Interview with Cassi Namoda

Apr 9, 2019 1:54PM

CFHILL editor Paulina Sokolow in conversation with Cassi Namoda on her art, inspiration, Los Angeles and the upcoming exhibition L.A. Dreams 2, at CFHILL in Stockholm.

Cassi Namoda in her studio. Photo: Daniel Sahlberg

What do we see in the exhibition?

The work included in this exhibition will be similar in narrative to my recent show at Francois Ghebaly Gallery. The paintings are inspired by African life and my time and research spent in Maputo, Mozambique. At times, when I paint, I’m deeply nostalgic formy time spent in Africa and the duality of living in urban and rural worlds. I am interested in the mundaneness of African life: the daily motions of the people, the wanderings of animals, the culture and architecture itself. The colonial, Brutalist, Deco, experimentalist architectures, the wide boulevards along the coast of Maputo City in my native Mozambique. The palette and overall tone is much lighter on essence – the works are larger in scale. My influences I thought about while making the work – was Ricardo Rangel, Roualt, Max Beckmann, and author John Mbiti.

You have a rather mixed background...

I grew up mainly in Africa – I think at some point in your life, you accept the way you are and embrace the way you operate. It’s avery spiritual realization, and also very liberating. I seem to have created a sort of perfect transatlantic path for myself, where Ineed both dimensions differently. It also is true for my work. My upbringing followed the particular cadence of African life; it wasa sort of Aristotelian training/boot camp, hence my peripatetic perspective. So, my practice is really tied into the journey, and I like this kind of shifting of space. I feel familiar with the unfamiliar.

My move to Los Angeles was sort of inspired by an inclination and mainly instinct. I’ve been here four years now, although I travel often.

Detail from Cassi Namoda's studio. Photo: Daniel Sahlberg

How did you become an artist?

I think that’s a difficult or awkward question, but I think the simple and honest answer is honing in on your passion and embracing it. I am and have always followed a creative path.

What has inspired you?

I am interested in the paradoxes of African life, the negotiation of Western religion and African spirituality. I like this idea of making work that I would consider “African Expressionism.” It’s like I am taking agency over the idea of European painters that were inspired by African aesthetics. During the early 1900s, traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists such as Matisse and Picasso, but also Cézanne, Gauguin and other early Modernist painters. I don’t think any of these guys knew a whole lot about the functions and meanings of the sculptures within the African belief system; they simply connected to the spiritual aspect of the compositions. It helped them move past the naturalism that had defined Western art up to that point. Some might argue, of course, that it was the product of a colonial mentality, and that the Europeans “stole” this from Africa (like many other things), but personally, I am really fond of German Expressionist painting—the emotional intensity, dissonant color tones and figural distortions.

Cassi Namoda in her studio. Photo: Daniel Sahlberg

Is your art political, you think?

No, I do not consider my art political but rather a sort of shared anthropological research into my culture. I am existing in a black body so in that case the work inherently is political.

Cassi Namoda was born in 1988 in Maputo Mozambique. She lives and works in Los Angeles and East Hampton. She has had solo exhibitions at Ghebaly (Los Angeles) and Nina Johnson (Miami). Her paintings are in the collection of the Perez Art Museum in Miami.