The artist Keyezua, known for her intricate collages that challenge so many critical notions of societal “normalcy”, tactfully uses art as a tool.
Taking a solution seeking approach to creation, she approaches life’s disappointments, both personal and universal, with the future in mind. She says that her art is a direct investment in the future of her generation of artists.
At times disillusioned with the horrors of our world, she transforms anger into artwork, giving us, her admirers emotionally moving series like Stone Women where she explores female genital mutilation.
Keyezua moves us to consider and perhaps even try to understand the hardships of our peers. Her art is a therapy as much as it is for her anger as it is for our biases.
We talk to the artist about her work below.
What does art mean to you?
Today for me, art means a direct investment to the future of my generation as artists are reinventing and bringing solutions for our people. We are waking up the power that was sleeping for years and I have been waiting for this moment where African artists understand how they can individually or even as a group change enough to emphasise the importance of having institutions and governments financially supporting culture making it a priority for artists to individually continue to represent new African stories inside and outside of Africa.
Where do you find inspiration?
After working for one year in Luanda, Angola. Inspiration is everywhere, I am daily confronted with issues that upset me. My inspiration starts with an inner feeling of anger and it continues transforming this anger into an artwork. It is important to not just walk but feel the inspiration in the people that you meet on your day to day activities. Often, you see people walking like zombies, they have to go to work, school or just hustle to survive especially now during the crisis. I try somehow to place an invisible blanket around me to be able to hear their stories, to catch their pain and make it mine, to touch their skin and wonder why it feels rough, to study the smell coming out of the corners of the streets, to see the sweat running through the bodies that stay in heat for hours just to have tea and bread for dinner.
Why did you choose to deal with topics on African Culture, sex and religion?
I have no choice! The manifestation is something that I can’t control. For now I am confronted with an Angolan culture that feels like a little child and sometimes this child falls in the hands of the wrong people.
People who are responsible for change and education such as politicians, designers, teachers, leaders, companies and institutions still take eurocentrism to rebuild Angola…. they still look up to European designers, inventors and artists to look for inspiration while our books and our ancient stories are left in traditional markets, left to dust containing beautiful stories about pure African design, African inventions and even medicine before and after the colonisation of Angola.
Being sexual is something that manifested in me after hearing what I should be as a little girl and woman. What I should wear, when I should give birth to children and with which age I should get married. All these expectations never contained sexual information and sexual freedom and education is actually what takes women out of dangerous situations and avoids miscommunications between the female and male body bringing issues such as early child marriage, child abuse or even adult sexual assaults to debate.
To exhibit this type of work it continues to be my attempt to destroy the walls that camouflaged all the important information that makes our little girls ready to face the world and all of what that the world’s tries to insist that our body should be and how we should feel as women.
I always fail to understand religion but I do believe in a God and I am looking for this God. As Africans we should continue to look for our Gods, the ancient Gods and not just Jesus and not just what the bible said but also what our own history says. Often we are afraid to worship our ancestors. I show this interest in my latest work I am not a demon. Who am I?
There is a God born in me every single day, I do believe in a God but I don’t believe that it had a white son with blond hair and blue eyes so my search continues although you can find me in church to one day come to a conclusion about the God that they blindly follow in Angola.I refuse to blindly follow religion and in this following disrespect and crucify how someone further develops their personality. One of the reasons why a lot of people are in trouble today is because of the misunderstanding of religion somehow there is an “us versus them” mentality.
I am still searching for answers and this research is exhibited as an artwork.
Since you exposed your art to the world, what has been your most memorable moment?
Having an exhibition in the Dutch Parliament during the Museum Night in the Hague is a story I will have to share once a month with my children. I was the only artist invited for this exhibition. FACTICIUS is an artwork that I graduated with and during my graduation I was not nominated and I had a 6 as a grade with a very interesting comment from one teacher “You made it but you are a failure”. It hurts, but you need to handle what causes pain and insecurity with success and persistence.
When I got the first phone call I started to jump around the house, first there was fear but in this fear I found the strength to believe in myself even when the grade “6” was considered a failure in my class. It was a good example of how you should never become somebody else´s opinion but your own and if you honestly believe in yourself despite all the struggle and rejections as an artist someday, soon very soon somebody will open a window and invite you to jump in. I took the opportunity and exhibited FACTICIUS, sculptures reflecting on the current situation in the Netherlands. Each nationality that arrives in the Netherlands brings its own religion, culture, tradition, beliefs and values. When placed as one image and not separated as a different group, one creates a rich cultural society, making FACTICIUS aesthetically strong enough to demand existence and exhibit a society that does not discriminate because of our language, culture, religion, habits and history differences.
How do you feel your culture and your environment influence your work?
Since I moved to Luanda I changed. What I believed I knew about my people no longer exists and the day to day steps that we all make together to see Angola grow is what changes you.
It gives you power but also the responsibility to not just create art to make beautiful things, make money and become famous. I now have a bigger responsibility and the steps I make will decide if our government will create more possibilities for artists to develop their art and design making it a priority and even part of the annual debate to have a bigger investment in our culture as the more they invest in us the more we can contribute for the empowerment of our people. My culture is strong, the beautiful women, men that are sellers are my family, I want to be part of them so I let them influence my body and its reaction to their inventions but also to their struggles. The people that are daily hustling or facing difficulties but still play loud music on Saturdays to celebrate life, that´s is a beautiful! This is our Angolan spirit and this happiness boosts a lot of power into you. When you see all these chances to have exhibitions not only in Africa but also in other continents. You know is your duty to represent your brothers and sisters not only as victims but also as survivors, inventors and storytellers.
Who are some of your favourite artists?
I have a lot of favourite artists it changes daily. I respect those that are doing it to change the way the rest of the world interacts with Africa. It is in our hands to represent and insist respect. As artists we go to places where our politicians will never be invited to. We have artists exploring techniques that examine what is behind the African Mask, the mask is/was a huge inspiration for all artists, we all played with it, intensely thought about it and now we are finding more techniques, materials and stories to talk about our Africa and to represent ourselves in different parts of the worlds with group exhibitions or even solo exhibitions. This is just the start!
Can you tell us a bit about your artwork , Female Genital Mutilation, FGM?
Stone Orgams, that is my WOMEN! This is an artwork that placed me where I had to be today to feel that what I was doing was not just a “tumblr thing” but something serious, you want to gain respect of your thoughts otherwise they are just thoughts if you don’t manifest them into something that you share with the world for the world to feel uncomfortable regard their silence around Female Genital Mutilation.
I posted all my anger online and took the responsibility to talk for women that are going through a very difficult life journey. I don’t know the pain, sometimes I wish I could feel it so I could even exaggerate more. I often experience new stories that makes these work unstoppable. It continues to be unstoppable as I created new WOMEN in 2016. It is one of the works that I decided to produce yearly as I don’t want my WOMEN to sleep I want them to continue to be exhibited and I want them to continue to grow until they are 100 and I can finally have an exhibition where I give all the money to an organisation that will continue our fight.
The female body is not just a body but a temple and all these things humans do to it in the name of culture or religion should be exhibited to force our minds to question why we continue to be quiet about this when women, especially little girls in rural areas are FGM victims. Victims in developed countries also have to face this practice and quietly heal the physical and psychological damage. Stone Orgasms was my first work presented in the Lagos Photo Festival and this year they continue their journey in Addis Ababa for the Addis Photo Festival starting in December 2016.