^ Nehama, Strange, courtesy of the artist.
OTP short-forms: Nehama
Ivy Pottinger-Glass interviews surrealist photographer/collage artist Nehama.
Cursed artwork, tabloids and the limits of representation.
IPG What’s Important to you?
N What matters most is how well you walk through the fire...
Beauty & freedom comes to mind.
We live in times of great conformism,
you're constantly told what to think, what to do, how to eat, what to wear etc...
The world tends to be more & more homogenized. Accepting your individuality is the essence really.
Then, eventually one can concentrate on beauty.
Usually it happens by accident and when nothing else can.
IPG You once said that ‘creation is how to give shape to all that we carry within us’ – how do you see your art as a reflection of yourself?
N My work is very very personal.
It's autobiographical in a cryptic way.
But it is.
It's the remains of a mystery.
It's a celebration of men's individuality - belief in personal freedom.
Yes, creation is how to give shape to all that we carry within us.
Whatever form it takes.
My work is a series of small victories and large defeats.
But I am resilient... :)
There is nothing more intolerable than thinking.
Creation is a way to curate my highs and lows.
It's a vanishing act really.
^ Nehama, Do you believe in magic?, courtesy of the artist.
IPG Your artist statement says 'Africa and its culture' are the main inspirations for your work. Can you tell us more about what you mean by this?
N I was born in Africa (Casablanca).
But then I spent most of my life in Paris and travelling the world for all kinds of reasons.
Then, I met a woman who had a farm in Africa and I went there.
And as I was exiting the plane, the light & energy hit me in the face.
I could barely speak.
I was shell shocked, on a high.
For the past 20 years I've been either living or working there wherever I can.
Of course Africa is many, so it's difficult to generalize.
I mainly go to Southern Africa (South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia etc.)
Kenya is a world in itself and it all began there.
One day off the coast, I found a bottle lying in the bush.
Inside it was a cobra snake holding a big black scorpio in its teeth
with sacred roots & plants at the bottom.
It looked like a cursed work of art.
I was on my way to a clandestine bar hidden in a maze of dunes
when I found that bottle.
Once I arrived & put the bottle on a table,
the bar instantly emptied itself.
Rough men went running out like they'd seen the devil.
Surely they'd seen something that wasn't meant to be seen.
The owner came back in and told me to leave at once with that evil thing
That bottle was death, black magic, strong Muti.
'Here if you want to kill someone, you go to the wizard,
he'll give you a bottle with a snake & a scorpio
and if the snake kills the scorpio the person you want dead
will die in horrible pain...'
I went back to the small village (Shela) I was staying at where many expats had settled.
When they saw me carrying the bottle, their reactions were shock and awe as well.
(I was so startled by people's reactions towards that bottle.
I was fascinated by its power of representation.
I had to understand what was behind its force.
Especially in a world were people seem to be so detached, cynical and feed constantly on images without meaning.)
^ Nehama, Watch me Die, courtesy of the artist.
IPG How did your experience working as a war reporter shape the art that you produce?
N I don't know if it did really…
I've always been drawn to extremes.
To become an artist requires fearlessness and abandonment.
It's lonely and scary. You're trying to tell it as it is and hunting for the truth at first light is daunting and exhilarating.
The truth is I didn't become a war reporter for noble reasons.
One day, I woke up & went to the advertising company that employed me and quit.
Then I forged myself a fake journalist I.D and went to Afghanistan.
I needed to go to hell - too scared to take my life away but nonetheless obsessed with death.
IPG How/why do you blend the past and the present in your work? I’ve read that you want to make your work look timeless, could you expand on that?
N It's been a long process.
I've always wanted to add mystery to the mystery.
I want people to look at my work and wonder if this has been made 40 years ago or today.
It's all about creating images made of flesh and bone.
They should have an energy of their own.
Facts are boring.
Also, most images are sanitized nowadays.
And there is too much of them.
So, it's all about presenting a world that exists but also doesn't really.
My work focus on supernatural beliefs, magic and spirituality.
Inherent surrealism is what interests me.
Poetry is not a luxury...
I burn my images.
They macerate in tea.
I bury them.
I take them for a ride.
^ Nehama, Ritual, courtesy of the artist.
IPG What draws you to working with mixed media?
N Mixed media enables me to experiment without being trapped in the limits of representation.
I love the fragility of collages.
It's about opening the doors of sensations without prejudice.
It's freeing and poetic.
IPG You’ve mentioned that literature is one of your major creative life-sources – which works/authors do you care about and how do they influence you?
N There are so many of them really.
So I won't make a list here.
But I tend to go back to the following constantly :
The surrealist movement.
The William Burroughs scrapbooks.
The Beat poets.
Oral stories and tales being passed along...
Even Tabloids can be a source of inspiration.
^ Nehama, Lost lover, courtesy of the artist.
IPG What, in the way of upcoming projects, are you currently working towards?
N I am working on a book.
This is the holy grail.
As for projects, there are many but I tend to follow my desires & instincts so that they remain fresh and surprising.
IPG Any final words for the reader?
N If you're going to try, go all the way.