my team world class curators, art technicians and everyone needed to make a project successful. 8. What are some common themes or messages you like to incorporate into your artwork? Answer: A trademark of my work is noise and grains. They give my works the feel and fill of completion. Messages of hope are embedded in all my works. 9. How important is representing your heritage, background, and culture in your creative endeavours? And why? Answer: My culture and heritage are creators and orators of some of the best art stories in the world, but we are underrepresented and often times misunderstood. Being able to stand here today and rub shoulders with other established artists globally is a beacon of light and a big ray of hope for my background and every upcoming artist. 10. You also started Motayo Gallery which is a space for the upliftment and celebration of Black heritage and artistry. What motivated you to become a founder of this gallery? Answer: The underrepresentation was a big motivation for this. Few years ago, I and a few other talented artists had a very difficult time getting our amazing works into galleries to land exhibitions. Our works were not bad, but the system was not just favourable to us. Some of these experiences birthed Motayo Gallery where genuine artists will have the opportunity to showcase their works to a global audience, meet with collectors, network with fellow artists, and build a better artist community. 11. What have been some challenges you have faced in the setting up and running of your gallery? Answer: Funding and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with world class collectors was a thing but it gets better as each day goes by. 12. What advice would you give artists wanting to do the same in the set up and running of their own galleries? Answer: Understand that art is a way of life, don’t go after immediate monetary gain. Art is not just a business venture; it is more than so do not run your galleries like that. Also don't be scared to start small. 13. As a gallery owner and founder, what do you think is next for galleries given the advancement of AI and the digital age we are currently experiencing? How do you think galleries can adapt and still maintain relevance? Answer: AI is just a tool and a medium for artists to create their works. Because art is progressive and evolution will forever be in vogue, galleries have to strategize and be properly positioned such that they do not become irrelevant with the technological advancement in the art world. 14. What are your thoughts on the current state of the art world, and do you see any trends or shifts that excite or concern you? Answer: It is exciting, I see growth, I see collaborations, I see thriving and budding communities where the established artists are providing opportunities for the upcoming to thrive and become great. 15. What do you think should be done to support artists from underrepresented backgrounds to succeed in the UK art world? Answer: Networking, exposure, and funding opportunities. 16. How do you navigate the tension between staying true to your artistic vision and meeting the expectations or demands of the art market? Answer: There is always a middle ground. You know to create those amazing projects you have on your list; you need the finance. Therefore, there are times that some arts must be created for the market demands to fund personal projects if there are no sponsors. 17. What advice would you give to emerging artists struggling with self-doubt or imposter syndrome? Answer: Your art is your art, an expression of your thoughts, feelings, and imaginations. No one feels it as you do so go out there, create and show your works to the world. 18. Reflecting on your journey as an artist, what are some lessons you've learned about prioritising your own happiness and fulfilment in your creative practice? Answer: A very short answer, my art is my art. It is my creation, it existed in my mind, in my imaginations, I brought it to life and that brings me happiness. With that being said, I ensure that from time to time, I go for critique sessions, reviews, and listen to feedback from my mentors in the industry. For more information on Motayo Gallery or to keep up to date with their phenomenal exhibits, follow their Instagram page @motayogallery.

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Gallery founder and curator, Magnus Guldborg on how Synergy rather than Competition between Galleries can bridge the Representation Gap.

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The Danish founder of Galleriet Agnes, located in Copenhagen, drops his gems of wisdom on navigating the art world as well as advice he would give to up-and-coming curators and artists. The gallery which showcases predominantly Figurative, Realist and Surrealist art from German, UK and Danish artists is going to be launching their second exhibition on Friday 5th April, 2024 in Copenhagen. Following the success of the gallery’s first exhibition exhibiting works from Thomas Mau and Matt Macken in September 2023, Galleriet Agnes has been given the opportunity to sell three of Banksy’s (acclaimed street graffiti artist). As an advocate for collaboration and diversity within the arts, Guldborg reflects on when he started the gallery. Galleries gave him insight into the world of art and navigating the myriad of challenges new founders often encounter. Galleriet Agnes has now blossomed into a home for innovators like Emily Wilcock, Thomas Mau, Jan Sebastian Koch, Matt Macken, Fabian Seyd, and Jack Hilton. It is no surprise then that he believes that when galleries collaborate, the elitism and the lack of representation in the relationship-based art world can decrease with more opportunities for artists coming to the surface. As a curator, Guldborg expounds on his artist-centred approach to curating. Renowned curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, adopted and advocated a similar ethos when working with artists as the focus is to remain on the art and its creators. We see more new- age curators like Guldborg following in his footsteps as he encourages a collaborative space and prioritises artistic freedom. In an age where we have virtual galleries, online curated spaces and eventually AI and VR platforms, Galleriet Agnes represents the future of galleries as a space which fosters collaboration, inclusivity and openness. Gone are the days where galleries can be increasingly exclusive, rigid and often times stifling for both the artist and the viewer as they can jeopardize their own existence. One may term museums and galleries as an endangered species unless they adopt core principles that align with the future generation’s ideals of transparency, respect for art and a oneness for each other. 1.Can you share the story of how you founded your gallery and what motivated you to embark on this journey? A. It was a spontaneous idea that popped up in my head while I was in London the summer of 2023. I never planned or dreamt of starting a gallery, pretty random yea. 2. What challenges did you face in establishing your gallery, and how did you overcome them? A: I guess all challenges you can possibly imagine that comes with doing everything for the first time ever, I’ve never owned a company before, let alone exhibit art. I tried my best talking to other galleries and learn from them. Luckily enough they were willing to help me out. 3.How do you select the artists you work with, and what criteria do you consider when curating exhibitions? A: I think I’m really intrigued by works with a heavy and direct personality, something that wants to stand out and expresses self-confidence. As of the curatorial part, I try to imagine 1 work from each artist being presented next to each other, and if I like the vibe, then I just carry on. 4.Is there a particular art movement or style that you are drawn to and why? A: Always been a sucker for figurative stuff, don’t really know why, maybe its because my patience just doesn’t allow anything else really. 5.Could you describe your approach to collaborating with artists? A: I try my best to give as much ownership and freedom to the artists as possible, in the hope of expressing their personality as much as possible. 6.How do you support artists’ creative vision while ensuring it aligns with your gallery's objectives? A: The gallery and artists should grow together but still very much stand out and not become one unit. Diversity is super important, and allowing the artist rather than restricting them is much more of a trust thing than anything else. When galleries gets too involved, I feel like it can sort bring a capitalistic decease to the purity of the art. 7.What role do you believe galleries play in shaping the contemporary art landscape? A: Well, what I hope the gallery industry turns into is a supportive role much rather than a controlling one. Supporting the artists in their never-ending pursuit on creating. 8. How do you stay informed about emerging artists and art trends? In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting developments happening in the art world today? A: I enjoy talking to people I don’t know that well, which allows me to stay decently informed on perspectives I never would’ve seen myself. I think digitalisation has changed the game completely, and has undoubtedly forced galleries and collectors to become more aware of emerging artists, evening out the odds a bit more, while also connecting markets. 9.How do you balance commercial success with artistic integrity in your gallery's operations? A: I’ve never really cared too much about money to be honest, if so I never would’ve started a gallery. I’ve never made a business plan nor do I intend to in the future. I’m here because if I were to shut down my operations today I would start it again tomorrow, so I guess that’s my type of integrity. 10. Can you discuss a particularly memorable exhibition or artist collaboration that had a significant impact on you or your gallery? A: My very first one with Matt Macken and Thomas Mau, I’ve never been so stressed in my life, and I had no clue what I was doing, so much so that I really wasn’t enjoying the opening at all, but I still wanted to do it again. Suppose that’s enough confirmation for me. 11.What advice would you give to aspiring artists looking to work with galleries? A: Expect something from them, and make sure that your personality matches with the galleries, to a degree where you feel like it’s a fun and happy environment. You should be there for the long run. 12. Alongside your duties as a gallery owner, you are also a curator! What are some of your core principles when curating that you never abandon? A: That I get excited to a degree where I almost have an anxiety attack. 13.What advice do you have for up-and-coming curators unsure of their vision and direction? A: You’ve got to work on your self-confidence more than anything. Feel comfortable with the fact that you can’t (and shouldn’t) please everyone, but still be aware of your responsibilities towards the viewer and artist. 14.How do you foster relationships with collectors and art enthusiasts to promote the artists you represent? A: Talk with them about anything else than art. Relationships with people can’t be faked, its completely okay to admit that there’s just some people you don’t connect well, and forcing it because of money will never do you any good. Quality over quantity is also very relevant when it comes to your relationships with other people, not just paintings. 15.How do you see the role of technology evolving in the art world, and how does your gallery adapt to these changes? A: I’m a person of habit, once I find a rhythm with something I typically never change it, which will probably be my downfall in terms of technology though I’m fascinated by the potential of it for sure. 16. What initiatives do you undertake to engage with the local community and promote art education and appreciation? 1A: Agnes will always be invested in taking applications, and giving feedback no matter how booked we are, simply because its our duty to do so. Open Calls will always be a big part of our identity, and collaborating with other galleries who have the muscle to bring in some of the artists that we can’t. 17. What strategies do you employ to stand out among competitors? A: By not having any, the gallery should reflect realness and I try do to that by just being myself, as much as that can probably hurt and restrict our potential as well. 18. What do you think galleries and the art world in general can do to increase access to artists from underrepresented communities? A: By working together as a unit rather than competitors. In my eyes that can bring a ton of opportunities to the art scene and artists, making each other aware. 19. Can you give us one piece of art that impacted you and made you want to lead a life full of art and creative energy? Who was the artist? A: My grandfather and grandmother has this poster by Pablo Picasso “Man with a straw hat and an ice cream” from an exhibition they went to in the 70s. It’s placed in the exact same spot it was put in back from when they got it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain why, but I literally think of it every single day, very very weird. 20. Lastly, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of your gallery, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years? A: I want Agnes to be a big resource in the future prioritization of culture and art. I’ve always wanted Agnes to be collaborative with other galleries, and hopefully we’ll eventually spread our wings to cover other countries than just Denmark. Keep up to date with their latest exhibitions on their website: www.galleriet-agnes.com

“We must change the perception of who gets to make art and who it is for...”

Bayo Obasaju, CEO of The Create Foundation on how Arts & Culture organisations like Create can uplift the community through showcasing underrepresented Art

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RASSA had the privilege of interviewing Bayo Obasaju, CEO of the Create Foundation based in London, an arts & culture organisation dedicated to uplifting the artworks of artists from underrepresented backgrounds, placemaking and engaging with diverse communities and young people . We got his insights on how art can be a transformational vessel for communities, young people who often feel disempowered and society at large. Organisations like the Create Foundation are integral to the diversification of the art world offering spaces for artisans to foster their talent, sell their pieces, connect to other creatives and grow healthily into artists who can create a true impact on our perceptions of innovation and artistic creation. 1.When was the organisation created? The organisation was formed in 2018. 2.What was the purpose of creating the organisation? Where did the idea come from? We had been doing community engagement work around regeneration projects and became interested in placemaking generally and place-based work with young people specifically. We want to create spaces that were intended to spotlight the talent around us. 3.What are 3 main values/ pillars upon which Create Foundation built? Equity, Relevance and Innovation. 4.What are some of the service offerings you provide for artists? We provide a programme of retail opportunities through markets, exhibition spaces, pop ups and curated events. We also host networking and information events to help build connectivity and encourage artists and creatives to realise and leverage their own power. 5.What impact do you think art can create within communities? Art can be transformational; it can change the ways in which people are seen and shape or challenge narratives around communities. Art allows us to find common ground or occupy someone else’s perspective. The dynamic between art and activism feels like it is essential to any healthy community. 6.What do you think can be done to structurally and institutionally to allow young artists from all backgrounds to feel comfortable creating, showcasing and working on their art? We must change the perception of who gets to make art and who it is for. There are great artists producing work that don’t get the recognition they deserve in their own communities. We need to reconsider the value of art, it is often minimised as something decorative or ‘nice to have’ as opposed to something that is more essential. 7.What do you think are some of the biggest challenges young artists face when they begin creating or even after they have started their creative journey? The chasm that seems to exist between making work and the stratified spaces of galleries where that work can be shared and displayed. It’s hard to get to market and find an audience and begin to build a supporters and advocates. 8.Do you think the art market still lacks democracy and if so, what do you suggest can be done to make art and the sale of art more democratic? From our perspective it’s not democratic or transparent enough but there isn’t an easy fix. The key to more democracy is changing where power sits. Where art is commercial there is always compromise involved. I think there is something in the idea of creating a world where art is more valued so that artists can get recognition and revenue from a multitude of sources… That could facilitation, working in community and education settings or commissions. 9.How do you think artistic storytelling has evolved in the last couple of years? That’s a good question. I think we are seeing more hybrid approaches to art and a mixing of disciplines. Artists are more able than ever to speak directly to an audience, building stories, meaning and connection. The idea of art being translated to audience via a gallery info panel feels dated. I think there is an opening up and cross pollination of stories as more young people from the global majority become artists and find their voices. 10.What are some exciting trends and movements in the art market that you are looking forward to? Anything that is DIY is exciting to me. We take a lot of inspiration from Soundsystem culture in our work and love the idea that someone can takeover an informal space and transmit culture and ideas. I think there are increasing opportunities to bypass the gallery and gatekeeper in the art space. 11.What do you do as an organisation to keep motivated and driven in fulfilling your purpose? Its people that motivate us. Seeing your work impact someone on a personal level is a powerful motivator. Sometimes you labour over something and question yourself but seeing what it can mean to someone else makes it worth it. We try to be innovative and unafraid of failure. 12.What have been some key highlights on your journey as an organisation so far? Our first markets in 2019, opening two shops in 2020 feel like the key milestones. The things I’m most excited about are more to do with organisational development, improving our the quality of what we do, and working in a way that is community led. 13.What have been some key challenges as an organisation that you had to overcome to fulfil the organisation’s vision and goals? Unless you are the landowner you are always a bit precarious and dependent on relationships when you’re doing place-based work. Navigating the charity sector is also a challenge because innovation doesn’t always register as effective work to the people holding the money. The precarity is the big thing, we want to think and work with the long in mind but we’re constantly having to navigate shorter term challenges. 14.What advice would you give to creators now beginning their creative journey, eager to make a professional career and impact? Be willing to learn, a professional career is a process and being open minded doesn’t mean you have to give up your core beliefs or principles. Through doing this you’ll get better at seeing opportunities and identifying the resources to get you where you want to be. 15.The Windrush market was inspiring. What inspired Create Foundation to produce this opportunity for artists? It’s something that we’ve been asked to do in the past and decided to make happen again for Windrush 75. The majority of the creatives we work with identify as black so Windrush resonates with us, it’s an unfolding story with so much power and richness. 16.You have successfully developed a community of supportive creatives. What are some success stories you would like to share? The most exciting stories are the ones around transition points, where someone brings a piece of work they’ve made and finds a buyer for it the first time and starts to see themselves or what they do differently. Supporting a community of over 60 makers in a shop and having worked with over 500 young creatives you start to see those wins everywhere. Seeing creative people who’ve met through something we’ve organised just go off and collaborate on something entirely new like a clothing line aways inspires me. 17.What lessons have you learnt as an organisation in the creative space? Be creative and always try to be effective in what you do. The first part is about relevance and creating the right spaces and opportunities for our community, the second part is to make it count and focus in on what you can achieve. 18.How do you intend to grow/ push the envelope as an organisation? What is next for Create Foundation? We want to expand the opportunities we offer, so we’re looking at more markets and retail opportunities in the near term. In the longer term, asset development. We’d like a place of our own that enables us to support and nurture our community in new and different ways and connects up the different strands of our work and thinking. 19.How important is having exhibitions/ showcases where artists express their heritage and culture to Create Foundation? Its central. Creative people are inspired by and respond to being able to bring their whole self into what they do. Surfacing heritage and culture is an aspect of our work that we feel that really matters. It’s a signal that everyone’s culture is important and that culture is something we can express and remake for ourselves. 20.What other exciting exhibitions, events and showcases can we look forward to where artists can celebrate their roots and culture? We should have a programme of monthly events and opportunities in Brixton starting in August and some new showcases to share in the next few weeks! Follow the Create Foundation: @createfoundation Or visit their website: www.createfoundation.org.uk for the latest events and upcoming announcements on showcases, exhibitions and hottest new artists

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From National King of Carnival to acclaimed award winning Costume Designer:

Sean De Freitas on the Power of Trinabgonian  Mas

Trinidad born Sean De Freitas pays homage to his roots throughout his career as a successful event designer and costume designer.

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The odour of fresh produce at the Sunday Markets, Vicks rubbed lovingly although be it aggressively over your chest and under your snivelling nose, melting black cake on your tongue, pommecythere and pepper pressed against the roof of our mouth and of course the surge of excitement you get from the very first glimpse or partial shove from your peers when you see Pretty Mas. These are some of intimate sentiments that as a Trinbagonian you have the privilege of experiencing. They tie you to one another and become a sacred well of nostalgia large and generous enough to supply a lifetime of longing. You share an intrinsic connection with other Trinis and Caribbean people when it comes to the hysteria and happiness Carnival brings. It is a silent knowing that we have the opportunity to witness the average man and woman express themselves, soaked in self-confidence and embracing their physical and emotional freedom. It is also an excitement that prefaces Carnival Monday and Tuesday when you witness the creations of talented Mas makers and designers. The entire art of Mas Making seems to embody a spiritual reconnection to the past and even the future then channelling it into the present. Trinidadian scholar, Kevin Adonis Browne, author of ‘High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture’ states that “Mas is a mentality, a way of understanding who we are and where we stand.’ Few have that gift to surrender themselves fully as a vessel for the past and present to instil a sense of self and pride to the audiences. We think of the greats like Peter Minshall, Brain MacFarlane and Allyson Williams who have produced some iconic Mas creations over the years. Sean De Freitas, founder and creative director of his own events and arts company, was once inspired to not just participate in Mas but create it. The Trinidadian-born artist was once crowned ‘National Junior Carnival King’ at just 11 years old which set the stage for him to win ‘National King of Carnival’ 11 years later. This love for Carnival, Mas and the design process allowed him to discover one of his true passions. After moving to South Florida to study advertising, Sean began working in the Special Events industry realizing his passion for costumes could bring a fresh approach to events. He opened his company, Designs by Sean, here in Florida in 1994. In 1995, Designs by Sean expanded from a one-employee business to a company employing a full-time staff of 21 with multiple manufacturing departments. Sean hit the international market in 1996 and founded ‘Designs by Sean’, a multi-faceted design house capable of producing every element of an event. You can find more of his unique work here: https://designsbysean.com/overview.html Sean's work has been recognized with over 35 industry awards including, but not limited to, Site "Crystal Recognition Awards", International Special Events Society (ISES) "Esprit Awards", Event Solutions Magazine "Spotlight Awards" and Special Events Magazine "Gala Awards". Sean has designed events for many corporate companies, including American Express, Google, Shawn Carter Foundation, Cisco, Disney, Universal, Cirque du Soleil, The M.B.A., Carnival Cruise Lines to name a few. Today, not only does Sean excel in the event design space but he has also nurtured his own art by creating exhibitions like ‘ReinArtation’ on his online gallery found at https://www.galleryeleveneleven.com/sean-de-freitas/ . The exhibition is a triumph both in sentimentality and sustainability. Items once discarded or perhaps deemed unusable were reinvigorated by De Freitas as he constructed abstract sculptures and creations embodying existential, familial, socio-political and spiritual themes. The rustic allure of pieces like ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’ and ‘Combatant’ coupled with intricately and strategically placed vintage adornments highlight De Freitas’ unwavering attention to detail. Through the rubble, he was empowered to create some truly thought-provoking pieces. It is certainly a gift to see past the rust and uncover the rich. Inspired by the concept of reincarnation, De Freitas chose to breathe life into an array of rusted and refused items thereby performing artistic reincarnation. He delves into his past and reflects upon his career thus far with us. Have a read to see how his creativity has blossomed and how he channels his love for Carnival into his art to this day. 1.Can you give a little background on your journey so far? Why and how did you choose to become an artist? I have always wanted to be an artist. Even when I was a kid I was always trying to create things, choose my own clothes, and rearrange everything in the house. Back then I thought you had to be able to draw and paint to be considered an artist, which I could not do either. Instead, I just made stuff with my hands working off the vision in my head since I could not really draw it. When I look back now at my childhood, I realize I was surrounded by so many great artists that were not necessarily painters, but created 3-D visual art in so many different forms (costumes being the main one). It opened my eyes to the path I would take and becoming what I now know to be an artist. 2. How would define ‘Roots’? Roots as we know it or as stated in the dictionary is relating to something cultural or ethnic in one’s origin. I see it as a cultural DNA that is embedded into one’s journey from birth that unlike actual DNA from your parents. It can enrich and soak into your soul so deeply that it results in charting the journey of your entire life. It has been one of the most important ingredients to who I am today. 3. How important is representing your roots, identity and heritage in your pieces? I think my roots inevitably are represented in everything I do and create, they are embedded in my mind, the way I think, the way I see things. Our parents teach us right from wrong, but the roots of a culture, a country, the childhood, a community, the melting pot of many cultures living together and how they share and intertwine the flavours that result in the creativity, the food, the music- it contributes to what I see, feel and create from. 4. Apart from costume design, you are also a successful interior designer? Can you give us a bit of insight into how you got into it and how it allows you to channel your vision and creative ability? I do event design, which is a form of interior design. It’s just not always permanent. After leaving Art School (where I wanted to do interior design,) I ended up doing Advertising instead, (which I did not like). I started working for an artist here in Fort Lauderdale who did sculpting with rope as well as designing boats for the Winterfest Boat Parade. It showed me I could be an artist using what I had learned from Carnival back home in Trinidad and Tobago. Since I started making costumes at home growing up and seeing the interaction between performer and onlooker, I wanted to take that and apply it to events bring the experience to life. My dream is to have my own art gallery one day but also make it an educational experience for the visitor. Right now, I just have an online Gallery, Galleryeleveneleven.com. But I will always keep dreaming until I get there. 5. What is your creative process for costume design and event design? First comes the inspiration. It could be a movie I saw, or the feeling I got from being in a space or environment. There is always a moment when I get that vision, and then it just starts flowing. I then work straight from my head to the finished product (which if I am working with a crew drives them crazy LOL! ). Since I am the only one that knows what I am making and they cannot see what it is until it all comes together. 6. Do you try to tell a story with each piece or event from when you conceptualise it to ultimately bringing the piece / event to life? Yes, I love story telling, that’s what gives the piece a life or meaning. We all want to be taken on a journey and this journey is the artist’s vision. 7.Where do you get inspiration to create these thought-provoking pieces and event concepts? Everyday life or experiences, I did not realize at the time until I looked at the full collection of the show, how much of my life experiences were in many of the pieces, telling my inner emotions or memories. 8. What do you do when you get the dreaded creative block? I usually walk away or move on to a new piece. The thing is with my Art, I get the idea or vision from one thing and then it changes all along the way as I have to find or feel the right piece to create my story. So, I am always working on multiple pieces at a time, and as I go to get one object for one piece, I find something else for another and jump right back on to that piece. It is constantly evolving until it’s done. 9.Can you give us a bit of insight into your fondest memory of Carnival? As a kid, I would go to the Savanna on Carnival Tuesday and wait for everyone to cross the stage, as this is when they would start giving away their headpieces and standards once the band had been judged. I climbed the fence, begging for their pieces of costumes and collecting as much as I could carry and go home and dismantle them all and make my own costumes from the scraps. In 1976, my creative life would be changed forever when Wayne Berkley dressed me in costume as ‘King Richard, the Lion Heart’ for kiddies’ carnival on my own white pony. I was crowned Junior King of Carnival. From that moment forward I told my mom this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I always look back at that experience and know that it began there. 10.Has your heritage become a source of inspiration for your costume design? Without a doubt. Without having grown up in Trinidad and being a part of Carnival everything I have created would be so different. The energy of the people and culture at home was so inspiring. I witnessed a nation sometimes with its differences come together every Carnival and celebrate joy and love and creativity. I am so glad I grew up at home during these periods to be influenced by the Carnival Greats on my time, when Carnival was Carnival!!! 11.Who are some of your artistic inspirations/ role models? There are so many great artists out there. Most never get the recognition they deserve, I am inspired sometimes by their story as much as by their art. It is so subjective with Art, like love it is all in the eye of the beholder. My biggest source of inspiration is Nature! If you look at the colours, shapes, textures, and shadows, it is all original and we are the ones that try to recreate it in some shape and form. 12.Your pieces are innovative and even avant-garde. Are you inspired by any artistic movements? How have they influenced your creations? Actually, over the years my taste in art has broadened to many different styles. I love colour and texture. As far as my art I think I have been most influenced by the “Outside Art”/ Folk Art. This whole movement of Art from the African-American South. What this has taught me is to look at Art from a whole different perspective and that you don’t have to go to Art School or be taught specific technics to be an artist. Sometimes creating Art from nothing or whatever you have to work with and transforming it into something artistic is way more creative than having everything at your disposal. My pieces have more to the eye that the first look. Most of the time there is a story to be imagined or told. 13.Your ‘Reinartation’ exhibition was phenomenal. The idea of creating novelty from artefacts and items that have been used. ‘Like Mother like Daughter’ was one of my personal favourites and it frankly took my breath away. What inspired the concept? I was always collecting pieces of things as a kid and would always go down to the Antique shop down the hill after school and get lost with all the artifacts until my mom would call and say, ‘Is he there? Send him home for dinner.’ With ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’, it started out with just the bigger piece which was an old Gas lantern from London with Venetian glass from an old chandelier creating the flowers. I love mixing different textures. It sat there for a while by itself and I knew it was missing something. But I did not know what. And then I found the small oil can and it just clicked in my head, almost like the tea pot and tea cup in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. I love relationships between moms and their children. It’s a special thing. 14. What were some themes you wanted to portray in ‘Reinartation’? I think I can go to many places with’ ReinArtation’ , the name came to me once I started putting objects together one day in my studio during Covid. I also was watching a documentary on Reincarnation at the same time and thought to myself ‘I am giving new life or identity to all these objects’. Some of which were rusted broken or were just unique items that together could tell a story or recreate a new vision. My definition or the word is ‘Rein.ART.ation’. The art of taking something from its original use and transforming it into a new creative vision or experience. 15.What was your most challenging piece to create in the exhibition and what was your favourite? ‘The Combatant’ was my most challenging piece since it was the heaviest and there was just a lot of welding and structural elements. ‘Chasing Time’ and ‘The Realm of Tomorrow’ are my favourites but the most personal piece to me in the show was ‘The Blossoming Tears’. 16.What were some major challenges that you overcame to become the artist you are today? I think never giving up and believing that when the time was right it would fall into place and happen. There have been many times when things go wrong but somehow I always find a solution. I think that is one of my strongest assets- solving problems. I am a big believer that things happen for a reason. There is always a guardian angel looking out for me . 17.How long did it take you to identify and master your style and thematic choices? Is this an ongoing process? When I look back now, I realize that I have always been taking things and reworking or repurposing them into something else. I did not notice that until I had done the show and looked back at past projects and notice I was reusing stuff. I hate to throw something away as I feel It still has a purpose and I always find a way to use it in a different manner, even in all my events. 18.How do you intend on pushing the envelope and going further with your costume design, interior design and events? Do you have new themes to be explored? I feel now with my costumes I want to work more on specific projects using my costumes more as art pieces, who knows I may start incorporating them in my art exhibits. As far as events, I have always done them for other people. Now or in the future, I would love to explore doing my own multimedia show incorporating all three elements on my craft and putting them together into an immersive journey. 19.You have had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest companies in the world. Did you ever find yourself in a position where you had to compromise your artistic vision for a more commercial approach? If so, how did you navigate this dilemma? Yes, when working for corporations, there is always borders to work within. That is why I am enjoying my new journey with my Art. I get to control and do whatever I want and express my unedited visions. In the past when faced with these dilemmas there was always a solution. I believe when creating, always reach for the stars, knowing that most of the time you will be pulled back into the atmosphere. But even there, it still will be great. 20.I am sure you are aware of the ‘Bikini and Beads’ take over when it comes to contemporary Carnival costume design in the Caribbean. What do you think of the evolution of Carnival costumes and the current state of Carnival costume design? As I had mentioned earlier, I am so glad I grew up at a time when Carnival was Carnival! Don’t get me wrong it is still there, just changed with a whole new perspective. Like everything in the world today, it is constantly changing, and the new generations want different things. We had such a great talented group of designers back in the 70s to the 2010s. Some are still here, the problem is that the mas player wants something else, and it’s so sad to see that creative spirit and talent lost to just what people want now. I think back to the days of spectacle in the streets, the excitement of waiting to see what Minshall is coming with, the magical sounds of David Rudder, the pandemonium of the North stand during Panorama, so many great memories, and the people of that time know exactly what I am talking about. 21.I am sure you have incorporated tech in both your costume design and event design given the scale and level of imagination you bring to your pieces. In the age of Chap GPT and AI, the advancing technologies and how they are incorporated into art is extremely exciting. I am curious to know how you think AI could impact the event space and even costume design? I think all new aspects of technology bring a new exciting medium to the table. It has changed the event world incredibly and brought so many new easier possibilities to design. It can be used by itself or as a new layer to something stagnant giving it life and movement. I have been playing with mixing these elements together which I did in a few of my pieces from my show. 22.Would you be keen to incorporate AI into your events and costume design ? Yes for sure, it is still so new and constantly evolving so quickly, but it will change both the art world and everything around it, I just hope it never takes away the human aspect or touch of creating Art. 23.What advice would you give an up-and-coming creative that you wish you got? Always stay true to yourself, knowing that one day you will get your time and stage to share your passion and language of who you are and what you want to express to the world. Art is a language that has many translations, you as the Artist can express your own. 24.What is one piece of art that deeply resonated with you, and you still get inspiration from to this day? I have a painting that I bought when I was 21. It is from one of Trinidad’s greatest Artist Bosco Holder .I saved up all my money for a year paying it off back in 1988, and it always reminds me of home and my Roots, and to never forget where I came from. It hangs in my bedroom close to my heart. 25.What is one piece/ series of works you have produced that you are immensely proud of? Why? Even though I have won many awards throughout my career I still feel my greatest piece was one of my first “The Visitor” the costume I built for myself in 1988 for Carnival. It was my childhood dream to build and perform a costume to cross that Savana stage and compete with all my mentors. What made it so special was the group of people that came every night to help me build it in what we call the Mas Camp, they had no idea what I was building as it was in my head but believed in my Vision. That was a perfect example of when we say our Roots, for it was what that whole experience was about. It was the coming together of people from all backgrounds including children and helping create a moment in my life that will last a lifetime. 26.What is one thing you do to take care of your mental health and artistic spirit? I spend a lot of time alone, thinking (overthinking some people might say ) but we live in such a fast pace and crazy world these days, we need to take time away from everything and experience nature more and silence , it is very calming and cleansing. The most beautiful things are all around us and free ,we must savour them . 27.Fun question: (A podcast/ book/album/ piece of art that you recommend to our readers) I do not read much since I am ADHD, so I absorb life mostly through my visual experiences. All I would say is nature to me is still the most powerful and beautiful source of our life’s experiences that’s your breath away. It is life in the purest form that is always evolving and always Original.

‘Like many other countries, Trinidad itself houses a type of darkness in its soul...’

Kevin Jared Hosein, renowned Trinbagonian writer on his internationally acclaimed novel, ‘Hungry Ghosts’ exploring 1940s Trinidad, Caribbean history and conflict. 

Hungry Ghosts is, at its core, a stirring family drama marked by betrayal. Hosein’s tender characterization of each character’s emotions, desires, and flaws makes for an absorbing read on its own, but his astute portrayal of class, religion and culture is what makes Hungry Ghosts remarkable.”-

Liberty Martin, Harvard Review

The Caribbean has nurtured and been a well of unparalleled inspiration for writers for generations. From our delicate history, fraught relationships between the islands and complex current socio-cultural and economic states at present, creatives have tried to dissect what the Caribbean stands for, what it means to be ‘Caribbean’ and how we should progress. The works of Derek Walcott, Sir Vidya Naipaul, Sam Selvon, Olive Senior and Kamau Braithwaite are a testimony to the golden age of Caribbean literature in the 20th century. Their works offered a distinct portrayal of fragmented Caribbean life and pioneered regional literary styles and genres. It was the first time we saw a celebration of traditional native languages like Patois and Creole portraying realistic Caribbean narratives. New age writers like Kevin Jared Hosein have been inspired by this legion of 20th Century literary icons and is fast becoming a literary phenomenon in is own right. Hosein, a video game afficionado and Biology teacher, has successful published ‘The Repenters’ (2016) and ‘The Beast of Kukuyo’ (2018). He then went on to win the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2018 with his poignant and culturally resonant ‘Passage’. This award set the stage for his international acclaimed work, ‘Hungry Ghosts’ in 2023. Hosein has arguably moulded his own Caribbean style where he explores the nuances of Trinidadian landscape, its history and its inherent link with idiosyncratic personalities. His recent ‘Hungry Ghosts’ and other works all portray a cultural ecosystem impacted by colonialism, immorality, corruption, human frivolity and Caribbean history and heritage. Rassa had the privilege of interviewing Hosein on his inspirations, his views on the contemporary Caribbean literary landscape and the evolution of Caribbean storytelling. 1.Can you give a little background on your journey so far? I’ve been writing since I was a child, but my secondary school did not offer Literature as a subject. I chose the field of Sciences, went on to my degree in Biology and Environmental Management, and then went on to become a secondary school teacher. On the weekends and at nights I worked on novels and short stories. While doing that, I published two novels: The Repenters with Peepal Tree Press in 2016 and The Beast of Kukuyo with Blue Banyan Books in 2018, which won a Burt Award for Young Adult Literature. When I won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2018, I was signed with Aitken Alexander Associates, my agency, and began work on Hungry Ghosts while still teaching full-time. Hungry Ghosts was eventually bought by Bloomsbury and Ecco and released in 2023. 2. What inspired you to become a writer? Did you always know that literature was your path? The art of storytelling was always a limitless (and inexpensive) one to me, so I got started with it very early on, but not with books. I wanted to design videogames like Final Fantasy when I was little, so I used to write out the plotlines, character biographies and design mechanics. As a teenager, this evolved into writing fantasy stories and eventually into the literary fiction I do today. Literature was always in the background of my life but I didn’t expect to make a living out of it. 3.How do you define an artist? What kind of artist do you think you are? It might seem like a cop-out and unoriginal answer but an artist is one who puts a creation out into the world and calls it ‘art’. Whether it’s a banana duct-taped to a wall or Lawrence of Arabia, once it’s called art, it can be interpreted as such. The label itself can make any object take on different forms and meanings. As for myself, I don’t think about it too much. I don’t have a grander scheme in mind other than to put the aspects and idiosyncrasies of my country and my surroundings into words. 4.How would you define ‘Roots’? Similar to the biological definition. As part of a plant, it is an essential attachment that extends from itself and used to draw nourishment. It’s the same for people and cultures. 5.I had the privilege of reading your short story ‘Passage’ for which you won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner for the Caribbean. From the history of the names of places to the tradition of eating salt prunes and drinking white rum at the local rum shop, you brilliantly captured beloved fragments of Caribbean life and legacies. How important is representing your roots and heritage in your artwork? Very important. These are things that surround me and the people I know. It makes me proud to be able to write about these things and have my writing amplified and put out there while I still get to live among the things I write about. 6.Who were/are some of your beloved Caribbean writers? Harold Sonny Ladoo, Sam Selvon, Olive Senior and recently, Roger Robinson. 7.Who were some of some of your international inspirations? Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, William Faulkner, Yukio Mishima, Raymond Carver. 8.The Guardian writes, ‘Hosein’s style is one of sensory maximalism, in which unexpected shifts and juxtapositions repeatedly wrongfoot the reader.’ How long did you take to identify your style? Is it an ongoing process? I’ve yet to fully understand what that Guardian quote was trying to say. Strangely enough, Hungry Ghosts is a departure from style for me. My work tends to be in first-person, conversational, fully in Trinidadian Creole and less descriptive. But my choice of style here was two-pronged. I wanted to create a sort of dark portal into 1940s Caribbean, where nature seemed sovereign to everything else. And I sought to write about these impoverished characters in Hungry Ghosts in a language that intimidates and excludes even them. I did have a lot of fun experimenting with this new style, but it really was a lot of work! 9.Your pieces craft intricate characters and they all seem to battle with some inner demons, insecurity and dark desires. What inspires this darkness? Where do you get inspiration for your nuanced characters? Like many other countries, Trinidad itself houses a type of darkness in its soul. Some of it put there by other people; some of it we’ve grown ourselves. Each country’s darkness is quite specific, I think, and living here makes me privy to its ever-changing nature. Conflict often pushes this darkness to the forefront and it’s interesting to me when it happens to otherwise good or well-meaning people. I don’t think I write about anyone that is fully evil – but some of them reach a point where they do fully evil things. Just watching the news here, one can draw this nuance out of even the most polarizing people. 10.Your work especially your recent work, the critically acclaimed ‘Hungry Ghosts’ explores Trinidad in a different age. You describe it as the ‘Wild West’ even. In reading the piece and knowing about Indo-Caribbean culture and history, I felt an even more profound connection to the text and could see parallels between the past and the present even. Was this intentional? The more things change, the more they stay the same. There are parts and peoples of Trinidad that still suffer like those in Hungry Ghosts. Stuck in this Sisyphean samsara. This was obviously exacerbated by colonialism, but colonialism doesn’t necessarily mean white or British. Colonialism means that we’ve become enemies to our own country’s systems. 11.How important is setting in your writing? Setting is often part of the main conflict in my work. 12.What are some of your writing rituals? Your day-to-day process? I try to do a certain number of words about 5 days of the week when I’m in the middle of writing a novel. This number changes, but it tends to stay around 1200-1500 words. Doesn’t have to be good words, I always say. It’s easier for me to edit than to get the first draft done. I write on a desk in my wife’s art room and I edit while I’m on my bed. 13.What do you do when you get the dreaded creative block? Music typically helps. Something wild or orchestral. Sometimes taking in a good story helps as well – whether it be literary, film or videogame. Just taking in something really well-created makes me want to write. Talking to my wife also helps. She’s responsible for helping me iron out my ideas. 14.You are also a teacher which is amazing! Do you derive inspiration from your surroundings, the students, and the experiences of day-to-day life? A lot of my writing has to do with young people in their formative years, so I’m certain being around children and teenagers so often had a part to play with that. Teaching has also helped me overcome any shyness I might’ve had while speaking on panels and at events. 15.What were some major challenges that you overcame to become the writer you are today? Definitely just finding a way to get traditionally published. Information and opportunities were extremely scarce when I was growing up. Nobody knew or wanted to talk about how to go about getting a book out there or finding an agent. A lot of people suggested I needed to get an MFA or Creative Writing degree to publish. While it makes it easier, I don’t think it would’ve helped matters while still living in Trinidad. 16.What is next for you in terms of exploring new themes, characters, setting? How do you intend to push the envelope with your writing? Something a bit more contemporary this time. I’m hoping to do something in the science fiction genre one day, something that blends that genre with the literary, something really out there. But we’ll see. 17.In the age of Chat GPT and Open AI allowing copywriters to write captions in 2 seconds, writers to get inspiration in 3 seconds, students to write essay plans in 4 seconds, do you think AI will obscure the role of the writer? Do you think writers can benefit from AI and these advancements or will they find themselves replaced by AI? I think it’ll obscure the role of the creator who does so purely for commercial or entertainment purposes. Machine-generated writing, as far as I know, can only be studied for style and lyricism in terms of the wonder and capability of the technology that creates it, not for the actual content itself. A huge part of the appeal of art is the intent of the artist behind it. There may be a fantastic sub-genre of writing attributed to AI, which can be integrated among other works, but reading is such a romantic hobby that it’s difficult for me to see readers replacing their human-written library with that of AI. 18.What key advice do you have for writers starting out or a bit lost as to what their style or purpose for writing is? Don’t try to please everyone. Don’t worry about making likeable characters; just interesting ones. Keep your day job until the writing is making you good money. Read widely; good work to know all the directions you can go, and bad work so you know which ones aren’t right for you. 19.What do you think of the current state of Caribbean literature? Enormous, and getting even moreso. I’m especially hoping to see more genre work come out of the Caribbean and be amplified. Crime novels, horror novels, fantasy, romance. 20.What do you think the Caribbean/ Trinidad could do to uplift the arts? It would help if Trinidadians read more often. But that’s a whole different discussion. 21.How do you think Caribbean storytelling can evolve in the next 10 to 15 years? Just like any other region – more stories and more diversity of genre and hopefully higher readership within the Caribbean itself. Mostly, it’s my hope to see more writers based in the Caribbean get their work out there. 22.What do you think differentiates current storytelling from that of 40 to 50 years ago? Why do you think this? That’s hard to say. I don’t think storytelling methods have changed all that much over the past half-century or so because writers have been experimenting all the time, with second-person, multiple narratives, meta-narratives, stream of consciousness, and more. Reading tastes and publishing tastes amplify different types of stories over time. What might’ve been hip just a decade ago (Twilight’s vampires) and thirty years ago (Anne Rice’s vampires) may not be so hip today. Comic books and videogames were only for nerds, once upon a time. What isn’t hip today may be the big thing five years from now. 23.What is the greatest book ever written in your opinion? One book/ piece of Literature that you always return to for inspiration? It’s hard for me to say what is the greatest book ever written. But The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata is one that I’ve been returning to as of late, where an old Japanese man becomes involved with observing the affair his son is having, and how the man becomes close to his daughter-in-law. It uses deceptively simple writing to explore these very complex characters. 24.What do you think makes a piece of Literature phenomenal? One that makes you actually want to go out and do something, even if it to create your own piece of literature. 25.What do you do to take care of your mental health and artistic spirit? It’s nice to be passive sometimes. I like movies, Youtube video essays and videogames when I’m not feeling to play them. Sharing all of these experiences with my wife helps a great deal. 26.Fun question: (A podcast/ book/album/ piece of art that you recommend to our readers) Right now, I can’t get enough of INSCRYPTION (video game). Follow Kevin Jared Hosein @ kjaredhosein for updates on his upcoming works! Links to ' Hungry Ghosts' for purchase can be found below: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hungry-Ghosts-Kevin-Jared-Hosein/dp/1526644487 https://www.waterstones.com/book/hungry-ghosts/kevin-jared-hosein/9781526663108

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Why you don’t need an Art degree to become a Successful Artist:

 

Multi-disciplinarian and acclaimed artist, Linga,

I just follow a Feeling’ to create and teach Art.

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Nowadays with social media, the advent of AI and the blossoming digital art landscape, it can be argued that it is easier to start your art career or just record your artistic journey. Without the connections, the art degree or even without the background artistic knowledge, it is extremely easy for someone to go viral on TikTok if their designs and creations are truly innovative. However, before the internet and TikTok (Yes, I can confirm, there was such a time and it was in fact, glorious), it was and still is extremely difficult to become a successful artist with longevity without the degree and connections. Art has historically been an elitist arena with its chosen gladiators anointed by the leaders, aristocracy and the well to-do. If you wanted to have your works showcased in the best galleries, at auctions and mentioned in key conversations, then you had to play the political game, already have the finances or know the right people. Linga, renowned artist dabbling in everything from Batik, sculpture to painting, has disproved this but it was by no means an easy path. We had the distinct privilege of interviewing a contemporary artistic icon who charted his own path by following his gut instinct, embracing his creative ability and representing the diverse tapestry of Indian, Chinese, Malaysian Islamic and European cultures he has experienced. Linga has achieved longevity in his career boasting achievements like his pieces being used for New Zealand’s fashion designer Doris De Pont’s fabric designs. Linga’s esteemed Batik piece depicting Māui (the mythical demigod in Māori and Polynesian culture) pulling up the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand was also accepted in the Centennial Art Exhibition for the Otago Art Society. Linga was also proud to lead his own Batik workshops for people who have intellectual disabilities. He delves into not only his journey but his creative inspirations, his thoughts on AI, the artistic potential of newer generations and his advice for up and coming artists. 1. Can you give a little background on your journey so far? Why and how did you choose to become an artist? I’m originally from Malaysia but have lived in Australia and New Zealand since the 1960s. Growing up in a Muslim majority country, living in a Hindu home and attending a Catholic school formed the basic template for my philosophy for my work. I explore everything from cosmic energy and cognitive dissonance to expression and identity. Ever since I was young, we always made things with our hands. Kites, toys, anything to keep us entertained. So that act of creation followed me through to my adult life. There was never a conscious decision to become an artist. It was just a natural progression. 2. How do you define an artist? You can’t really. Artistic expression is in everything we do - making food, the way you dress, how you live. Everyone is an artist. Even if they don’t know it. 3. How would you define ‘Roots’? Roots is your basic conditioning, where you were brought up, the language you speak, the culture you grew up in. And you turn these experiences into images in your consciousness. This just reflects my view or experience of reality. Some wise person said, “reality is the result of your specific virtues and limitations.” And I have found that to be poignantly true. 4. How would you define your style (if it can be defined)? I honestly don’t know how to define my style. It’s for other people to look at and define. It’s not an intellectual exercise for me, it’s an expressive exercise. I just create. 5. As an artist that explores fashion, sculpture, textiles, painting and even more, what inspires this continuous experimentation and need for novelty? I’ve been creating pieces for decades so it’s natural for me to evolve and experiment with new mediums. I just follow a feeling. I’m currently creating sculptures and carvings and the materials I use, whether it’s pumice stone or palm fronds, come from nature. They’re all free and on my doorstep. 6. What inspires you to create? It’s in my DNA. The way I’m wired pushes me to create. Making art is not an isolated action, my brain is always whizzing with new ideas. 7. Your career is not only impressive, but I trust incredibly fulfilling! What were some highlights in your career? A big highlight for me was when iconic New Zealand fashion designer Doris De Pont turned a piece of my art into fabric for one of her collections, to be shown at New Zealand Fashion Week. The fabric is now in the textile archive at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa. Another highlight was a million years ago, when I was accepted in the Centennial Art Exhibition for the Otago Art Society. They accepted my batik piece depicting Māui (the mythical demigod in Māori and Polynesian culture) pulling up the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. But my biggest highlight would be some batik workshops I ran with people who had intellectual disabilities. I was so impressed with the natural artistic qualities they displayed. It reinforced my belief in art as an emotional and expressive act. 8. Where do you find daily inspiration? I just look out my window. I have an old tree in my back garden which is an endless source of inspiration to me. It’s a honey locust tree, a native of Tennessee, with strong malleable branches. It’s said to have been used by Native Americans for their bows and I’ve been using them for my latest sculptures. 9. What art movements have inspired you and helped you to mould this distinct style? My art has been inspired through an eclectic mix of influences, from Indian miniatures and Chinese landscapes, to Muslim designs and European Fauvists. I try to embrace creativity in its entirety and push my own boundaries. 10. How important is representing your roots and heritage in your pieces? I don’t deliberately seek to create art that expresses my specific story or heritage. My background and experiences certainly influence my art and will show up in pieces but that isn’t the central focus. My pieces are just expressions of feelings. 11. What are some common themes you try to portray in your work? I explore everything from cosmic energy and cognitive dissonance to expression and identity. 12. What are the stories/ messages you want to communicate to your audience? I’m always trying to visualise concepts, like the idea of cognitive dissonance (which also happens to be the name of one of my series). It’s the challenge of how you visualise an idea. For example I did a painting years ago called “Speed of Light In A Vacuum”. That’s an abstract notion and trick to showing those ideas is where the creativity comes in. I like to communicate concepts in ways that when people see a piece it resonates with them. 13. What is your creative process? My creative process starts in doing everyday things, like walking my dog. My mind is always searching for inspiration. In the way that architects look at buildings, I look to landscapes and nature. I used to take a sketch book with me everywhere I went. Now I’m retired I can dip in and out of my studio all day to create. 14. Where did you get the idea of incorporating natural/ sustainable elements in your artwork like the Nikau palms and pumice stones? Where I live the materials are readily available and free. The perfect combination for endless creative ideas. 15. What do you do when you get the dreaded creative block? I thank my lucky stars that I haven’t had any serious blockage. 16. Who are some your artistic inspirations/ role models? My mother is a huge inspiration to me. She started painting after all the children left home. Completely self-taught, her pieces were of imaginary landscapes with a strong emotional undertone. She was chosen as one of the top ten artist in Penang, in Malaysia, one year. And I must say I’ve always liked Picasso. His lines and the way he drew so free, and at the same time so precise, is inspiring to me. 17. What was the best piece of advice you got when it came to honing your craft and becoming an artist? I work a lot in isolation so I haven’t received advice from anyone. But I do take inspiration from other people’s success. Seeing a struggling artist strike a cord with people is hopeful and encourages me to keep creating. 18. What were some major challenges that you overcame to become the artist you are today? How did you overcome them? Not having an art school background felt like a hinderance to my artistic growth. Not having that degree or those connections impacted my acceptance by galleries. So the internet has been a real boon. 19. How long did it take you to identify and master your style and choice of content? I started with batik, moved to paintings and now im creating sculpture and carvings. I don’t think I will ever identify and master my style completely. It’s an ever-evolving journey. 20. How do you intend on pushing the envelope and going further with your art? Do you have new themes to be explored? If I can free up more space in my studio I’d love to do some larger wooden sculptures. I just want keep celebrating the Wairau (meaning spirit or life energy, in Māori) of the honey locust tree in my backyard. 21. How do you believe you will evolve as an artist given the current AI/ evolving tech landscape? I am someone who is chronically offline. I only just started using a mobile a few years ago. So the tech landscape is foreign to me and doesn’t impact my art. 22. What do you think the impact of technological advancements (eg. AI, Chat Gpt, NFTs) will be on the global art scene? Do you think it can enhance or obscure the role of artists? I’m not sure about enhancing. It will just be different and quick. People will just “produce”. There will be such an increase and variety of work being made. It will probably attract a lot more people into being creative. A lot of such creativity is going into spaces like online gaming, the scope and money in that industry is huge. 23. What advice would you give an up-and-coming creative that you wish you got? Time and money always get in the way of creating art. So find pockets of time and get creative in the materials you use. There is abundance of free materials all around us. And don’t be afraid to get a sponsor to invest in you. 24. What do you think makes a piece of art truly phenomenal? When it attracts and sustains interest. If it can do that then, it’s phenomenal. 25. What is one piece of art that deeply resonated with you and you still get inspiration from to this day? For me, it’s not a specific piece of art. It’s the art that exists around us all the time. The small moments in nature, like looking at a bird sitting in the birdbath in my garden. That’s what fills me with inspiration. 26. What is one piece/ series of works you have produced that you are immensely proud of? Why? I’ve got a painting called “Hongi”, which I call ‘Jacinda greeting the world’. And I’m really pleased with that work. Because I was using a drip technique to produce specific figures. 27. As a renowned and experienced artist, what do you think of this generation of emerging artists who are exploring new art forms, mediums and communicating diverse stories and perspectives? They are in a new world - an online, electronic world. It’s not just the universe anymore, it’s the metaverse. It’s a new world this generation is now zooming along in. But different generations have always explored different things. So it’s normal continuation of the artistic process. 28. What do you think differentiates contemporary creatives’ style and storytelling from artists 30 or 40 years ago? Technology and the speed and detail it allows has evolved style and storytelling immensely. You just look at the storytelling in films and can see it’s an artform that’s made such a leap. Even without AI, technology has played a huge role in the creative process. Films like Avatar highlight that new speed and creative process. 28. What would you like viewers of your work to know about your art/ process or just the life of an artist in general? It’s been a sustained endeavour through most of my life. The life of an artist is can be restrictive and there are many obstacles. Trying to balance everyday life with creativity is hard but it’s worth the struggle. 29.What is one thing you do to take care of your mental health and artistic spirit? I listen to old Tamil music. It takes me back to my happy childhood days. 30. What do you want your artistic legacy to be? (for eg.Key artistic goals/ambitions you have) I hope that my art is seen as an original expression of me. Fun question: 31. (A podcast/ book/album/ piece of art that you recommend to our readers) Right now, I can’t get enough of the Bob Marley album Exodus. His music has always inspired me. Follow @Linga.Art for all the peices shown in this article. You cna also purchase and view your onw Linga pieces on his website : www.lingaart.co.nz.

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' I learned what a sustainable future could look like if it were led by the Adivasi (indigenous) communities...'

Niharika Elety, Founder of Tega Collective on Cultural Sustainability in Fashion and her entrepreneurial journey

Yep, it seems like we may have unlocked the secret to affordable yet chic clothing that does not wreak absolute havoc upon the earth. Cue post-workout Kamala Harris ‘We did it, Joe!’. We are witnessing Gen- Z designers emerge from the likes of Grace Beverly who is redefining sustainable active wear with TALA to Dimitra Petsa designing breath-taking conceptual sustainable high fashion looks most notably, her ‘Wet dress’ work worn by Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities of note. We all want pieces that capture our identity and allow us to make a statement without us having to fear reading our bank statements afterwards. Sustainable Fashion Designer, Niharika Elety, understood the assignment and decided to not only inculcate her beliefs about sustainability into her fashion piece but her culture. As a South- Asian woman in America, Elety founded her own fashion brand, Tega Collective that produces sustainably and ethically produced slow fashion. As a Cultural Sustainability advocate, Elety has created opportunities for her audience to experience the artistic creations produced by the Lambani women in India. Adivasi communities are able to harness their own creativity with textiles and Niha incorporates that through artistic design. Rassa had the privilege of interviewing Elety on her journey as a cultural sustainability advocate, fashion designer, founder and multidimensional creative. She gives insight into the inspiration she got from similar sustainable brands and how she intends to expand Tega in the coming future. We at Rassa will definitely be adding these pieces to our wardrobe since they are timeless, lasting and undoubtedly just too fly! 1.Can you give a little background on your journey as a creative entrepreneur so far? (Introduction) Growing up in Hyderabad, India, sustainability was not some new concept, it was the way of life. After moving to India from the US at the age of 11, I developed a lot of knowledge of sustainability from a South Asian perspective and realized how ingrained it was BIPOC cultures. From the accessibility of locally made textiles and fresh food, to the flourishing cultural heritage, these systems were much healthier than what she saw in the Global North. But, unfortunately many countries like India are still reeling from the effects of colonization and capitalistic systems. That is what inspired me to advocate through art and design. 2.How do you define an artist? What kind of artist are you? I think an artist is someone who conceptualises concepts, feelings, observations into experiential mediums. I am a multidisciplinary artist that explores painting, food, fashion, style and photography to talk about my heritage and sustainability. 3.How would you define ‘Roots’? To me roots means going back to where we come from, ancestral practices, heritage and reimagining what still holds for our future. Of course our incredible ancient trees and earth are a big part of that too! 4.How important is representing your roots and heritage in your pieces? It is the basis of what I look to for every piece I create. My roots and heritage are a huge part of my life and what I try to educate myself and other people about through art. 5.What does fashion mean to you and what do you think is its purpose? Fashion is an expression of how we feel and how we want to represent ourselves in our daily life. Every person wants to feel beautiful in what they wear and fashion helps people communicate that and impressions, interests, ideas and vibes that otherwise may go unknown about a person. 6.What does cultural sustainability mean to you? To me cultural sustainability means preserving cultural and ancestral practices, while also recognizing what these practices and cultures have done in helping our planet thrive and creating sustainable lifestyles. 7.What motivates you to incorporate themes of environmental sustainability into your artwork? When joining the sustainability space full of advocates and leaders, I noticed that there weren't many discussions about art, culture and ancestral knowledge. Since then my goal has been to bring inclusivity and a variety of perspectives from BIPOC creators (the original sustainability leaders) to the environmental movement. I wanted to share environmental stories of activism and cultural practice from South Asian through artistic mediums. Today and forward I actively work to bring these conversations to the forefront as a speaker on cultural sustainability and founder of Tega Collective. 8.What inspired you to found Tega Collective? I came to this realisation over time by being in the sustainability space and listening to incredible indigenous leaders. One moment that made me want to act was when I was on a panel with Adivasi led organisations, a media and knowledge organisation amplifying Adivasi youth voices by enabling them with storytelling tools. As someone who supports the community, I wanted to act and bring awareness to Indigenous textiles and fashion that were lesser known in India. With that, Tega Collective was born, and our goal has been to amplify indigenous craft and knowledge. 9.What does Tega Collective mean to you? To me it means going back to our roots which are indigenous peoples. Tega తెగ is dedicated to honouring our earth and its people. For millennia Adivasi communities have known that rocks, trees, soil, humans and other animals are all Tega (family) and God within us. We aim to create harmonious relationships with the ecosystems and communities through traditions older than India itself. 10.Did you have any apprehension/ fears when you were starting out? If so, how did you address this? I feared we wouldn’t do justice to the artisans and their work. I wanted their work to be communicated in an authentic way and having them take the lead in colours, embroidery patterns and textile design was the best decision to create collaboration because they truly know best. Co-creation is the lens through which we create. 11.What is Tega’s creative process for the pieces? Creating this collection was a long process but extremely worth it. Our collection Alankara (meaning to adorn in Telugu) is inspired by the Lambani artisans who crafted it. In a world where western modernity overflows with neutral tones, the Lambani women ensure their walls and dress are adorned with vibrant colors and do not subscribe to modern day monochromes and minimalism. Our current fear of pattern and color is due to the pressure to aspire to western standards of wearability and modernity. For Indigenous communities color, pattern, and embroidery are integral to culture, freedom, and self expression. This idea is what inspired our pieces. I chose everyday silhouettes that people were familiar with like button-down shirts, blouses, hoodies, slacks, and dresses. We wanted everyone beyond the gender binary and wide range of sizes to feel comfortable wearing our pieces. Then we asked our artisans what colors they loved and three of them stood out, red, periwinkle and matcha green. We created these hues with natural dyes like madder root, indigo and marigold flowers. For fabrics we went with indigenous fibers of Khadi as Lambani people wear and Eri silk for our airy styles. Both fibers support our local biodiversity. Our artisan partners and I collaborated with embroidery designs on each piece to make sure they felt unique and true to them. Overall, it was a slow, intentional and collaborative process end to end. 12. When you were developing Tega Collective, were there any existing similar fashion brands that inspired you? Johargram is an incredible Jharkhand based brand that I learned about while shooting our first collection in Hyderabad and I immediately decided to collaborate with them through my personal content and was blown away by their work in highlighting Jharkhand culture and craftsmanship in a modern streetwear style. Definitely check them out! 13.Can you tell us more about the Adivasi culture that Tega Collective represents and what it means to you? Growing up in India, sustainability was not some new concept, it was the way of life. I learned what a sustainable future could look like if it were led by the Adivasi (indigenous) communities. Adivasi communities live in symbiosis with our planet and give back more than they take. From their ancient agricultural practices that allow forests to thrive, to nurturing biodiversity in ecosystems, hand weaving textiles using native fibers like lotus stem and black cotton, and a flourishing cultural heritage, these systems are what fashion should be. But, unfortunately Adivasi communities are still reeling from the effects of stolen cultures, colonization and capitalistic systems.That is what inspired me to advocate through Tega. 14.Your artisans are primarily Lambani women which is amazing! How did this partnership come about? What has been the highlight of the partnership? As a South Indian, representation is important to me. The South and the Northeast are underrepresented regions of India, and I wanted our collections to initially focus on communities from those regions. A few friends from the Adivasi led organisations knew of Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra, an NGO in Bellary working with Lambani artisans to create products. They mentioned how so often this craft is mass produced and printed without the communities. I thought it would be incredible to collaborate with them and amplify their work, so I reached out and visited the community. They were very excited to collaborate. That is what inspired me to advocate through Tega. We are a fashion collective striving for justice for people and the planet through Adivasi craft and knowledge. Adivasi communities are appropriated for their culture, and as a result being put out of work for their own crafts. Our collective supports Adivasi craft by communities who it belongs to. We aim to go beyond products and create a system built on reciprocity without hierarchies of power and profit. Recently we did an interview with them and they expressed how lovely the collaboration with us was and we all hugged each other after the cut was over. We have learned so much from these women on what it means to create, preserve culture, and collaborate in a reciprocating manner. The artisans often sit in sewing circles outside or against the walls of their homes threading each piece together as a community. Fashion is more than just a beautiful garment, but the knowledge, practices and community created in the process. 15.How do you work together to ensure that they are fairly compensated and recognised for their work and art? 15% percentage of our proceeds are funnelled back to the communities we work with for each collection to remove traditional hierarchy of power and profit. 3% of profits are donated to organisations supporting indigenous community regeneration and land back initiatives.These communities are paid every time indigenous knowledge is shared on platforms as a part of reparations. Tega strives to build healing and enriching relationships with the communities and ecosystems that we support. 16.What efforts have you taken as an organisation to preserve the traditional artistic knowledge of the Lambani women? We are working on an indigenous knowledge hub with the artisans right now. It is a long process and we want to make sure that there is fair credit, compensation and consent with projects like this so we will keep you updated! 17.What do you do when you get the dreaded creative block? I try putting myself in inspiring settings like art galleries, bookstores, gardens, listening to a new song just something to spark imagination. I also love doing brian dumps and idea sprints because a lot can come from those. I love saving inspiring things as I see them so when I get a creative block I refer to those to get started. 18.What was the best piece of advice you got when it came to honing your craft and becoming an artist? Be ready to fail! As adults we find ourselves less willing to fail and look stupid especially in this new social media world that craves perfection but you cannot hone your craft without falling on your face sometimes and I wish we artists had more time and grace for that in this fast paced world. A lot of the time we focus on quickly getting good at posting things on that gram but if that is the focus it will not happen so let yourself get messy with your craft. 19.What were some major challenges that you overcame to become the culturally sustainable designer/artist you are today? Telling people the importance of culture in general in the sustainability movement and what my South Asian identity has to do with sustainability . So often people think cultural sustainability is not as important as it is with so much focus on silver bullet solutions like net zero emissions and carbon offsets but cultural sustainability tackle the roots causes and helps us shit mindset in planning for a better future. 20. Do you think the fashion industry is ready to embrace cultural sustainability? Cultural sustainability is inherent all over the world in the way we practise and hold on to our traditions. It is key that it is platformed in fashion vs, trends and fossil fashion. It is not about whether it is ready to be embraced but whether attention is being given to it. When attention is given, making sure there is consent, compensation and credit as defined by the Cultural intellectual property rights initiative. 21.What would you like to see from some of the trending fast fashion brands like Shein, Asos etc ? Significant reduction in production, livable wages to garment workers, shift away from cheap polyesters and ideally for them to shut down but that is an ideal world :) 22.We are at a point in the fashion industry where there is a desire to move away from a growth centred model and towards a more sustainable approach. How do you believe we could adopt a more circular model for the fashion industry? There are a lot of misconceptions that degrowth will only reduce profits and it's all about reorienting our world for what growth means. Maybe we can focus on ecological and social welfare and consider growth in those areas. Truth be told there is way too much production and way too many items to recycle everything on this earth. But reducing our production significantly can help us create more circular models accessible, affordable and build infrastructure to do so. 23.How do you think Tega Collective will continue to grow and push the envelope in the future? My hope as we get more awareness is that we can show people a business model that includes artisans as stakeholders can be profitable and benefit everyone in the supply chain. 24.What’s next for you both as a designer and multi-disciplinarian artist? I want to start working with more communities and experimenting with more fibres in our future collections! As an artist I love learning and getting deeper into storytelling through education and I would love to improve on my storytelling and help South Asian diasporas and youth learn about our regional weaves and fabrics. 25.What advice would you give up-and-coming culturally sustainable designers or artists that you wish you got? Have faith and value in your work. So often as artists we are told our work is beautiful, time consuming but still not enough to be worthy of a certain price. Own your work and its value so that we redefine what should be values in our current world. 26.What is one piece of art that deeply resonated with you and you still get inspiration from to this day? There are these incredible Warli Artists the Vayeda Brothers that have reimagined Warli Art that belongs to their culture. As indigenous artists they created a series called “Regeneration” which visually illustrates that concept as we stand in the face of climate change and it's my favourite art series right now. 27.What would you like customers to know about Tega’s process or their creative, sustainable vision? I would love customers to see the value, time and love that goes into each piece. They are all hand spun fibres grown near the communities, in a way that it will restore the ecological landscape. They are hand loomed, naturally dyed with plants that are native to their region and cultures and hand embroidered with precision. 28.What is one thing you do to take care of your mental health and artistic spirit? I make small moments for rest and inspiration throughout my day and on the weekends. After 5 pm I love having my evening tea and snacks and it is my favourite way to reset and add separation to my remote job. I try my best to get physical activity in through dance which is one of my other artistic loves. I always stay inspired by visiting art galleries, spending time with loved ones and going to green spaces. 29.What is the ultimate vision/ goal for Tega Collective? To amplify Adivasi craft and indigenous works and how that can create a more sustainable future for us all. We hope to see more appreciation and love for the tribal communities we work with. 30.Are there any key climate/ art resources you would recommend for our readers so they can learn more about ethically and sustainably produced fashion and art? ‘Remake our world’ is an incredible sustainable fashion advocacy resource. Fun question: 31.(A podcast/ book/album/ piece of art that you recommend to our readers) Right now, I can’t get enough of Braiding Sweetgrass which talks about relationships between humans and our earth through and Indigenous American lens. All links to Tega Collective and Niharika Elety’s Social media accounts can be found below: Tegacollective.com @tegacollective @nihaelety

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Sustainable Artivist Michael Gah’s  Poignant ‘Worry free Zone’ is a  ‘Waste Free  Zone’:
The Ghanaian Artist using Recyclable materials to protest Climate Change  

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When we think of art and the climate crisis, we may gravitate towards the recent news of protesters throwing cans of soup at historically significant paintings. In October 2022, London’s National Gallery climate ‘Just Stop Oil’ activists had no hesitation throwing cans of tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ then proceeded to glue themselves to the wall underneath the artwork. They chanted ’What is worth more, art of life’? (The Guardian, 2023) and that has ignited debate across the world as to which really is worth more. Art has historically been used as a form of protest. From Dadaism (Millington, 2020) and the Mexican Mural Movement to AIDS Activism, Artivists have used this medium to channel their outrage , find and expose some truth amidst the façade. Whether the purpose and outcomes of those activists’ actions were effective are highly contested. But what remains steadfast in this bid to alleviate the seemingly widespread eco-anxiety of our generation, are the efforts of phenomenal sustainable artivists. Turning the tables and exploring the contemporary sustainable art emerging from an authentic drive to truly propel the cause are Artivists like Michael Gah. Ghana based Upcycling artist, Gah has created scintillating visual realms with his focus on form, texture and colour. As a purely self-taught artist, Gah draws inspiration from local artisans in his very own neighbourhood, 'Growing up I had this affinity for art ,so after high school I began to understand some of the great artists I see around my neighbourhood. Then I became a self-taught artist…’ Gah has also received incredible support from his family. It was his mom and sisters who influenced him to explore textile. Today, he employs his family, primarily his mother, to help him prepare the textile before implementing them on the canvas. As a social Artivist, he associates the role of an artist with change whether that be ushering in new perspectives, telling varied stories or breaking down change into morsels for audiences to consume, ‘Any artist is a facilitator of change, a writer of history and the foundation of a sound mind. An artist uses creativity to strengthen the core of society…’ As an artist portraying glorious images of people of his culture, we were curious as to how important representing his roots and heritage were in his creations, ‘It is the core of every piece that I make because my family and friends are at the heart of each art piece I make. My heritage lies in the fabric I choose and the culture is evident in the emotion expressed in each piece…’ ‘Worry free Zone’ uplifts black women by showcasing the ease and quite frankly, the absolute flex it is to confidently walk in alignment with their purpose and nuanced identity. It is no wonder that Gah cites ‘empowerment, self-worth, natural beauty and intelligence’ as themes consistently peppering his collections. There is also a highly personal element incorporated into the conceptualisation of his pieces as his sisters are a key source of inspiration. ‘Any art pieces with my sisters inspires me the most- I love them so much! They are cool peeps.’ ‘Worry Free Zone’ emerges as an ode to simplicity and elegance of women. Gas multimedia creations showcase black women in relaxing yet effortlessly regal poses. A harmonious symphony of both painting and collaging, he has crafted utterly unique patterns and designs of their garbs, skin and facial features. Granted, the figures’ faces remain undefined but we are too busy trying to figure out the intention behind the selection of initially contrasting textiles, designs and shapes. He has exhibited a masterful control over colour design and texture to the point where it feels like Gah is dictating to us what the figures’ drip truly is. The vibrance of his pieces are reminiscent of Nick Cave’s sculptures (Art21,2023) and the figures’ subtle form allows you to recall Billie Zanewa’s (Valentine,2020 )works . It feels as if we are interrupting them whilst on vacation but they are pleasant about it. The figures themselves are not necessarily extravagant, (still classic and sophisticated) but it is their confidence and poise that exudes wealth! Perhaps one of Gah’s many multi-layered messages in this collection is that style really is a state of mind and how you wear it. We were curious to know the intellectual and maybe even the philosophical underpinnings of ‘Worry Free Zone’ and Gah offered us this explanation, ‘I have GOD, why worry. My basic needs are taken care of, my family is healthy and happy and even if they were, I know he has His hands around them and will protect them…’ His gratitude and abundance mindset is refreshing and truly inspiring. It manifests itself in the creative largesse with which he has been blessed. When asked where he got his daily inspiration from, his response was so wholesome, ‘I live in a beautiful environment and the people around fill me with love - my family gives me inspiration and they have been my foundation from day one…’ Heavily inspired by the Black Lives Movement, Gah understands and celebrates his role as a black creator, ‘We are finally getting the recognition that we deserve and frankly there are some truly amazing artists today that are killing it.’ As a contemporary creative focusing on climate change and seeing wildfires, rising temperatures, unexpected natural disasters and just experiencing the earth’s degradation, it can all be exhausting. In fact, eco-anxiety and solastalgia are veritable mental illnesses and they are growing amongst the younger generations who feel a haunting sense of unease in what is supposed to be their homes. It is difficult to feel at peace with your home when it is constantly in a state of disarray and on the verge of collapse. Perhaps sustainable artists feel this pressure to create and make an impact but as Gah articulates, it comes with a professional questioning of themselves and their creation, We are always questioning if we do enough or if it is too much or ‘here is a flaw…’it is really tough to say…’ Nonetheless, he is steadfast in continuing his purposeful work citing that he turns to religion when he needs to care for his mental health, ‘ I pray and seek help when I feel I really need it. People are vessels from God to help you when you reach your lowest point and although I pray to God directly I always have faith that He will use people around to confirm his message of hope and healing as I need it…’ Perhaps it is this spiritual grounding that allows him to continue producing soul-stirring work. Care and attention to detail is a defining characteristic of his work and one that he attributes to a higher force. When asked what piece was his favourite, Gah plays no favourites, ‘All of them, because I did it. I took the seed that God gave and grew a flower…’ TEXTILE LEGACY Gah is a successor inheriting the proud Ghanaian legacy of creating textile art. The Asante (Ashanti Kingdom) in Ghana, since THE 1500s and even earlier, were renowned for their production of unique designs like the famous Kente cloth ( Bortolot, 2003) worn by Royalty. West Africa is still a hub for traditional weaving and textile production. The textile industry in Ghana is still prominent in producing a wide variety of creative fabrics from active artisans. This rich legacy has inspired Gah from the actual art to the artisans he had the privilege of witnessing while he grew up, ‘Ghana has a long history of textile creations from the Ashanti Kingdom to now and many of my inspirations are not necessarily famous artists. I have been privileged to grow up in an incredibly creative environment. From the local seamstress to a person painting on the street…’ His environment has engendered his love for the act of creation. However, Ghana which has inspired his textile ingeniousness is also at risk of textile waste from the West. The phenomenon of ‘Waste Colonialism’ (LeMonde,2023)still plagues Ghana as Western clothing companies, fast fashion in particular, discard their waste in Ghana. The culprits and consumers of fast fashion in the West from H&M to Shein in America, Europe, China and Korea are responsible for ‘15 million second-hand items’ arriving in Ghana by container. The Ghanaians have termed these discarded items as obroni wawu or ‘dead white man’s clothes’. ‘Kantamanto, which emerged in the 1960s out of a colonial-era mindset that pushed Ghanaians to adopt western clothing, now covers about 7 hectares (18 acres) of land, handling about 15m garments a week and providing work for about 30,000 people.’ (LeMonde, 2023) It is paradoxical that Ghana, a country that has the innovative capacity to produce extravagant textile art, is now being used as a dumping ground for Western waste. Whilst retailers buy and sort through the discarded clothing, and around 30,000 tailors, traders and artisans make use of them, 40% of the textiles are thrown away and pile up on the ocean shores. Gah’s efforts like Ibrahim Mahama (White Cube,2023) and acclaimed El Anatsui (The Met, 2006) demonstrates the abundance of creative talent that can be used to offset this degree of waste. STYLE Artists take decades to figure out their personal style. This is documented in collections where you can literally see the evolution of their strokes, selection of mediums and themes. However, Gah who proclaims himself to be a meticulous creative, said there was an instant perhaps even intuitive pull to his current style, ‘It was almost immediate when I found my style. The roots were in place from my environment and I knew I would work with textile because I loved it more than paint so it was natural for me…’ Many have questioned the effectiveness or purpose of sustainability based art citing that what can truly enact change is institutional change. The collective must be able to remove entrenched biases against the environment and hold organisations that have contributed to the pollution of the earth for decades accountable. What can a painting or sculpture do in the fight? While corporate and governmental action are vital for us to even have a slight chance of survival, raising awareness through art can play an instrumental role in the fight against climate change. Yes, a painting cannot magically clean up oil spills or remove the vast quantities of garbage in the sea but it can normalise collective reflection on our role in the ecosystem of destruction. It can inspire us to change our ways, call for change and put pressure on the big players. ‘Artworks can have the power to impact how cultural messages are transmitted and received. This gives them the power to alter the culture itself . Some artists reflect on either governmental or global processes that are distant, intangible and difficult to connect with and allow for more open interpretation when monitoring how things are changing, such as why people are damming the rivers, or addressing the questions of pollution’ (Vasudevan, 2008). Art can ultimately shift the culture of negligence towards one of responsibility and wide scale accountability. A fine example of this was at the height of the pandemic when TikTok was one of our only sources of joy and connection. It was a true outlet for some people who shared their art, however those who started to share art that incorporated resin came under severe scrutiny(Sung,2021). Resin is a dynamic ingredient used in a lot of keychains, fun knick knacks, ‘oddly satisfying’ videos however it can have detrimental environmental impacts. Environmentalists started responding and denigrating artists who continue to use resin for clicks and likes. Viewers were able to learn about resin and its impacts and eventually started to reflect on the promotion and support given to artists who use these materials. The medium of art was used to have a broader discussion about the environment and audiences were able to learn and amend their behaviours accordingly. Although the artists/creators did not intend for their use of resin to go viral instead they wanted their actual creation to be celebrated, their role in this dialogue was crucial. This is indicative of a socio-cultural paradigm shift regarding environmentalism. It has finally become a ‘We’ problem. Gah incorporates recycled materials like old clothing into his art works. He shares some of his creative secrets for his multicoloured tapestries, ‘I simply ask people for their old clothes - expressing the importance of recycling and now I have people giving me clothing all the time. It is really appreciated and again it does help the environment in a little way…’ His art not only raises awareness of the need to recycle but also limits the amount of waste produced by the average human when they throw away perfectly good material. One man’s waste is another man’s genius. ‘I do believe in climate change and that the environment around me needs to be protected. We have only one earth so all of us must do our part in making sure it remains strong for the next generation. From the beginning I saw that sustainability art was an important aspect of our history and I wanted to be on the right side of history as one of those people who understood the state of the planet and someone who did something about it. Consider it to be my protest, my way of creating peace in chaos…’ EVOLUTION As a budding multi-media artist, we just had to know what Gah has up his sleeves for his next collection. Thematically, he expressed that he was satisfied with his current exploration but did have this to say, ‘I do not consider myself to be a conceptual artist. I love the lane that I am in at this moment - I will definitely use new sustainable materials - I am a student, my art will evolve as I do.’ We have seen artists create resonant pieces with everything from cardboard, egg cartons to plastic lids. So we are eager to see what Gah experiments with next and maybe he stumbles upon his magnum opus. The idea of leaving an artistic legacy is one that Gah has grappled with and perhaps uses as a fundamental motivation for his creative output. Both a financial and cultural legacy is one that he aspires to craft with his own imagination, experiences and rare sincerity. ‘I want to reach as many homes as possible. I want to grace the walls of many museums in Africa and other parts of the world. I want to leave my family a financial legacy like Picasso…’ Of course Gah will end up (we hope) in a much better place than Picasso in the cultural stratosphere and art world as he is a cultural uplifter. Picasso has been historically cited as a cultural appropriator stealing African tribal mask designs. In fact, the Brooklyn Museum is hosting an exhibit called ‘Pablo-matic’ co-curated by Hannah Gadsby that delves into the Andalucian artist’s problematic views on women, sexuality and artistic forms (The Guardian, 2023). Contrarily, Gah unapologetically infuses his pieces with his culture and his own experiences. He acknowledges the universality of the human experience. When asked what he wanted audience to take from his pieces, as a true artist he had this to say, ‘The work is for them to interpret, because I understand that my life and experiences are not unique and that they are relative to others around the world no matter where they are from.’ An artist who creates for the sake of art and allows interpretation? We need more of these creatives. Follow Michael Gah (@gahmichael) for more! Sources: Gayle, D. (2022). Just Stop Oil activists throw soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/14/just-stop-oil-activists-throw-soup-at-van-goghs-sunflowers. Needham, A. and Needham, C. by A. (2023). ‘Notoriously cruel’: should we cancel Picasso? Collectors, artists, critics and curators decide. The Guardian. [online] 7 Apr. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2023/apr/07/cruel-cancel-picasso-monstrous-misogynist-anniversary. Sung, M. (2021). TikTok has turned against resin artists in the name of sustainability. [online] Mashable. Available at: https://mashable.com/article/tiktok-resin-art-environment-sustainability-backlash. Jónsdóttir, Á. (2021). Artistic Actions for Sustainability in a University Setting. Research in Arts and Education, 2021(3), pp.50–72. doi:https://doi.org/10.54916/rae.119545. De Verges, M. (2023). Ghana’s battle against ‘waste colonialism’ in the wake of fast fashion. Le Monde.fr. [online] 23 May. Available at: https://www.lemonde.fr/en/environment/article/2023/05/23/in-ghana-the-battle-against-waste-colonialism-in-the-wake-of-fast-fashion_6027668_114.html. Choat, I. (2023). Stop dumping your cast-offs on us, Ghanaian clothes traders tell EU. The Guardian. [online] 31 May. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/may/31/stop-dumping-your-cast-offs-on-us-ghanaian-clothes-traders-tell-eu. White Cube. (n.d.). Ibrahim Mahama. [online] Available at: https://www.whitecube.com/artists/ibrahim-mahama. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Arts (2021). [online] Metmuseum.org. Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/319872. Bortolot, A.A.I. (n.d.). Asante Textile Arts | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. [online] The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/asan_3/hd_asan_3.htm [Accessed 3 Aug. 2023]. Art21 (2019). Nick Cave — Art21. [online] Art21. Available at: https://art21.org/artist/nick-cave/. Valentine, V. (2020). South Africa-Based Artist Billie Zangewa is Now Represented by New York Gallery Lehmann Maupin, Her Silk ‘Paintings’ Center the Lives and Experiences of Women. [online] culturetype.com. Available at: https://www.culturetype.com/2020/05/07/recognition-of-south-african-based-billie-zangewa-continues-to-grow-as-lehmann-maupin-adds-textile-artist-to-its-roster/. Millington, R. (2020). Activist artists | 12 famous protest art examples. [online] Ruth Millington. Available at: https://ruthmillington.co.uk/12-famous-protest-art-examples/.

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‘I want to create space, representation and respect for women in my community’
Reena explores Cultural Impressionism to uplift South- Asian Women

If you are South-Asian, of South-Asian heritage or just like most people around the globe who grew up looking at iconic Bollywood films, Reena Paints creative pieces will give you that instant shot of nostalgia, appreciation for the melodrama and the culturally rich aesthetics of glamour. Heavily inspired by Impressionism, Reena’s portraits and snapshots of South Asian identity and individuals allow you to immerse yourself in sisterhood, beauty and the sheer simplicity of her designs.

Hailing from a family of encouraging and successful creatives in varying fields, Reena found herself drawn to the arts from an early age. Like many artists and musicians, she was encouraged  by her parents to express herself using art.

‘Growing up in a family of creatives, I was always encouraged to explore the arts. I come from a long line of jewelry designers, my grandfather was the first to branch off of the business and start his own photography studio. My mother studied civil engineering in India and architecture when I was young. She would always give me art materials to keep me occupied while she was studying…’

 

It was only until pursuing her degree in Graphic Design and Digital Interactive Media Arts,  that she began seriously honing  her natural  talents starting with oil painting,

I think professionally though, it wasn’t until 5 years ago that I began taking oil painting seriously. In college I studied graphic design and digital interactive media arts, oil painting was one of the required courses. That’s where I started learning more about different techniques and oil painting tools.

 

She ventured further into oil painting because she recognized the still thriving disparities and prejudices within the Western art world. As a proud Gujarati-American woman, her portrayals of influential women, Bollywood iconoclasts and South Asian women from all walks of life seek to eradicate these perceptions. Her portfolio offers diversity in what we can define as South-Asian fine art,

 

 ‘For me, it was crucial to bring representation in an area of art that is highly segregated and rooted in colonization. The majority of what is defined as “fine art” that feature South Asians are painted in a perspective of either an exotic muse or as lower-class peasants. Even great works of South Asian painters are still to this day not given the same credit or respect as other artists who comparatively are lower in quality of technique and design. The art world is a very classist industry and I do believe that the only way to keep pushing for proper representation and space is to push those boundaries that have been placed and open doors for the next generation…’

 

Historically, the age of Imperialism and Colonialism in India not only brought socio-political repression and a nation-wide questioning of identity and values, but also heralded a new interpretation and perception of Indian art. This interpretation would permeate both the Western and Eastern artmospheres. Artists like William Hodges who travelled to India and observed the newfound landscapes, rituals and customs described India as ‘the theatre of scenes highly important” to Britain. (McAleer,2017)

British artists who were unable to break out in the competitive British art market at the time flocked to India to capture never before seen portraits and images of this ‘exotic’ new place.

‘India, its population and landscapes, in the works of British artists was represented chiefly in a way that would speak to the politico-social conventions of Britain with subtle touches of Indian culture and life only where appropriate to British standards.’ (Chatterjee, 2019)

‘As philosopher and historian of Indian art Ananda Coomaraswamy (1919) had suggested, British artists could never fully appreciate India on its own terms as they viewed and understood it largely as a curiosity. The depictions of Indian sites and peoples in images were attempted in a manner that addressed the idea of Britons as the rulers of India….’ (Chatterjee, 2019)

‘Indian rulers were presented in the images as if they were incapable, indolent, exploitative personae, and when juxtaposed with the images of the British officials in sturdy in their formal and official attire, they appeared out of place in their own kingdoms. The British visual representations of India were therefore a means of alienating India from itself and presenting it as a part of British empire…’ (Chatterjee, 2019)

These creations began to appeal to both British elite and Indian Royalty which meant that traditional Indian art became infused with British cultural nuance and undeniably the British male traveller  gaze. As Imperialism took root in India and British power accelerated the decline of Indian aristocracy, Indian artists who were previously under the patronage of royalty or elite members of Indian society were now seeking employment with the British elite. A hybrid form of Indian art was being mass produced heavily infused with the traveller gaze even amongst Native artists. Eurocentrism penetrated the authenticity of Indian art and ultimately led to European standards, methods, content and technique being out on a pedestal even to this day.

‘Gradually, Indian artists tried to adjust their painting styles to suit British preferences. Thus was born the Company School of Art, which was a hybridised form based on Indian subject-matter and British artistic practices. To the Britons, however, Indian artists were at best good copyists of works by British artists. In the early 1780s, famous Orientalist, Sir William Jones had pointed out that in terms of arts, Asiatic people were ‘at the infancy of civilisation’. (Chatterjee, 2019)

Artists like Reena are integral in debunking these myths that Indian art requires European artistic knowledge to become ‘Fine art’. Indian art has been inspiring movements and trends across the world for decades. Even today Indian textiles, patterns and designs created by Indian ateliers have been a key source of inspiration for major luxury brands like Gucci, Galliano, Valentino and Dior  (Phyllida,2020). Why does Indian art require the European stamp of approval and final say that it is in fact truly innovative and game-changing?

 

STYLE

With her signature bold brush strokes, depictions of natural light, unblended vibrant hues and snapshots of mundane moments of simplicity and sincerity, Reena is clearly a contemporary Impressionist. However, she does incorporate elements of Realism in pieces where she depicts everyday life. The naturalistic style of young women doing each other’s hair, playing instruments and reading is a departure from her interpretation of Hindu Goddesses, portraits of glamourous Bollywood beauties and recreations of beloved magazine covers featuring South Asian celebrities. Impressionists like Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Edgar Degas all pioneered the visible, unblended colours to produce images of  ‘women doing the washing and ironing, ballet dancers limbering up, horses getting ready for a race and bored-looking waitresses. Nobody, before the Impressionists, had ever thought that these subjects were interesting enough to paint.’ (Sotheby’s,2020)

 

Reena emphasizes the sentiment that lives behind each brush stroke for her pieces when describing the journey to hone her particular style,

 

‘It took a few years to get to the style I have now. I first started with a graphic style as I am a graphic designer as well. It then slowly morphed into a more impressionistic style. I like to add emotion within my brush strokes. Now however, I’m leaning more towards a combination of Impressionism and Realism.’

 

‘My favorite art movement will always be the Impressionism movement. It’s just something about being about to use colors and brush strokes to evoke emotions that inspires me.’

Women of colour are both her muse and subjects since it’s her way ‘of showing respect and honoring them.’ It is reinvigorating having a woman of color depict women of color in all their glory and nuance. Someone who understands the cultural and  significance of having another sister do your hair. Looking through her portfolio, one can draw similarities to the work of legendary Amrita Shergil who depicted Indian women purely from her perspective. The ‘male gaze’ that has infiltrated both the Western and Eastern art spaces where women ,especially women of color,  are seen purely from a male perspective and often in a contrived, exoticized, and insincere way has been rightfully critiqued in Literature, film and the wider media. Artists like Reena who are intent  on creating art to celebrate women of color just as they are, acknowledging their beauty in all shades are integral to the evolution of how we perceive, value and respect women as a society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’m wanting to create space, representation and respect for women in my community. I would hope that others see what I’ve created and feel inspired to continue to pass the torch.’

 

Even when we asked about her artistic inspirations, she praised the first woman of color she ever met ,

‘My first artistic inspiration has always been my mom. Growing up and watching her passion for design inspired me to create. My role models now are the artists within my community who are pushing boundaries - whether it be in music, film, acting, cooking, dance, digital design, photography, makeup - the list goes on and on. It is so inspiring to see my own community grow and build themselves up.’

 

 

CULTURE AND COMMERCIALITY

 

As an artist who is unapologetic in portraying her culture and heritage, we do not see Reena ever compromising her mission. When asked what she envisions for artists like her channeling their culture in a commercial space, she states,

 

‘I would like to see a continuation of proper representation that steps outside of the stereotypical ideas. As I stated before, it is a privilege to represent yourself as “human” before an identity that is pre-determined to look and act a certain way…’

 

 

Culture and commerciality seem to be at odds with one another. At least, it was forty or fifty years ago. Artists who wanted to truly thrive commercially, work with brands, their favorite artists and develop lucrative companies had to sacrifice representation of their roots and heritage for what was en vogue or appealed the most to the masses. If it goes against the Western, Eurocentric, white tide, investors and companies would wrinkle their foreheads and close their cheque books. We, of course had the exceptions like Ms. Kahlo whose portrait funnily enough can be found on everything from a slipper, make-up kit, mug to a tote bag. It took immense courage to embrace and entice audiences with her Mexican heritage. She channeled  her heritage and her own personal trauma to create art perhaps in a bid to work through questions she had about herself and her place.

 

Now, in the last two decades, we have seen artists from all walks of life step into the limelight showcasing the elements, nuances and criticisms of the culture and heritage that have heavily influenced their lives. And achieve success. We look to British-Nigerian artist, Joy Labinjo who creates portraits of her culture and people and uses BLM (Guardian, 2020) as a source of inspiration to push her message for equality and democratization of the art space for creative of color.

 

 This can be attributed to a kind of cultural awakening in the zeitgeist that we have been consuming curated and contrived media for centuries that perpetuated harmful stereotypes and birthed narrow mindsets. The industry is welcoming diversity, cultural exploration and celebration however we must still be weary that this is not just performative. A mere rivulet made in response to the oceans we demand for accurate representation.

 

‘As a South Asian woman who wants to create proper representation and space for the women in my culture, portraying my roots is vital. It is the reason why I paint. I think another issue that comes from this however is how this is viewed in the art world and how people of color are viewed. If we don’t create work based on our identity and trauma then it is not as “intriguing” as say a person of color artist who creates landscapes. There’s a biased pre existing idea that we must create based on our identity only and that can be heavy. Not everyone has the privilege to create outside of identity without it having preexisting notions attached to it.’

 

 

The perceived democratization of information on the internet has opened doors for all artists to exhibit their work. It has irrevocably deepened the facets of storytelling and widened the masses’ appetite for unique perspectives as opposed to fifty years ago.

 

‘I think what differs is two things - the first is the mediums that are used and the access of them. Second, the amount of progress that has been made and the morphing of those issues and stories into what they are today…’

 

To grow both professionally and perhaps personally, Reena is moving forward with her art by exploring more intimate elements of her life.

 

‘I would like to incorporate more elements of my identity such as my religion and landscapes of my city. I would like to continue making more portraits and share stories…’

 

As a traditional oil painter, we had to know what her process was and how she navigates creative blocks. She is meticulous when choosing the right elements to accurately and faithfully reveal the story behind her pieces.

 

‘Sometimes I have an idea and start on a sketch. Other times I’ll see a photo that sparks my interest and use that as a reference. For me, choosing a right composition and color palette that tells a story is crucial…’

 

Reena also understands the value of self-care and taking time away from your work when needed. As an artist, she advocates spending time in nature which is no surprise to us as she is after all an Impressionist! We do not doubt that she perhaps has some pieces up her sleeve done ‘en pleine air’ like the OG Impressionists.

 

‘It is so important to take care of yourself as a creative. As much as it would be nice to push through those blocks, I strongly recommend not to burn yourself out. You should always try to create from passion and although that is not always the reality, I do think you should at least takes short breaks and realign yourself with why it is that you create. For me, it’s the women in my family and long line of strong women that continued to pass the torch to the next generation. I think also nature inspires me to be a little softer with myself when dealing with creative blocks. Just taking a walk outside can help with de-stressing. And of course another thing that inspires me during blocks is visiting museums.

 

‘Nature for me is very therapeutic and healing. I try visit parks and gardens when I can and even garden myself. It’s a very symbolic process that can be self-healing and soothing.’

 

EVOLUTION AS AN ARTIST

There will always be a subtle reverence when it comes to artists using traditional mediums to create. Even in the age of graphic design and AI where we are exploring and testing the limits of technological creativity, the paint and canvas will never be forgotten at least in our humble opinion. We were eager to find out what Reena, as a traditional cultural Impressionist had to say about AI, its impact on the arts and how storytelling has evolved. She had this to say when we asked her how she would evolve as an artist with AI ushering new creative possibilities,

‘I think that there is a personal feeling that oil paintings give that can’t be replicated via AI. I do love some of the art I have seen so far but at the end of the day I think the thought process of an artist and their story adds more value than something generated by a machine…’

 

‘I think any medium, when used the right way, can be very powerful. Recreating family homes via AI for instance, is such a beautiful sentiment that I’ve been on projects for. I think it is very important to respect artists especially in an industry where it is not always the case. Art will always be transformative and repetitive. I think artists will find a way to reapply their creativity - and that is something that AI cannot do…’

 

 

A monumental milestone and struggle for the artist is dealing with never truly knowing when to stop or when your piece is good enough. The greats from Virginia Woolf to Frida Kahlo were all haunted by those thoughts of perfectionism. We wonder if women artists suffer from a higher degree of self-criticality given that society  critiques them from the moment they are born. What they eat, how they think, what they wear, why they create, the source of their inspiration, why they look the way they look, what man their work is supposed to be about, if they are past their prime in terms of worth and artistic contribution. It is no surprise that with all these irrelevant questions plaguing them they begin to internalize and the questioning begins not just with themselves but with what they create.

 

Reena delves into her personal struggles with perfectionism and self-criticality when it comes to producing and showcasing her artwork.

 

‘I think just in general there was this fear in me of not doing enough or not being good enough. I had to really work on letting my creativity flow and not be so self critical to the point where I don’t create at all. I’m still working on it and it is a process.’

 

She advises artists to prioritize consistency over perfection,

 

‘Always keep pushing, don’t let anyone or anything stop you from creating. You and your work deserves space. Also, consistency will always beat perfection…’

 

‘The best piece of advice that I got as an artist is that people will know your worth and exactly what it is that you offer as an artist - even if you don’t quite know yourself yet - but will never express those sentiments to you because they either think you already know or they think that you shouldn’t hold the space that you have. When you’re feeling stuck and you feel like you’re not doing enough, realign yourself and know that you are in the right path. It is never going to be constant and it is meant to change and that is okay! :)’

 

We look forward to experiencing more of Reena’s cultural Impressionism both in traditional painting and maybe even textiles as she explores! Follow her on Instagram @reena.paints.

Sources: “Joy Labinjo: ‘When I’m Painting I Feel Happy and Alive.’” The Guardian, 1 Nov. 2020, www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/nov/01/artist-joy-labinjo-interview-tiwani-contemporary. McAleer, John. Picturing India : People, Places and the World of the East India Company. University of Washington Press, 2017. Chatterjee, Apurba. “Visual Arts and British Imperialism in India in the Eighteenth Century: A Colonial Society in the Making.” Discover Society, 6 Mar. 2019, archive.discoversociety.org/2019/03/06/visual-arts-and-british-imperialism-in-india-in-the-eighteenth-century-a-colonial-society-in-the-making/. Sotheby's. “Impressionism.” Sothebys.com, Sotheby’s, 14 Jan. 2020, www.sothebys.com/en/art-movements/impressionism#:~:text=Impressionism%20describes%20a%20style%20of. Jay, Phyllida. “‘Secret’ Indian Ateliers Keep Luxury Brands Buoyant.” The Business of Fashion, 2 Jan. 2020, www.businessoffashion.com/articles/global-markets/the-secret-indian-ateliers-keeping-luxury-brands-buoyant/. Goswami, Divyansha. “Indian Arts: An Inspiration for Global Fashion Brands.” Medium, 6 Oct. 2021, medium.com/@gw.divyansha/indian-arts-an-inspiration-for-global-fashion-brands-71ac69401ae2. Accessed 10 July 2023.

Meet the Iraqi Artist pioneering Arabic Calligraphy to celebrate the LGBTQ+ Community: Saif Ali

Historically, artists are those charged with taking creative, mental, professional risks. We think of Salman Rushdie, Renee Cox and Robert Rasuchenberg who all took enormous risks to introduce us to new perspectives on sexuality, religion, ethnicity and the meaning of creating and displacing art. Risk and experimentation which created though-provoking pieces that forced us to examine our surroundings, circumstances, and ultimately ourselves. It is a daunting but fulfilling task to be an artist, to create content that touches people and allow them to experience various perspectives. Saif Ali has exemplified this not only in his journey as a contemporary creative but as a LGBTQIA+ activist using his art to inspire and eradicate stigma in the Middle East. We had the privilege of interviewing Saif on his creations, his unique style, his inspirations and what is next for the LGBTQ+ artist who refuses to let his art and voice be cast aside. As a digital creator born in Iraq, he became quite aware of the degree of harm that he would be exposed to if he overtly expressed his views, his identity and his values. Iraq still upholds Sharia law which criminalises same-sex activity. In fact, on September 4th 2022, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq proposed the ‘Bill on the Prohibition of Promoting Homosexuality’ which will exacerbate the situation by punishing individuals, media companies or groups who promote or advocate rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, this bill is also being supported by an increasing number of members of the Parliament. The scourge of both political and socio-cultural repression made it abundantly clear to Ali that he needed to find a way to express himself. Art inevitably became a tool not just for protest but for Ali to personally and professionally grow, stepping into his true self. He states, ‘I was born in Iraq, and expressing myself involved a lot of risks, so I could not express myself in clear ways, so I chose art as an indirect method at first, and then I began to directly and clearly express all my identities through art.’ Ali’s intention for his creations is to highlight the Queer voices, faces and experiences in the Middle East. Queer identity and the Queer artforms have predominantly been perpetuated and mass commercialised by Western voices and within Western spaces. We all know the ‘White, Gay’ privilege that comes around especially during Pride and can often occupy the spaces for Queer people of colour to highlight their experiences and stories. To this day, when we think of Queer we still associate the aesthetics and the already prominent and even emerging voices with those in the United States and Europe. Nonetheless, with talent like Lebanese Indie Rock band Mashrou’ Leila emerging into the mainstream media with their unapologetically Queer sounds and aesthetics, we are witnessing more Middle Eastern Queer representation. Ali recognises this disparity and uses his art to ensure audiences understand the rich nuances of Arab society and Queer values and identity in the region. You can read more about the Mashrou’ Leila’s creative musical journey in the links below. ‘The most important thing I aim for in my artistic pieces is to merge the queer identity with the Arab Middle Eastern identity, in order to get out of the Western stereotyped identities that dominate the LGBTQ community on the one hand, and to promote the emergence of a queer presence from the Arab region on the other hand. So I see one of the most important things I do is the representation of my culture and my identity in my works…’ But this representation is not without severe consequences. Artists like Mashrou’ Leila and Ali make intense personal and professional sacrifices as they risk their lives, safety and security to be themselves. Ali confesses the personal strife he experiences due to his artistic endeavours. He was forced to leave his home country Iraq and flee to Lebanon yet he still faces persecution. ‘I was threatened by most of the militias in Iraq, and my account was closed several times. Some militias also closed my account and threatened to kill me if I returned to it, but I returned to it after communicating with digital security experts. In the end, the situation forced me to leave Iraq and come to Lebanon. I am now in Lebanon in an unstable situation, so I can say that I am currently still going through these major challenges…’ Art is both salvation and sword for Ali as he navigates misunderstanding and malice towards the LGBTQIA+ community. In fact, he uses the malice as motivation, ‘In an environment like Iraq and in a very conservative society, I get nothing but hate speech, threats, and negative speech, but I consider these letters and messages that I was receiving as the incentive that made me continue and refine my art more… STYLE Ali’s striking juxtaposition of Arabic calligraphy with defiant portraits and reconfiguration of Queer individuals is unique and raises a plethora of questions. He incorporates historical, philosophical, and socio-cultural messages to create multi-layered works that not only uphold his aesthetic style but his nuanced philosophical messaging. The history of Arabic Calligraphy dates back to during the caliphate of Utham Ibn Affan (644-656) and was expanded to facilitate communication amongst different Islamic sects and also across civilisations in Africa, Asia and Europe. It is representative of thousands of years of Islamic heritage and tradition. The fusion of tradition with contemporary values and messages solidifies Ali’s portrayal of sentimentality and inherent strength. He characterises his art as protest art, ‘In many cases I use art as a message of protest as a kind of activity and protest against the system, as well as to express myself and my identity in a revolutionary way…’ We asked Ali what he believes makes a piece of art truly phenomenal to which he replied, I see that the message and content defined by the artist and what was in the artist's mind when doing it, is what makes it exceptional…’ When viewing his work, one can echo these statements as you perceive the force with which he translates his sentiments and experiences. One can imagine the rage, admiration and awe he possesses when creating. Inspired by futurism, his pieces embody its trademark elements of dynamism, rich colours, energy and a certain magnetism. The pieces also include Islamic styles and forms as adornments that do not detract from the Queer portraits and powerful writing but fuse harmoniously with the message. He also sells his work online so you can check out his work when you visit his Instagram. A creation of his that still intimately resonates with him is ‘Homophobia is Forbidden’ "Homophobia is forbidden" was one of the first works in which I used square Kufic calligraphy. It helped me discover the angles of this line and the amount of creativity that can be obtained…’ Apart from his own works, one piece that he often returns to remind him of his purpose and to get inspiration is… ‘The image of the queer activist Sarah Hijazi, in an angelic form, with Fatima’s palms behind her as angelic wings, I consider it one of the artworks that I am most proud of, because every time I look at it, I feel positive energy, activity, and resistance to continuity and survival…’ You could check this piece on his IG: saif0_0ali to see his piece. Ali’s pieces follow the artistic tradition of layering philosophy and political ideologies into colour, design, texture and form. He walks us though the conceptualisation and execution of some of his most renowned pieces. The use of Arabic calligraphy, doused in tradition and Arabic heritage is intentional the artist says, ‘It is one of the ancient Arab arts, which was always adjacent to the Islamic identity, so Quranic verses or prophetic hadiths were written in it, but I associate it with different identities such as queer identities, so I give this merger between Arabic and queerness…’ ‘I do not see many people using Arabic calligraphy or the Arab identity to express their queer identity or other identities, but I have always been fascinated by people who express their queer identity through their Arab or Islamic clothes and style …’ ‘Often, when I get here, I do calligraphy at random, with random words, often this process brings a lot of ideas to me.’ The Hadiths are set against backgrounds of Queer individuals embracing each other, their sexuality and themselves which may strike conservatives as controversial and outrageously scandalous. But there is a symphony in Ali’s works where the writing harmonises effortlessly with the sincerity and love expressed in the pictures. Ali draws inspiration from Literature before any design or drafting, 'This process often begins with reading and searching for queer poets or poetry dating back to the region in ancient history, and then I depict this poetry through a simple design, and then I write the poetry or text in one of the lines of the Arabic calligraphy, and then I prepare a text in which I describe the poet and his poetry And his queer background, to show that the history of the region had many queer poets…’ Yes, there were Queer poets who wrote timeless Homoerotic poetry like the famous Abu Nawas. You can read more about his life and works in the links below. Artists take years to identify and hone their style. From the particular way they construct a piece, choose and blend colour or lack thereof to creating trademark symbols to portray a thread of common themes, it is no easy feat. We were curious on what Ali’s process was when it came to developing his style of storytelling, ‘I needed a very long time because of the continuous development, because whenever I said that ‘This is the method!’ I discovered something new. Even now I am still in this process…’ When it comes to expanding his work and experimenting with new mediums or forms, he expressed a desire to make his artwork even more personal incorporating elements of his religion into the creations, 'In the upcoming periods, I try to add my Shiite identity to my queer art, because no one has merged these two identities together through visual artwork...' Some information about Shiite culture and beliefs: ‘Shia doctrine is based on the teachings of the imams, descendants of Muhammad who were the original and sole interpreters of the Qur’an and Islamic articles of faith. Most Shia adhere to the Ithna ‘Ashariyah or “Twelver” tradition, which is the official state religion of Iran. Twelvers recognizes a succession of 12 imams, beginning with Ali and his sons Hasan and Hussein and ending with Muhammad al-Mahdi, the “hidden” imam. There are many other interpretations of Shiism, however, based on the acceptance or rejection of the individual imams, and over the centuries the individual sects within Shiism have developed distinct interpretations of their faith’ (PBS,2023 ) We look forward to seeing how Ali expands his portfolio with these cultural elements to produce even more intensely felt protest art. As an artist who has been threatened by authorities and received hate online, we imagine it can feel isolating and even induce anxiety creating art that he knows will ruffle feathers but still vital for his community. We were curious to know how he takes care of his mental health and ensures his artistic spirit is well-served. Ali reveals, ‘I leave the evening time to rest and do the things I love to reduce pressure and to focus activity and art in Morning times…’ EVOLUTION AS AN ARTIST As a digital creator, we were keen to find out what Ali thought about contemporary storytellers’ role and contribution to the art scene. On the evolution of storytelling he expressed an affinity for the more political overtness of today’s artists, ‘Currently, the artists’ style differs in that it is more expressive of Politics, so we see that art is not devoid of political and militant messages in many cases, so that it has become rare for us to see artwork without these revolutionary messages…’ In the age of the Black Lives Movement, the ecological crisis, global capitalist disillusionment and the war on Transgender rights, he is not wrong. The Twitter wars, Fake news and the trending TikTok hot takes have allowed the younger generation of artists access to real time information, form opinions and share those opinions all in the span of 30 seconds. They are vulnerable with their creations and have a space to share their experiences on a global basis and in an age where art pieces can be retweeted by a major celebrity and have the potential to go viral overnight, we cannot blame them. Infusing their creations with poignant political messages seem to a defining mark for Gen-Z artists and we are here for it. Art is inherently political for this generation of artists. The rise of Chat GPT writing captions, Instagram captions and even the drafts of students’ essays has also raised significant questions about the future of artists. Is AI stealing from artists? Why are so many artists becoming ‘AI Artists’? What does that mean for artists using traditional medium? An ambivalent area that everyone is looking at as AI develops, expands and force sus to grapple with the notions of ownership, innate human creativity and the possibility of replicating and even enhancing it artificially. Ali expressed his views on what he thinks about AI infiltrating the space of the artist. When it came to how AI can affect his art, he had this to say ‘In my style and use of art, I do not see any effect of artificial intelligence on it. The actions that artificial intelligence performs in many cases are beautiful but devoid of message…’ 'Artificial intelligence can obscure the role of artists, but if we go back to the original, artificial intelligence cannot generate images without the artists’ works. Artists’ rights to their works without their permission, and uses these works to block artists…’ ‏ Moving forward, Ali envisions himself continuing to enlighten and inform with his unapologetic pieces, ‘After the journey of asylum, and leaving Lebanon, I aim to participate in many large and small exhibitions, to spread my work and my message to larger number of people…’ As an artist committed to both the spiritual and technical elements of his craft, his advice for any up-and-coming Queer artists is to block out the negativity and immerse yourself in absolute self-belief and the power of your message. 'If you express yourself as queer through art, don’t pay attention to people’s words, most of this hateful speech is not because there is a defect in your art, but rather Because of their hatred of homosexuals…’ ‏Ultimately, we asked Ali what are some of his key artistic goals. No surprise that he will continue to express his identity in all its glory, ‘Through my art, I aim to share that I am proud of my combined identities, and I do not see any objection to be Arab, Muslim, and queer at the same time, and to spread this matter among the LGBT people in the region that it is natural for you to be Arabs and Muslims and accept all your identities…’ It is a path of tremendous risk but also undeniable reward not only for himself but for those who can get solace from his voice and imagination. To check out and support Saif Ali’s creative works, follow and support his IG page: @saif0_0ali Sources and Links: A Push to Silence LGBT Rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. (2022, September 7). Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/07/push-silence-lgbt-rights-kurdistan-region-iraq Iraq | Human Dignity Trust. (n.d.). Www.humandignitytrust.org. https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/iraq/ K, A., & il. (2019, October 5). Brief history of Arabic calligraphy. Arabic Calligraphy. https://www.arabic-calligraphy.com/a-brief-history-of-arabic-calligraphy/ Galer, S. S. (n.d.). The Arab poet who worshipped wine. Www.bbc.com. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20171113-the-arab-poet-who-worshipped-wine My band was silenced in the Middle East. But a global queer community gives me strength. (2022, June 22). The Observer. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/jun/22/my-band-was-silenced-in-the-middle-east-but-a-global-queer-community-gives-me-strength

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