02 Feb Featured: Reality vs Illusion in the Art of Zarah Cassim
Cape Town based artist Zarah Cassim uses contrasting methods to navigate her way around the fine line that separates reality and illusion. A recent graduate at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, photography major Zarah also incorporates painting, sculpture and other digital media in her practice. She created a series of photographic collages of modernist urban architecture, titled Imagined Spaces, for her final year exhibition last year. More recently, Zarah has taken to painting portraits on tracing paper in her Trace series. Her work has evolved from stark lines to fading smudges, all the while questioning the personally constructed nature of different realities.
Zarah has always been attracted to large modernist structures and the overwhelming feeling the architecture brings. She says the architecture leaves her, “feeling isolated against the majestic, towering minimalistic structures whilst, at the same time, feeling a sense of complete calm as [she] finds comfort in the silence of these spaces.” These overwhelming experiences prompted her to photograph all things concrete.
In Imagined Spaces, her black and white photographs are digitally manipulated and collaged to create utopic spaces. Zarah hopes to challenge notions of perception and constructed realities by making the images seem real at first glance, but letting closer observation reveal collage lines and obvious seams, exposing the scenes’ constructed nature.
In her Trace series of oil paintings on tracing paper, Zarah moves away from the solidity of modernism to explore the fragility and temporality of the human condition. The portraits are of people who have formed part of her personal reality. These individuals are painted onto the transparent medium as “a means of looking at the multiple layers and fragmentary aspect of the reality we perceive,” says Zarah. According to her, the fading quality of these transparent images alludes to multi-layered individual perceptions of reality. Once again her work points out the easily blurred boundary between reality and illusion.
Apart from her career as an artist, Zarah has co-launched the successful local fashion label Lazuli in 2011. She acts as the company’s director, stylist, photographer and designer. While studying, she taught ceramic classes at local schools as part of the Kids Clay initiative and was named a finalist in the Sasol New Signatures Artist competition in 2013.