Monday, July 12, 2010

Catchup Q&A: Brendan Fernandes on Africa, Art and Awayness

So I'm back from vacation and playing catchup in many ways... not the least of which is posting about the Q&A I did with Sobey shortlister Brendan Fernandes, who is currently enjoying his first museum solo show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The interview came out last week in the National Post print edition, and an online version with some nice images remains. An excerpt:

Q: Why are African masks so important in your art?
A: When my family left Kenya, we started to buy African masks. These things had never existed in our home until we left. Then, in New York, I saw immigrants selling Kenyan Masai masks that seemed to function as symbols of all Africa. In some cases, they even functioned as souvenirs of New York! Researching the masks was a way of trying to identify my place in the city. I’ve also looked at masks in museums, where their tribe might be listed but not their use. I’m interested in how the utilitarian gets lost in migration. That extends to me, too — when I left Kenya, I spoke fluent Swahili, but now I can’t.

Q: How else did your childhood migration to Canada influence your work?
A: Kenya is diverse. My ancestors are from Goa, which was part of Portugal until 1961, but also Indian. So in Kenya we were “Goan.” But when I came to Canada, people were like, “You’re not Goan. You’re Kenyan.” Kids in school would ask, “Can you tan?” Actually, because of that, I once did a piece where I tanned and documented skin changes! They’d also ask, “Did you have elephants in your backyard? Did you live in a city?” I actually lived in Nairobi, so it was a culture shock moving to a small Canadian town. Also, people wouldn’t just ask, “What is Kenya like?” They’d ask, “What is Africa like?” But Africa is a very deep and complex continent. Dealing with that complexity, and the complexity of cultural identity in general, is important to me.

Image of Brendan Fernandes' Masks installation from the National Post

No comments: