Before packing up and venturing overseas again, I decided to have a small show at Verona, an iconic café on Karangahape Road in Auckland, displaying a collection of drawings I had completed during my time in New Zealand. This was a unique opportunity for me to reflect on the times I shared with many memorable personalities within the realm of life-drawing. Depending on how life-drawing is approached, it can be an opportunity for self expression, to connect, listen and trust someone in a safe environment. During the sessions, me and the model would often exchange or share thoughts about our fears, goals and struggles. I feel blessed that I have the freedom and ability to provide and create a space for this to unfold.
One of the reasons life-drawing has become a regular practice, is due to the process. The models are not paid professionals, far from it! We come across each other spontaneously at cafés, airports or weddings and share a common curiosity about the other and a desire to connect through art. This shifts the experience from a means to an end to, to becoming an inherent part of the artwork itself. It did not occur to me that these drawings would be enough or sufficient for a show, till I valued the process more than the final drawing. Once my perspective about the drawings shifted, I felt they were worthy of framing and proceeded to search for a space that would mimic the mood and environment cultivated in a studio setting, to display them.
Since the models gave their time for free, I decided it was only right to donate the money collected from sales, to a charity. I approached several framing shops and put forth my vision. I explained that I wished for all the money to be donated and therefore had a ZERO budget for framing. Most of the businesses were extremely supportive, each offering help in any way they could, from glass-cutting, to supplying Matboards. I barely had any costs to cover myself, aside from the meagre costs of paper and graphite used to draw. The charity I selected was Kiwi Trust for Palestinian Children Relief, a organization which supplies families in Gaza with basic human necessities. The Israel/Palestine issue is one I feel strongly about, and feel a personal responsibility to raise when I can.
It brought me great joy to see the photos, of the families in Gaza receiving their food parcel earlier this week, from the donation collected.
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
'Quit your job! take my van...Yeaaaaah! take my van and go on a road trip!' those were the wise words of my friend Evy. I mean it was a very freeing thought, I really could do all those things.
I didn't quit my job...crazy talk. BUT I did go on a much needed road trip. I left at dawn Wednesday morning, with my $18 easel (or metal contraption of some sort), food, paint, all the thermals I owned and headed up north to Dargaville.
I never really considered Plein-air painting before, Plain-disaster is a better suited name. I barely understand what's going on in a still calculated studio setting let alone changing light, temperature, wind, insects, sand, dirt etc. Regardless, recently I had been thinking about it a lot; I had all my materials ready and had gone over the procedure in my head incessantly: how to set up my $18 easel without looking like a fool, how I would work on minute studies so that no one can see what I was painting, I rehearsed how I would pack-up my gear in the shortest possible time, prepared tea in a thermos for when I needed to procrastinate, the list goes on. I thought about everything that would give me an excuse not to try it out; it pays to know yourself well. It's like when you go to use a voucher and you missed the clause that states the voucher is invalid if you ate an apple that morning. Be prepared.
Two hours had passed since I began driving and its well past sunrise, I had a decent block of time to complete a small study. I knew if I continued driving it would verify that I won't be Plein-air painting for the duration of the trip or ever. I approached some striking green rolling hills and pulled over without thinking too much (this is key). It bothered me that the wind turbulence and clouds were changing the way the light was hitting the landscape. Nevertheless, I had already pulled over on the side of the road. I imagined what it would look like to a road camera; a car pulling over then driving off, then pulling over again, only to drive off again. I set up my easel out of sheer paranoia; of the imaginary road camera following a suspicious car with a Middle-Eastern driver. The pain of not setting up surpassed the pain of setting it up. Once the metal pieces were assembled, it occurred to me I had taken this too far, I had to at least pretend to be doing something. This, in fact is the process of how I usually show up to painting, like a child scouring to stay afloat in shallow water, picking up a paint brush is an enigma to me. I dipped my brush in a bit of Gamsol and burnt Sienna, My first Plein-air painting. it was rubbish, but I did it.
Entry to Glinks Gully Beach
Arrived to destination; Glinks gully, a west coast beach that stretches out to as far as the eye can see, and not a soul. Just me, the water, sand and the odd washed up Bluebottle jellyfish, for miles. Walking along the sandbank I turned around to see where I had parked my car but it was out of sight; the rare quad biker would appear sporadically, then swiftly disappear into the mist again. It reminded me of that scene in the Pirates of the Carribeans: At worlds end film. Every person walking along that coastline must have felt like they were the last ones to walk the planet.
Glinks Gully Beach, Dargaville
The next morning I began the drive to Whangarei Heads. Stopping off along the way to do some Plein-air studies. It wasn't the horrendous task it was the day before. The thing about these studies is that they are so small. The main objective is to capture the correct value, hue and chroma; something I learnt during my time at Studio Escalier last year). I found Plein-air studies to be a great exercise to help me learn to see better, also being in nature was a welcomed change.
Plein-air painting at Whangarei Heads
I finished off my road trip with a stop at Eutopia Cafe. This place is so gorgeous, if you get a chance to check it out, do so!
Eutopia cafe Kaiwaka
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Restaged Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Édouard Manet.
Its seems untimely to talk about anything other than what occurred on May 25th 2020, when a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a 46 year old black man for nine minutes. George Floyd was confirmed dead.
Last night I enjoyed a beautiful cooked dinner by the lovely Amy Cosson link below. I always look forward to these dinners! I met her new flatmate, Veronica who has recently come to New Zealand from Tanzania. We spoke about the notion of 'home', what it is like to be in New Zealand, travel and other such preliminary topics. Shortly after a bit of small-talk we delved into what had happened early that day at the Black lives matter protest that was held at Auckland City; in response to the George Floyd murder.
At the protest, a primary school teacher wore a MAGA cap 'Make America Great Again' which was later taken off his head and burnt by a protester. MAGA caps were worn by Donald Trump and supporters during his 2016 presidential campaign, for this reason it is seen as a symbol of racism. The school teacher insisted;
"I wasn't wearing it to incite racism. In fact, I was wearing it to represent a diverse range of ideas."
I personally have no idea what that means, why would you go to a protest to represent a diverse range of ideas?
I initially resented the whole protest, the hashtags and the social media frenzy. There has and continues to be many injustices occurring around the world that don't attract a grain of attention the way some do. I resented the silent 'I keep out of politics' type of people that vivaciously decided to join in as the movement gained momentum and popularity, whom otherwise are oblivious. In saying all that, such events give rise to togetherness and unity. I remember watching the news at my parents place, and my mum who is still recovering from surgery said 'are there white people at the protest?'
This however, as much as I would like it to be, does not only concern white and blacks. In a recent conversation with my dear friend, Ben, I said "yes but what would I, an Arab, have anything to say about the topic". What I meant was that the Middle-East gets its decent dose of hate and discrimination and how is this any different? He reminded me where the Arabs stood in all of this by saying "you guys basically introduced slavery". Till today if you are to watch Arab TV; black actors, presenters or anyone in politics simply don't exist. In fact the term for a black person remains to be 'Abd' meaning slave.
Almost any conflict I can think of stems from a desire to feel superior. I for sure see it in myself. I make judgments about others the moment my top eyelid peels away from the lower every morning. It was instilled in me from a young age. When I scored good marks at school I would rush home to tell my parents that I got top marks, which ultimately means I did better than the other kids, which means I am better than them!. My parents would congratulate me, some friends would too and others would be envious. Some parents might even go as far as pinning it to their heritage and background to justify their superiority.
I recently traveled to (I wont state the country) and spoke to a mother whom in a conversation told me;
"I told my daughters you must do well at school because you are ethnicity and your dad is a high paying profession." Of course I just giggled because that's what I do in any awkward situation, but.... What? That is by default telling me that I am inferior since I was not her ethnicity. And what a thing to tell your child! it might just be the thing to make them work harder if they weren't already. Assuming they don't question why their ethnicity and their fathers high paying profession makes them better than others. And why question your established superior position unless you wanted to be inferior? or if you just like to question. After all how did Hitler win his people over? What I am trying to say is that things start very small. Maybe one of the things we can do is check-in with ourselves. What are our true motives/intentions when we do and say things?
I can't change much, the death of George Floyd and this conversation is one I wish I wasn't having in 2020. But since we still are, then we must continue questioning ourselves; discuss, have uncomfortable conversations, choose where we stand. For those that stay silent, your silence pains me.
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