• “You don’t know you need a piece until you see it” | An interview with EAS artist Caitlin Mkhasibe

    EAS contributor Vivien Ahrens (Germany / USA) interviews South African multimedia artist and musician Caitlin Mkhasibe. Caitlin reflects on her passions: questions around the cost of progress on humans and nature alike, and the cross-inspiration between art and music in her practice. She also shares her strategies on how to make a living as a young artist.

     

    Caitlin playing drums with Morning Pages at Bright Day Studios | Cape Town | 2016 | photo by Oscar Oryan | editing by helo samo | projection by Lucy Hazard

    Caitlin speaks calmly, choosing her words carefully. I catch my knee jiggle and my fingers drum impatiently. It has been a rushed morning for me – full of things to do, places to go, people to see, errands to run – and now our Skype-image doesn’t withstand the connection between Cape Town, South Africa and Madison, Wisconsin. So, it is just her voice. I breathe and force myself to focus, relaxing into the pauses between Caitlin’s words. I start to imagine the experiences, places, sounds, and images she describes.

    Caitlin, 26, is a painter, illustrator, photographer, drummer, and tattoo-artist based in South Africa. She joined Emergent Art Space in 2013 when she was still studying at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. Since then, she has already participated in two international exhibitions with EAS: “Translations in 2016, and most recently in The Last Image Show.  I had the pleasure of speaking to Caitlin about her journey as an artist, how she connects with different media through improvisation, and the need for kindness.

     

    When did you first know that you wanted to make a career out of art?

    I think I was in pre-school. I remember sitting in the garden and drawing. I was just sitting at a table and I realized: Wow, I completed something. Maybe it was a picture of a person. Or a house with trees. Kids’ stuff. But something about it felt very fulfilling. I just thought 'I wish I could do this all the time.' But I didn’t know that you could, and that was what artists did.

    Still from Morning Pages promotional video for '3 Mirrors to Shadow World' | 2017 | video by helo samo

    When people asked me "What do you want to do when you grow up?” I just really didn’t relate to any of the usual options like doctor or nurse. For a while I felt like maybe something was wrong with me. There was no word for what I wanted to do. No one in my family knew any artists. They could draw, but they didn’t see it as a career.

    I think it was around the age of 16 when I realized I can’t stifle this flame. And I don’t want to. So, I took classes. After high school, I decided to do a degree in fine art. And luckily my family was very supportive. They understand and see my goals.

     

    What helped you form your style? What inspires you? How would you describe your process?

    Exposure to different artists. My first exposures to art were to cartoons. Then friends passed on graphic novels. I realized, ok, there are more complex ways to tell a story visually. Dave McKean, for example, was very expressive in terms of texture. There was collage and paint and ink, and layers on top of things in a very dark sort of imagery with a lot of depth in tones.

    Music has been a very big influence in terms of how I approach art. Yeah, just being exposed to music and then playing drums. I started when I was 14. I mix music and art, or have the two run in parallel. Experimental and improvised music, this collaborative approach, where it's not about ego and certain people standing out. That philosophy has really affected how I make art. My process is very rarely completely planned out, and quite eclectic.

    Morning Pages setup with projected visuals at the 'Untramelled' group exhibition at Gallery University Stellenbosch | 2017 | photo by Caitlin Mkhasibe

    With the band I’m currently in – a Cape Town-based ensemble called Morning Pages – we have a very meditative way of playing with each other. We don’t instruct each other what to play. We’re also very texture based in terms of our sound. So, it’s more like sound scaping, moods, feelings and the journey of it, than about the final product. I think that very much influences how I make art. It’s more about focusing on the subtleties of a line, or of making texture or experimenting with how different mediums interact that would usually never be together. For example, I might use acrylic and then build upon that with ink and tea and a few lines. What turns out is textured and abstract, not necessarily an object. Even though I do tend to like moons (laughs).

     

    It sounds like the creative process, your own experience, is your goal. How do other people connect with that?

    I think both with the music of Morning Pages and my artwork, often people connect by linking a personal experience or it evokes some feeling for them. They create their own narratives when they listen to the sounds. So, from that standpoint, it’s always a dialogue. Sometimes it’s like a Rorschach print. People see and discover things in it that I hadn’t seen before. That’s part of the magic of it.

    Stills from Morning Pages music video 'Dirge' | 2019 | film and editing by helo samo

    What are topics that are important to you? Which issues do you want to address through your art?

    I wonder about what we think is social progression. The space race, for example. We got this idea about going to Mars and colonizing Space. But the history of us shifting into different spaces on this planet hasn’t necessarily been good. We have inflicted ourselves, our ideas and beliefs on others, instead of embracing what we have. In terms of people and nature, we have taken a lot from the earth and destroyed pieces of it. I feel that if we manage to go to another planet, we would be taking that culture with us. We’re not really that big on being renewable. I try to talk about these things. How can we be progressive and productive, but not in such a destructive way?

    'Barnacles', by Caitlin Mkhasibe | 2015 | ink and wax paper digitally manipulated | 30cm x 30cm

    I feel there’s a lack of gentleness sometimes in the way we interact. So, maybe with the textural work, the details and the meditative process, it is a softer approach. Maybe people can find something they are missing in that. You don’t really know until you see an artwork that you needed it, I think. A sound or an image might resonate with you and then you notice “Oh, I’m missing that.”

    A lot of what I do, like recently shifting to veganism, has to do with empathy. It’s about not having a hierarchy of yourself over other beings. In South Africa, we are still very much concerned about undoing what happened here. There is a lot of racial tension. Somehow it feels like there isn’t really that much space for talking about letting go of yourself – and just being - without worrying about identity. When I’m not here, nature will still be here. And that’s quite an interesting idea. Like, I don’t really matter. But it’s almost like we don’t take note of that – or notes from that. We don’t see that our hierarchy of things is imbalanced. Someone must have a loss for you to have a gain.

    I’m not saying identity isn’t relevant, and that things aren’t unfair. But there is a big gap between how we exploit animals and what we’re saying about exploiting each other. Saying that, because another being can’t speak for itself, it doesn’t have a voice and can’t feel. That is how we used to treat other people. There was a time when people felt that certain people just weren’t worthy of being seen or heard or understood. And I feel like we are still doing that today with other beings.

     

    How do those topics and ideas relate to the pieces you exhibited in the Last Image Show?

    'Vegetation and Rot' by Caitlin Mkhasibe | beetroot ink, carrot ink, coffee, spray bottle, acrylic, unipin pen on paper | 53cm x 43.5cm

    I showed a piece called “Vegetation and Rot”. It had to do with the cycle of life and death. In nature, both are so intertwined. Things are constantly growing and dying in a very chaotic, non-human way. Things grow on top of each other, around each other, into each other. When I look at it, it makes me think of sound. Like this huge wall of sounds with things moving and growing and shifting and changing. But it’s so subtle, gentle and slow at the same time. Maybe that idea of harmony -- of things moving and shifting but being at peace at the same time – is what attracts people to nature

     

    'Molniya', by Caitlin Mkhasibe | 2017 | ink and acrylic on watercolor paper | 29.7cm x 42cm,

    You work with so many different materials including clothing. How do you start something new or approach a different medium?

    I like to put things out there first. Somewhere down the line, it might be a trigger for someone. I’ve always wanted to work with clothes. So, one day, I just painted on my shirt and put it online, without really thinking anything would come out of it. But then I got so many responses and requests, I realized that this is something I could do. A T-shirt is not a permanent piece. It’s material you wear all the time. So, I try to make it as easy and affordable as possible. People really want art, especially people my age. But they might not have the capital to get big artworks at gallery prices or buy an original piece. So, clothes seemed like something that I could do where people could have my art, but not pay so much money. Part of my philosophy has been to make it more accessible.

     

    For many emerging artists it is a financial challenge to be a full-time artist. What are strategies that you have developed in order to successfully live from art?

    It is tough taking this route. It can definitely be scary at times (laughs). I think that’s partly why I am so spread out and do so many different things, besides being genuinely interested in them. Art sales are very slow generally. This way, I’m not dependent on one source of income.

    (left) 'Buried by Ants – Pincushion' | 2018 | smoke on glass, wooden frame, led strip || (right) 'Blown by Wind - King Protea' | 2018 | smoke on glass, wooden frame, led lights | 30cm x 30cm x 4.5cm | Both artworks by Caitlin Mkhasibe

     

    I can have my stuff on Unsung Art, a South African online art store. I can sell my art directly on Instagram or on Facebook. I’ve also done a lot of free-lance work as an assistant for other artists. Maybe someone needs me to do inking for a book, or grey washes, or I assemble something for them.

    The internet plays a large role in helping me connect with people, and them reaching out to me. A large network has been slowly developing over the years. Having a lot of things going on is exciting for me. A lot of it happens by chance. A big part of it is handing your work over to others – curators or people that manage small aspects of what you do. Last weekend I gave all my pieces to Unsung Art to have them sold online. I’m also giving away illustrations. Not having the burden of selling them gives me the freedom to focus on other things.

     

    Where do you see your work going next?

    'Handpoked' by Caitlin Mkhasibe

    I’ve always been interested in tattooing. I just never knew how to approach it. Then, recently, I came across hand-poked tattooing online. I realized that this is very possible and can still be done in a professional way, and I can keep my materials completely vegan.

    I’ve started working on translating my style into dot work imagery. And I’ve already done some first tattoos on myself and on other people. Until now it’s been very object-based images, like a tooth or a bee. Maybe in the future, I can do more abstract or improvised images as well.  I think that still needs some more time before I can confidently improvise on a person.

    When tattooing, you’re totally aware of the other person, because now pain is involved. So there is a different temporality to it than when working on paper. Even if hand poking is much gentler than machine tattooing. So, working fast is something I need to get used to for tattooing.

     

    Do you have any questions for the Emergent Art Space community?

    I would love to know if anyone is doing similar stuff. Do they resonate with nature? What are their meditative processes? Do they work in a different genre with a similar feeling in mind? I also enjoy connecting with people that are quietly working on pieces that are still underground, not yet published. Because that is a very different, raw headspace.

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    When Caitlin and I say goodbye, something has changed. I look around, bringing myself back to Madison, Wisconsin, and I check my watch. Has it really been two hours?

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    To learn more about Caitlin’s work, visit her website here, her Soundcloud here, and Youtube here.

  • Looking back / Looking forward

    As we are moving forward to the next Building Bridges exhibition, which will open in Yangon on July 18th, we are here looking back at the experiences of four artists whose works were part of the Building Bridges shows in Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore...

     

    Ashok Vish

    "The balancing act of what is the 'right thing' to do is the essential dilemma of being human. In the [Indian ancient] epics, it is the gods who negotiate this fundamental human confusion like the dilemma of choice. In my works..."

    "The most exciting aspect about the Building Bridges project was taking part in it with thirteen other artists, fro other parts of the world, while all communication took place virtually...  Interacting and exchanging ideas with so many different artists was eye opening..."

     

    Kate McElroy

    "I was playing with the position of the hands...... What are the hands saying...  some of them look like they are  reaching out, some maybe are giving, or longing, and some look like they are defending or protecting.  It captures for me the contradicting human emotions when it comes to try to connect with people..."

    "From the beginning [of the Building Bridges project] I saw the value of sharing ideas and showing the process of your thinking..... Working on this theme has opened up a lot of questions for me, and I feel I have sprouted a wealth of new thinking that will continue into my practice..."

     

    Sarasija Subramanian

    "... biodiversity exists in a 'third space', and that space is where humans and nature meet, because that relationship, and the way they mutually begin to adapt to one another, is where biodiversity is...   at the edge of cities, at the edge of civilizations, when  communication  starts to happen, that's when the changes happen, right now. That's what is urgent today, to be protecting, archiving and saving..."

    "The primary aim is to invite the viewers to perceive the work at different levels and points of entry. Since the works themselves in a way or another address the drifts and connections between science, myth, histories, and present the images that weave through...

    One of the most interesting themes that was recurrent in both the blog and the conversations was the one of home, belonging, cultural drift and displacement..."

     

    Vishal Kumaraswamy

    "I am using the cinematic elements, which are sound, visual, space, ... to sort of distort the viewer's experience, and the viewer's experience is linear, is coherent, it kind of dictates how you are supposed to behave in the cinematic space...

    "The need for an open dialogue between emerging artists has never been greater and the generosity of thought  is something that has definitely made a mark on my practice. Using toxic masculinity as an example, as well as a metaphor, for oppressive behavior and the need to conform, 'Man Up!' references some of the discussions with artists on the Building Bridges blog."

     

    Many thanks to Ashok, Kate, Sarasija and Vishal for the interviews!

    We are looking forward to seeing your works again in Yangon!

     

    Note: Interviews by the EAS Team.  Video editing by Ashok Vish.

     

  • ‘Can Art Heal?’ We asked artist and art therapist Einat Moglad | Tel Aviv, Israel

    We follow up here to a conversation on art as therapy started last Summer with the interview of Italian art therapist Paola Loomis. This time Victoria Ayala interviewed artist and art therapist Einat Moglad, who lives and works in Tel Aviv. She openly talks about her experience, her practice, the challenges as well as the rewards, with some advice for the young artists who want to pursue this profession.

     

    What led you to become an art therapist and how did you choose a specific psychological framework?

    EINAT:  I did art all my life… constantly, from when I was two years old. During high school, I was struggling with a lot of issues, and all I could do basically was make art. It was really lucky that I could study at an Art High School, so half of my week was dedicated to the arts and this really helped me to pull through. I really noticed how I was going through a sense of healing, how I felt much better, how I was going through a process and was having a weird dialogue with what was coming up on paper. I was an intuitive artist, and even more so during that time, and I just thought, well I love art. I really enjoyed learning it in the intellectual sense, but the practice was incredibly important to me, it was life saving.

     

    What it the difference you see between an artist and an art therapist?

     

    After High School in Israel you go to the military. I also volunteered for a year before my drafting and I always kind of asked myself, “well, what will I do when I get older? And what will I learn?” And somewhere I learned about art therapy and I’m like “whooooaaa”, and more than “what is it?” it was “this is a profession!” It showed me that my experience was not just a fluke or even ‘my thing’. It is a real thing, and people practice it. You can give it to others and help people go through an amazing journey using art and it sounded so amazing.

    The moment I learned about art therapy I wanted to know what I needed in order to become an art therapist. I needed a Bachelor’s degree and I could go through Art or through Psychology and wondering what will be my path I thought, “I can go through a degree without ever even doing art, just learning from textbooks, that’s not my way”, and even though Psychology is an amazing field of study, I really took Art and Art Education, which also had a lot of Psychology.  
    I enjoyed doing the art in those four years, and whatever courses I need to take. I did my Master’s degree on the way, so a little bit more courses than I had to, and close to the end of my bachelor, I just went from school to school, saying  
    “I am going to be an art therapist, I don’t know which one of you can get me there” (laughs). It was always about the arts as a matter of healing. It can’t be anything else and visual art really is…. my whole life is visual arts. It’s kind of weird but it’s quite amazing at this point, I feel very much at home with my profession.

     

    And some advice to those who want to become art therapists:

     

    Don't miss the rest of the interview with Einat. More on the methods, techniques, tools, as well as on the personal choices and experiences that make art therapy an amazing profession.

    Click here to listen to the whole interview.

     

  • ‘Can Art Heal?’ The interview with Einat Moglad continues here | Tel Aviv, Israel

    Victoria Ayala continues the conversation with artist and art therapist Einat Moglad, starting with a question on the variety of approaches to art therapy practices, and moving on to discuss the choices of mediums, the different environments, populations, and ending with a more personal question about the therapist experience with her patients...

     

    We are very grateful to Einat Moglad for her time, for such informative replies to our questions and a great insight into the art therapist profession.

     

    Special thanks to Victoria Ayala who conducted the interview!

     

    Note: The persons who appear in the images are not actual patients and have provided consent for sharing their pictures online.

  • Asmaa Elmongi in conversation with Engy Hassanen | Egypt / United Arab Emirates

    Egyptian artist and EAS contributor Asmaa Elmongi introduces here Engy Hassanen, whose artworks are filled with deeply personal symbols, mapping out emotional and mental landscapes.

     

    Closest to old caves’ paintings, in a natural raw state, Engy Hassanen creates unique, mysterious symbols and depictions that show very personal emotions and thoughts. Hassanen points out that art represents for her a survival mechanism, as it is tied deeply to her identity.

    From the exhibition "I Have No Intentions To Explain Myself" by Engy Hassanen

    Hassanen is interested in drawing human as well as animal figures, as they represent existential themes, which help her to manifest and manage an overflow of existential panic. In her most recent show, titled “I Have No Intentions to Explain Myself", she tries to be as direct as possible by depicting authentic creatures in enigmatic scenes. She is telling us that she exists and expresses her thoughts.

    Goats in Hassanen’s paintings refer to the duality of a docile, scared animal, which can also be a symbol of evil. “Goats are animals with horns, and horns are something very natural and organic. The way horns grow is the same as trees grow. That’s how I was reflecting on why I chose goats specifically, as I depicted goats in my most recent project and I am working on this again...” said the artist.

    “Goats are kind of symbols of evil, and what appears so scary and evil can actually be a creature that is very frightened.”

    As Hassanen tells us in her own words, through her paintings she expresses that what is apparent to the eye can be very different from the inner feelings or thoughts.

    From the exhibition "I Have No Intentions To Explain Myself" by Engy Hassanen

    During her studies in Art and Design at the American University in Dubai, Hassanen has learnt how to make a well finished artwork, which is actually something that she dislikes. As an act of rebellion against the clean, finished works demanded by design, she uses large, torn pieces of kraft paper on which she works directly.

    “I really enjoy this, as it gives me the freedom to do whatsoever I want on the paper...” she says.

    Hassanen, who is inspired visually by Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat, has mentioned that she is very passionate about the visceral way Bacon creates his artworks, as the way he is not restricted or afraid in his depiction of the human figure.

    From the exhibition "I Have No Intentions To Explain Myself" by Engy Hassanen

    The young artist, yet very mature in art, is taking things step by step to develop her concept as well as the technical aspect of her work. She explores different compositions, and sometimes she takes a step back to find out what can be approved and what needs to be improved. Her living at present in the United Arab Emirates is a motivation for her to develop her art practice, as the themes to which she gives expression can be introduced here to many people of different cultures and nationalities.

     

    Engy Hassanen is a visual artist and a designer who graduated from the American University in Dubai (AUD). She received her BFA in Visual Communication and Graphic Design from the School of Art, Architecture, and Design in 2018. She has been on the Dean’s Honor list and is the winner of the “Outstanding Graphic Design Student Award”.

     

    Asmaa Elmongi is a visual artist and a former museum curator who graduated from the Painting Department in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University, Egypt, in 2012. She is a Masters’ student at the same university. Currently she is working and living in the United Arab Emirates.
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