Art in Uncertain Times: Nabeeha Mohamed Reports From Cape Town, South Africa
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"I’ve had several big changes in my personal life in the past few months, so the first few weeks of lockdown feel a little like a distant memory to me now," Nabeeha Mohamed wrote from Cape Town, South Africa, as we got in touch for Art in Uncertain Times. We originally started talking a couple of weeks back, hoping to get insight into the pandemic’s affect on her homeland and practice. But things accelerated, and the term "uncertain times" got a whole new meaning. The homeland of Apartheid is naturally a pulse point for movement to bring justice, healing, and freedom to Black people across the globe.
Mohamed has been making work inspired by everyday aspects of her life—from floral arrangements in her family home, to crafted household items, and stylized self-portraits and portraits of her family and friends, with a focus on capturing atmosphere and soul. Unleashing an emotional visual language and intuitive technique, her paintings are rich with texture; expressive works that are both friendly and playful as they deliver some sober truths. Educated in a predominantly white, all-girls school in post-Apartheid South Africa, her quest for identity, while attempting to assimilate to that culture, pervaded her youth. With time, she channeled that search for self into strength, expressing that journey into her creations. Whether working with figures, still lifes, typography, oil paint, or collage, her oeuvre relatably juggles the carefree along with calls to awareness and action.
Like so many artists we contacted during the lockdown, Mohamed's practice was predominantly solitary to begin with, so she didn't suffer much from the social distancing measures. "The first month I spent at my parent's home, where I have a studio, so I was able to continue working as normal," she looks back at that time which wasn't long ago in real life, but feels a lifetime away in 2020 terms. "I developed a daily routine, and as a result, have found my days to be busy: reading in the morning, followed by yoga or a run, studio time, lunch, more studio time, dinner, a little TV time, and then bed. I started a few new oil works, which are a continuation of the subjects I grappled with in my first solo exhibition that happened in February of this year.
"The work is autobiographical and attempts to both dissect and celebrate my identity as a woman of color but also as a person of class privilege. I try to focus a lot of my work on joy because I think being a person of color in this world and celebrating everything that it encompasses is, in and of itself, an act of resistance. But in the last few days, it’s been very difficult to make joyful work when it’s quite the opposite of how I’m currently feeling.
"Police brutality and racism in the US may be in the headlines, but here at home, we have had 11 murders at the hands of our police and military force since the beginning of lockdown. None of this is new, but I fear that the state of lockdown has granted the police an unwritten hall pass to act with even more authority and aggression; and it is undoubtedly BIPOC who will suffer the most as a result. I moved into a new home with two friends three weeks ago and have since focused on making smaller works, mostly watercolors and drawings. I’ve also been experimenting with collage for the first time, cutting and tearing up my 'reject' watercolor paintings to create small portrait pieces.
"A lot of these works have been specifically made for fundraising efforts here in South Africa, for those most affected by the pandemic. A friend and fellow artist, Koos Groenewald, started an initiative called #CoronaCommissions that has found traction on Instagram. Artists have set their own parameters, but the core idea is that artists are taking on commissioned work at incredibly affordable prices, funds raised going directly to various organizations in need of donations at this time.
"The suburb I’m now living in is very pedestrian-friendly, so, despite fairly severe lockdown laws, my day-to-day movements have not felt terribly restricted, but the only time I really leave the house is to go for a run along the promenade or walk down the road to my friends’ store for a coffee and some groceries. Winter has suddenly crept upon us and so I’m just feeling very grateful to be in a safe, loving, and healthy home where I’m also able to make work.”
Text by Sasha Bogojev