In a recent interview with Cape Town-born artist, Zarah Cassim, she shares insights into her ongoing creative process and her perspectives on living abroad.
“The reality we perceive exists in multiple layers”
We featured Zarah in an article a few years ago, shortly after her graduation from UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art. In that short space of time she has covered great distances, both personally and professionally. Now internationally represented and calling multiple destinations home, we catch up with the artist for a glimpse into her present view.
You are currently listed as living and working between Paris, Los Angeles, Granada and Cape Town. Where in the world are you today? And what is the story behind your lifestyle encompassing all these cities?
Actually, I am in none of those cities as I am currently in London for the next few months! It’s hard to say why we have moved so much, because every move was prompted by a different set of events. Somehow, since I got married 3 years ago, my husband and I have been constantly on the move and in pursuit of new challenges. We really thrive by being in new situations and discovering unknown places. Setting up homes in new and different parts of the world (not just traveling for tourism) is such an enriching exercise. It can sound extravagant from the outside, but it’s really just been about choosing a place to be and making a plan to make it happen. And if there’s a strong intention, things work out.
How does your shifting external environment impact upon your creative process?
Moving and shifting my external environment means a lot of change, and often starting from scratch. With every move, I’ve had to set up studio and explore territory unknown to me. As an independent artist, this means sourcing materials and framers, meeting fellow creatives and trying to slot myself into an established “art world”. In the beginning, moving to these big cities, I’ve felt like a tiny fish in a very large pond but with time I’ve realised that being the small fish is not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of my creative process, it is so wonderful discovering new places, people and things and I think this fascination and experience definitely informs my practice and at least on a personal level, gives it a lot more meaning. Even with all this change, there are certain aspects that remain the same and somehow become more concrete throughout the process.
What are the themes that you are currently working with?
I’ve been working with the idea that reality exists in multiple layers – and I’ve been expressing this through my paintings of landscapes, painted by using multiple layers of thinned out oil paint and through my photography of constructed realities. Lately, my landscapes are becoming more dreamlike, dense and abstract. About a year ago, I found my parents’ old film camera, and since then, I’ve been photographing landscapes of my life, through my parents’ old camera lens. I’d like to somehow include fragments of this into my painting.
Please give us some insight into how you combine the mediums of photography and painting within your work…
With both painting and photography, I document moments of my life and use traces of my experiences in representing something. While I’m working on a painting project, I’m photographing at the same time, even if they are just photographs documenting my life. And the other way around too. My painting and photography are linked by my personal way of seeing things, so whether it is one or the other, they are a reflection of what is going on in my world.
What do you have in the pipeline in terms of shows and exhibitions?
AAF New York – Envie d’Art September 18
Otomys UK – October 18
Salon91 Cape Town – End of year Salon – December 18
“Zara’s paintings evolve from more personal experiences of everyday living. Sensitive or romantic memories are woven into her process of dissolving or removing painted layers in a surface interplay with the shadows of previously painted images. Colour palettes are chosen according to mood, with a preference shown for the more mysterious dark inky blues, greens, blacks and burnt sienna.”