The Importance Of Intersectionality And Collaboration within creative spacesWith Visual Artist Riley Wilken

Riley Wilken, a visual artist from Johannesburg, describes themselves as an “art maverick who uses creativity to express emotions and the world around him”. Their art style comprises of organic and expressive lines that portray an array of emotion and continuity – subject to the viewers perception. As part of Halls’ new The Breathing Space based in Johannesburg, Riley and other mentees will be under the guidance of Karabo Poppy. Wilken chats to us about how art has saved them, the importance of intersectionality and collaboration within creative spaces, the safety-net of white privilege, and how the pandemic sparked a change within them.

Image Credit: Fynn Wilson

What helps you focus on an off day?

Some of my best pieces have come from “off” days because they were made out of feeling. I sing or cry over most of my artworks. If I’m off because of something more serious than my dramatic self; I’ll tackle my perspective, call a friend, figure out the root of the problem and do something about it or sit down because bad days end too. I won’t force myself to do something I don’t want to do.

What is the caffeine that keeps you going?

I’m a sucker for an oat milk latte or a dirty chai latte. Anything stupidly healthy that tastes a bit gross works too. That, and knowing there is so much left in the world to see, feel, and create. I have big dreams and they require a lot of hard work, but it’s not hard to put in the effort if it’s what you’re passionate about.

What are your plans for 2021 and where do you see your creative career going in the next five years?

Therapy, testosterone and travelling. I’m moving to London soon. My art is there already and somebody once told me I look like a lesbian from Shoreditch, so I know my people are there too. I’ll always keep chasing change, as long as I can keep drawing my figures and destroying gender norms. To inspire trans bodies like I have been inspired by others and to show people that they can pursue their creative passions too. I can’t say exactly where I’ll be in 5 years, but I know my art will have carried me there.

How did you know it was time to breathe new life into your passion project and pursue it as a career?

I started waking up excited because of it. Obsessing over it. Art saved me from myself and I’ve been fighting to base my life around it ever since. Why would I want to do anything besides what makes me truly happy?

What was the highlight of this experience?

There is no lowlight. It’s an honour to be collaborating with such incredibly talented and kind-hearted people. Mentoring comes naturally to Karabo, she is patient, encouraging and always eager to share her knowledge with us. The entire team – including production and client – feels warm and creativity feels safe. The space is Trans friendly to the degree that I don’t feel “othered”. This was my first “art education” and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Talk to us about your creative process.

My creative process is a contradiction. It largely depends on what I’m feeling. Some projects are planned far in advance, some are made in the moment, some take days and some take minutes. I don’t like limiting myself to a specific medium, I enjoy having to adapt and then learning from it. I believe you need to create what you don’t like, to know what you do like. When I hesitate, I consult with my curator / motivator / live&last, Jade Ayla, somebody I trust more than I trust myself.

How has the pandemic affected the execution of your work and what helps you stay grounded?

It forced me to think bigger, be braver and be more adaptable. It’s the reason why my creativity flows across different art forms and why I am the artist I am today.

I’m grounded knowing that I am flawed, and I have a lot to unlearn in this world. Alongside the unconditional love and support I receive from my family, Jade Ayla reminds me of what truly matters and inspires me to be a better person every day. Above all, never to forget that my white privilege has made my journey unfairly easier. I just want to keep making art really.

Watch this space to see more from Halls’ Whatsapp chatbot extending the knowledge shared to the general public and giving YOU a chance be mentored, and inspired to breathe life into YOUR passions with Karabo Poppy.

Halls is dedicated to helping the world breathe better. With Cola Burst and Ice Tea Zing, you’ll have the breath, conviction and determination you need to live life to the fullest and achieve your aspirations, whatever they might be.

So go on, Mzansi: Breathe for it #UngapheliUmoya 

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