Fresh Meat: Jared Leite Explores Cultural Identity & More Through Printmaking

Jared Leite is a Cape Town-based printmaker whose work primarily deals with cultural identity. Leite explores this through stained-glass design and collages from photographs which he processes and refines using Photoshop & Illustrator.

Leite’s interest in art ages back to his childhood days, where he spent a great deal of time drawing. He went on to take visual arts as a subject in high school and later studied Fine Art at Michaelis.

Why was this field of study an option for you?

I don’t know what to say other than that I have been incredibly privileged. I have truly supportive parents that, for the most part, have understood my creative impulses and pushed me to follow my instincts.

Can you share with us some of the themes you explore and engage within your work?

My work mainly deals with cultural identity and its implications. Given my somewhat marginalized position as a so-called ‘coloured’ artist, I often found myself at the centre of several representational issues when it came to producing artwork. I was unsure about what parts of my heritage to embrace and how that would be seen. Confronted with frustration and confusion regarding selfhood and the performance of identity, I began using layered prints as a way to discuss how through image and history, race is valued and understood.

What are you trying to communicate through your work?

My work responds to/visualizes the notion that the ‘intermediary position’ held by those of mixed-race heritage is a difficult one. Our conception of ‘colouredness’ is liminal and limiting, which maintains an atmosphere that impedes understanding and traps us in systems of the past. It is because of this that my work declares the delicacy of cultural hybridity in ways that contest notions of singularity and confinement.

Where do you draw inspiration from? What or who influences it?

I often look at writing in the initial stages. I was recently introduced to Calvin Warren’s Ontological Terror, which speaks about the relationship between different ways of being and the relevance of race. Philosophical perspectives like these are usually really useful when thinking about how artworks function inside of these social tensions. I also really enjoy Haroon Gunn-Salie’s work, specifically to do with the way he handles concepts like ‘remembrance’ and ‘unresolved issues’. The buried past is an important area of my research and the way Gunn-Salie’s graduate work dealt with reconstruction through oral history has been hugely influential.

Please walk us through your creative process.

I mostly start by sketching out my ideas. I also create charts and mind maps as a way of rooting myself within a set of themes/ideas. After that, I source resonant texts and images which expand upon my ideas. I then compile the results of all the above-mentioned processes using Photoshop and Illustrator. From that point onward I print the layers as lithographs, laser cut-outs, and laser-engravings. Lastly, I try to find useful ways to unify the different elements in ways that influence how the image is read.

What are some of your favourite techniques and tools to use?

Since my final year, I have been obsessed with laser-cutting and engraving. I use it as a way to engrave drawings onto surfaces like perspex or wood and also as a way to cut my designs out of other prints ie. book pages/other artworks.

I’ve also developed a love for transfer-printing. It’s quite a rudimentary form of printmaking that’s often a preparatory process, involving the transferring of the ink of a photocopy to another surface with acetate.

Can you share some of the projects you have worked on? Which one was your favourite and why?

There was this one 3rd year course that I found so interesting. It was called Strategies for Art, which was mostly about the functionality of contemporary art and helped us to question the work we were making in important ways. In terms of practical work, I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to produce woodcuts. Doing something that requires a lot of time and focus was a big challenge, but it was a reminder to me of how rewarding all that can be.

What has your experience as a student has been like and what are some of the valuable lessons you learned along the way?

Pursuing art as a course of study has been particularly rough. Training to practice as an artist involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It is significantly emotionally, physically and mentally demanding, not to mention the financial expense (even with funding). Surviving under these pressures meant learning how to prioritize self-care and ask for help.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

I have just started a postgraduate degree (MAFA) at UCT and will be busy with that for the next two years. I plan to exhibit some of my graduate work in a group show later this year. I hope to participate and show work as much as I can in the years to come.

On a more practical note, I hope that getting my postgrad will help me to choose a path. I would love to continue exploring art history with writing or even through teaching but I am also interested in museum work.

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