I want to recognize that you’ve been in Portland during the pandemic. And, I feel like Portlanders are some of the hardest-going protesters during this entire time. What have you seen or witnessed, and how do you think it’s influenced your art practice?
You know what… what I try to do, sometimes, it’s just too much when you go on the internet, and then you see all that brutality. Sometimes it’s too much to carry, right?
For me as an artist, my way of coping with that is to just continue to work more on my subjects. Because… I’m not able to voice out the way other people do. My only way of voicing out is using my brush and paint. So the people that I represent on the canvas must be very powerful. And they must be very commanding when the viewer sees it. That is my way of protesting. The figure has to be as powerful as I would like my voice to be. You know, so… with the protests, it just gives me motivation to work more.
Your show Black Like Me closed right before the pandemic. As an African living within this system, how do you think that American racism has impacted your art practice, if at all?
Oh, it has influenced it majorly. Like I said, when I first arrived here, I arrived with an open mind, Right? With Black crime and police brutality on TV back home, I was like, “Oh! This is going on!” But when you are not here [in America], you don’t understand the full effect of it. So when I got here, the idea was that there was a difference between the African and then the African-American. So, I was thinking that they would treat me in a way that was different than the African-American living here already.
I’ll tell you, one day I woke up in the morning, went outside to exercise a little bit, and I was jogging. And then I realized the police were following me. This police car was following me! So this car would just drive by, and go. So I tried to slow down, and the car also slowed down. I go faster, the car moves faster. And then I realized they were following me, which they did all the way to the park where I went to stretch out. They watched me, and made me know that they were watching me. They stood there, waited as I finished my training, and followed me all the way back to my house. So that kinda, like, triggered me. And I was like, “oh okay…”
So all the little experiences that I had, they were a learning process. It doesn’t matter if you are from Zimbabwe. It doesn’t matter if you are from South Africa. One: you are Black. And if they knew it, you are a target. You are a “dangerous” person. So I start to, you know, have other experiences and then you think, “You know what, it’s time to talk about this.” But how do I talk about it?
I try to find other Black people that are living here. Talk to them. Photograph them. And then try to capture everything that is there in their personality, and put it in a still image.
So when I paint my figures, I try as much as possible to capture their spirit. To capture their emotions. To capture what they want to say, but cannot say, in just one image. So that when you see the figure or the painting, you wonder who the person is. What kind of person? Whether they look so rigid, or so powerful or so emotional or all that. Black Like Me, it’s just me finding myself in any other African-American. Everywhere we go, we are being attacked. So, I put myself in their shoes. And that is one of the reasons why I made it Black Like Me, because no matter where you are from, you are Black. You are in trouble…
You’re in America.
You’re in America. Ha ha!