Photo: Alina Asmus
“Some would say that your late twenties are a bit late these days to start a career as a painter, which is strange and unfortunate,” says Mozambican artist Cassi Namoda, 33. After studying cinematography at the San Francisco Academy of Fine Arts and working for fashion designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh buying handcrafted pieces from abroad for the store to sell – Namoda turned to painting. a very personal place. She lived in Los Angeles and yearned for a home. “There is a term in Portuguese, sauce, it is a desire that cannot be replaced,” she says. A self-taught artist, she began showing paintings in a friend’s living room and then in another friend’s bookstore, building a career by word of mouth. She is now represented by Goodman Gallery and François Ghebaly.
Most recently, Namoda painted in Cape Town, South Africa, for a show there this summer. “Me choosing to be physically here is me saying I want to engage with people,” she says. “I don’t want to just send paintings and say, ‘Okay, sell them. in an open space for the Proyectos Ultravioleta experimental gallery. His way of traveling and painting from new places is intentional, a way to slow things down in an industry that might otherwise become “very commercial very quickly”.
Namoda spoke with The Cut about her artistic journey, her inspirations and why the light in East Hampton, where she is based, is different than anywhere else.
What, at the beginning of your life, pushed you to become a painter?
It was my time spent observing nature in Kenya, where I lived when I was about 6 years old. I was so in love with these animals that I so wanted to have pictures of them in my room. I drew them obsessively every time we came back from safari, and it stuck with me. I drew regularly until college.
When I was 25, I moved to LA, and the geographic position of Los Angeles, to me, felt very alienating. Painting therefore became this form in which I decided to begin to negotiate my homesickness. I was surprised because I have a natural tendency to be a writer. Painting was something I had always done growing up, but school interrupted that path for me, so I found other forms of expression.
I just started drawing again. He feels very vulnerable; it’s like writing to me. My next show, entitled “Tropical Depression” at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, these are essentially large drawings with a minimum of paint.
You said you started painting because you were homesick. As someone born in Mozambique who has lived in Indonesia, Kenya, Benin and Haiti, what does “home” mean to you?
I call Mozambique home, even if it’s not my home. It is my ancestral interior. My mother is there, my family is there, my grandparents are in the land there. Growing up, we moved quite often. My dad had different notions about life and experience and that you have to see the world. It also benefits my practice. If I look at the work of Emil Nolde, or even Gauguin or van Gogh, these painters would travel, and they would exist in these places. In a way, there was also an exotification of these paradises, of these foreign lands. But I don’t exoticize; I exist in a black body. I have lived in many places. I understand the world in a way that goes beyond a textbook, but more about nuances. So I feel like I can be anywhere – Budapest, Tangier or Kyoto – and I feel very energized by a kind of familiarity in the feeling of a new experience. We need novelty in our human experience. But then I have to step back and sit with it all. I guess East Hampton is that place for me right now.
What excites you about being a painter?
It’s almost like you’re always negotiating with yourself. You have to sit down with yourself at the end of the day and ask, Is it really me? When it can be answered, then I know I’ve done something honest, genuine. At the end of the day, if I don’t paint, I kind of feel incomplete.
Photo: Alina Asmus
When you started painting in Los Angeles, how did you support your art?
When I started, I was really shocked that all my friends wanted the paintings. It was such an amazing thing. All I really had to do was sell one or two paintings a month, and that would help. Also keep in mind that my work on paper sold for between $500 and $1000 – my watercolors and paper didn’t even cost a fraction of that. My materials weren’t really the problem, and I didn’t need a studio. It wasn’t until much later, when I was painting on canvas and had more curious people, that I said to myself, Alright I guess I gotta have studio visits not in my ex’s garage. And I have a small studio.
Now painting supports my lifestyle, but at the same time I don’t want to overproduce. It’s a purely logistical way of approaching the job. You cannot flood the market. There must be some kind of preciousness in the painting. It’s also very physical. I don’t have an assistant, so doing collaborative projects with brands like J.Crew help. Whether it’s the perfume I did with Linda Sivrican or my collection with J.Crew – although the perfume project is purely charitable – I’m curious to create nuances in a collaboration that can still have the spirit of l ‘art.
You recently worked on a textile for Marimekko and launched a jewelry collaboration with Catbird last summer. How do you relate your interests in other areas to your painting?
I need my brain to work in different ways. Everything informs something else. Now I do ballet, so it says something about my practice, about me as a person. It makes your feet so strong that now I can’t paint with shoes on. My feet are like, No, I have this. I have the land. Once back in the studio, refreshed, having learned something new, my mind works in a different way.
How does living and working in New York or having this home base in East Hampton influence your art?
I got myself a good job there. I like the story of the artists who preceded me. by Jackson Pollock studio is less than five minutes from mine. Just knowing that it exists there, as a mainstay, is really cool. Thinking of Helen Frankenthaler, there’s something that almost gives me more energy.
The colors also inform me. There’s something really special about the light there. It’s like a piece of land just drifted off into a gentle morning sunrise, and it kind of stays that way. And my sunset relationship was very important to me. Stopping my practice in the studio, rushing to the ocean to watch the sunset and retiring to work – it’s almost like time moves in a very circular way for me there, which feels very ancestral to me. . It’s a good place to retire. I don’t have many distractions there. And when I need to go into town and eat at Balthazar at eight in the morning, then hop in and see a few shows, see a few friends, that has its place too. We always need to recharge our batteries and see other people.
As you mentioned, your work uses color. What is your approach to the vibrant shades you use?
I would eventually like to make my own pigments. I think that’s where it’s at. When it comes to painting, what I usually do is just look at sketches, sometimes for a month, before I even decide what colors to embody in the work. Then I start living and breathing those colors and it manifests in different ways.
When I did Mendes Wood’s exhibition in São Paulo, it was this really bright fuchsia with this opaque black and this powdery blue. It was a very tight show. I was working from the perspective of grief and bereavement because it was a very difficult time in Brazil and in the world with COVID. Fuchsia is symbolic of compassion.
I also think of color in the field of spirituality. Any religious philosophy or theology has colors that embody it. In Hinduism, worry is really strong. The Catholic Church also has its specific colors. I think color is probably a religious approach to painting.
Do you feel that your presence in the art world and your growth serves some kind of social duty?
One hundred percent. This is exactly what happens with any type of framework once a certain status is granted. I love being able to connect and show people. In 2018, when I presented my first show, at Nina Johnson in Miami, I would invite the local postman and the woman who braided my hair, and they would just come over, and they were so amazed at the scale.
Just yesterday, a girl from the cafe next door said to me, “What are you doing? You’re still covered in paint. I said, “I’m a painter. And she’s like, “What?” She comes from Zimbabwe. And I said, “Why don’t you come?” She came over at the end of the day and she was like, “Wow, are you doing that? I didn’t know you could do that. I didn’t know black women could do that. That’s why I talk about accessibility. Because these ideas are not often introduced on this continent. If I can be there to discuss in a very democratic way with people, it does me good.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.