WORDS Phendua Kuta IMAGES courtesy of the Goodman Gallery
African artist Cassi Namoda’s work reflects her multinational upbringing, and examines the complexities of identity and social dynamics.
Painter and performance artist Cassi Namoda was born in Mozambique, and now splits her time between Los Angeles and New York. She was raised in Benin, Uganda, Haiti, her native
Mozambique and the US, so it’s not surprising that her work explores the intricacies of social dynamics and mixed cultural and racial identity. In April 2020, Goodman Gallery announced that Namoda had been newly signed to the gallery, and in late November unveiled her debut exhibition, “To Live Long Is To See Much”, under their representation. This also marked her first show on the African continent. The characters depicted in “To Live Long Is To See Much” bring together a blend of the artist’s personal experiences with broader fictional narratives, exploring themes such as the origin of life, the nature of time, history, symbolism and mysticism. An especially interesting ongoing theme in the artist’s past and present work is a depiction of conjoined twins, which reflects Cassi’s identity as a twin, but also signals duality. This duality is found in African spirituality’s perceptions of twins – they are revered in certain societies, but are seen as a negative omen in others. Meaning in Cassi’s work is intentionally and intricately woven to allow the viewer to create their own interpretation.
We asked her to tell us more about the origins of the work on show in “To Live Long Is To See Much”.
Your artist statement, written by your research collaborator Wesley Hardin, narrates some of the artworks. Does each piece have an intricate story?
It will if we create one. I left the cinematic quality up to the viewer, so they can navigate and create some sort of story. Interpretation can be engaging; it always enhances the overall experience of the show if you fancy letting your imagination go. I like that!
“To Live Long Is To See Much” was created during lockdown, and during the protests for Black Lives Matter. What was it like to create at that time?
It was like going to a temple or a place of prayer – a sanctuary for sanctity. It grounded me, and gave me purpose and perspective in my mission.
Your work focuses primarily on your birthplace, Mozambique, although you were brought up in several countries. As you continue to explore the country and its narratives, what are you discovering?
Mozambique is the root, but then it branches out. It’s not so much about identity – more so about the quality and state of curiosity and exploration. Culture influences me. Mysticism is a strong theme in this body of work, with dual spiritual references.
Are there any specific life experiences that you drew inspiration from?
I think I have some sort of mystic spirit, but I’m also inspired by John Mbiti’s writings on African spirituality.
Tell us more about Tchaubo Land, which features in “To Live Long Is To See Much” as well as in your previous body of work, “You’ll Be Old Too One Day. Life Isn’t Always Young And Sweet”.
My Mozambican family is mainly Tchaubo, a form of Bantu. I think it’s a regionalism I’m exploring, together with the customs and cultures of that land, which have been examined through a colonial lens – and then taking ownership of that. This is a process of decolonisation; we all have to do this work. “To live long is to see much” is a Swahili proverb, which essentially means that with age comes experience.
You show a range of experiences and emotions with diverse themes – were these woven together for the viewer “to see much”? What was your process of bringing them together?
The process comes through me. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it. It could have easily been another set of experiences, another range of scenes – but these, in particular, were honest to the moment, so I had to realise them. Honesty is a huge part of my work. I hope to never make anything contrived.