Freshly back from exhibiting and creating artworks at the week-long collaborative Nando’s Qatar Jika Jika exhibition held at the Souk Waqif Art Centre in the heart of a bustling market in Doha, Qatar, self-taught Nyanga artist Khaya Sineyile shares the colours, grains and layers of his journey of discovery.
Sineyile was recently invited by Nando’s, in participation with the Qatar Ministry of Arts and Culture, to a short artist in residence programme at the Souk Waqif Art Centre in Doha, capital of the State of Qatar, on the Persian gulf.
A Khaya Sineyile artwork was one of the very first paintings purchased by Nando’s Qatar, so when they, Yellowwoods Art and the Embassy of South Africa in Qatar recently collaborated on the Jika Jika [Let’s Celebrate] exhibition that celebrated South African art, culture, and possibility with a particular focus on arts and crafts produced within emerging communities, the talented Nyanga-based artist was invited to visit the Souk Waqif Art Centre.
Khaya talks to us about his first trip out of South Africa, and what it was like to work alongside other artists and crafters at the Souk Waqif Art Centre, which aims to preserve and enhance both Qatari and Middle Eastern artistic traditions and to bring together those who love art and culture to share knowledge and ideas, talent and inspiration.
This exhibition was held in the spirit of Jika Jika (which has a multitude of meanings including to celebrate, journey, seek, explore, to choose or find direction, to turn, to transform). In light of this, tell us about your experience in Qatar, both inside and outside Souk Waqif Art Centre?
It was an eye opening experience! As an artist I was amazed by all the TEXTURES that were to be seen – they definitely influenced the work I created while I was there. But everything was different in Qatar – the people, the food, the environment, the buildings, the city, the architecture, the sounds…I was really struck by the different sounds that I heard right from the beginning of the day when I woke up in my hotel room in the morning. The hotel was a lot quieter than my home in Nyanga in the Western Cape where there are always lots of people around me…that quietness made me feel a little lonely. But I really enjoyed sharing studio space at Souk Waqif Art Centre with other artists that shared my passion for art. The warmth and spirit of sharing was noticeably prevalent amongst the artists working at the art centre and I learnt a lot from them. They truly wanted to share their knowledge, and to both assist and learn from me and were genuinely interested in understanding where I came from, and finding out about what’s going on in South Africa. I found the artists more welcoming than in Cape Town and being asked these questions in a new place, and having to answer and talk about them, also caused me to reflect on these matters.
Other things I noticed….I was really struck by the fact that in Qatar one cannot approach or talk to women – not even to ask for directions! Also, I am left handed and found it quite awkward to only use my right hand for eating as is the customary culture in the region.
Before we talk about the artworks you worked on at the Jika Jika exhibition in Qatar, it would be good to find out more about the portrait painted in South Africa prior to your trip, and which was exhibited as part of the show. Through this artwork you “explored the concept of identity and the meaning thereof”. In relation to your art-making process, what does it mean to you to know or get to know someone?
The subject for this portrait was previously unknown to me. We met just before I started the painting and my purpose (or at least one of them) was to discover more about my model through the act of painting him, and also to communicate what I observed to the onlooker. I decided not to paint the subject’s hair so that nothing distracts from the features of the face. I also decided to use lighting that is characteristic of twilight – when light shifts at this particular time of day, it results in very prominent shadows and highlights on the face. In this case I used the light to emphasise the subject’s essential features even further. This also results in the face only being partly revealed, because can one ever know another person fully?
I specifically chose to have the subject look straight out at the viewer. The man is thus looking at the viewer as if they are having an intimate/earnest conversation. The eyes, or as I like to call them, “the windows to the soul”, are depicted as dark, bottomless spaces. Looking even deeper at the man, I was trying to discover/uncover the identity of the person. It was apt to build up the artwork using a lot of layers, each one meaning something different to me; each one revealing more of what I observed about the subject. I let the surface crack and peel, allowing the paint layers underneath to show through to keep playing on the idea that a person is more than just what one sees at first glance. As one delves deeper one discovers more and as one starts looking more closely, more of the underlying is revealed. Note the drips of paint and the yellow part of the painting at the bottom right corner of the artwork as well as the simple red outline. You’ll see I used more monochromatic colours in this painting than I did in the one’s in Qatar. I experience blue, the predominant colour used for this portrait, to be a more serious colour.
Tell us about the two mixed media on canvas works that you created at the exhibition?
In Qatar one cannot take pictures of other people without their explicit permission, and so I decided to rather use photographs of myself and photographs I already had as reference material for the two works I created while there.
The mediums I typically work with are oils, pastels, chalk, charcoal and sometimes enamels. I usually paint with a paintbrush but, influenced by the other artists in residence at the Souk Waqif Art Centre, I used a palette knife for the two works I created in the week I was there. All the layering of textures that I was exposed to on the trip really excited me! Apart from being inspired by seeing the other artists using an impasto technique (a technique used in painting, where paint is laid on an area of the surface usually thickly enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible) I also wanted to convey the richness of the environment I was experiencing, specifically all the different textures I was observing.
I also did some research before going to Qatar and noted that generally the styles used by artists there are more realistic in comparison to what I’m doing, especially since my work has become more abstract, but I did allow myself to be influenced by the new culture and environment. I observed that local work tended to use a more limited colour palate and I let that influence the work I created there. When I was working in Qatar, I was missing home, the people and the food. Missing what was familiar to me, made me think more introspectively, asking myself questions such as ‘who am I’, ‘where do I come from’ and ‘who and what have I left behind in SA’? When I talk about these memories and feelings I find myself thinking of red colours, and of the soft pink used in The Blue Man so the experience itself influenced my colour choice. My decision to use richer, warmer colours, specifically reds, browns and oranges in the two portraits I created there was also inspired by the typical range of colours I observed in Qatar itself.
The collaborative exhibition was a week of “celebrating South African Art, culture and possibility”. Tell us about the possibilities this opened up for you?
Probably the most exciting thing about the visit to Qatar was meeting a lot of interesting new people. I made new acquaintances and there has apparently been talk at the Art Centre of the possibility of another visit. South African Deputy Arts and Culture Minister, Ms. Rejoice Mabudafhasie, who opened the exhibition in Qatar, is interested in artists working in the townships and mentioned that she would like to discuss the possibility of future projects with me.
Visit Khaya’s third solo exhibition, Issue No 32 at 99 Loop Gallery from 24 February till 24 March 2016. He will also be taking part in the Cape Town Art Fair.
Follow Khaya Sineyile on Facebook for more info.
See more from the Nando’s Art Initiative here.