Interview: Mouss Maïga
Luca Curci talks with Mouss Maïga during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – THE SECRET GARDEN, at Misericordia Archives.
Mouss Maïga (Moustapha Maïga) was born in 1975 into a lineage of traditional textile dyers in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso. His innate sense and understanding of colour, matter, and the ‘alchemy’ of the creative process, is deeply rooted in this ancestral craft. Entirely self-taught and fuelled by a hunger for continuous experimentation, Mouss is constantly seeking to expand the boundaries of his art. From his early days of making a living selling his hand-made postcards, his drawing and wax-resist dyeing skills branched out into sign painting and screen-printing, making posters, T-shirts, and bill-boards for local businesses and advertising campaigns. Currently Mouss works with a variety of different media, often inventing new techniques and tools. Painting with his fingers, sometimes with both his left and right hand, sometimes holding several paint brushes simultaneously, he works on cotton (preferably hand-woven from Burkina Faso) on linen and on wood and uses natural pigments and plant preparations – many of which he has harvested and prepared himself. He prepares all of the colours for his dye-baths and paint palette and uses linseed oil and occasionally acrylic. Mouss’s works are an expression of his observations and deep-felt sense of life and all that surrounds him – both the visible and the invisible. He speaks of ‘taming matter’, of ‘magma’ and of ‘capturing light’. He paints feelings. He paints sounds. It could be said that he possesses six or maybe seven senses. His works are visceral, multi-sensory, extra-sensory. Since moving to France in 2002, Mouss has exhibited internationally; in Burkina Faso, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, and in Spain. He has received awards for his work at numerous art fairs, both in France and abroad, and was recently shortlisted by The Royal Academy of Arts, London, for the Summer Exhibition 2019. His extremely varied and ever evolving body of work is composed entirely of unique pieces.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Mouss Maïga – This is a vast subject, there’s no single answer but for example, it’s when the intangible and invisible realms of emotions, sensations, ideas or memories for example are translated by an artist into a different form that can then be experienced by others. It’s something organic and instinctive, intuitive.
LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
MM – I am self-taught. There were no art schools in my country when I was a child, I was just instinctively creative. I come from a lineage of traditional textile dyers, but I learnt and developed my own art and techniques through trial and error. Just like my ancestors I use plants to make my dyes, and I work with plants and mineral pigments to mix my colour palette for painting. I started drawing when I was really young. Since there was only one text book for our whole class, when the teachers noticed I was good at drawing they got me to draw on the blackboard to help them out – and then pupils and other people started ordering and buying my hand-drawn cards and things just took off from there. The thing that has influenced me the most I would say is my relationship with nature and the elements. As a child I spent a lot of time in nature, observing and exploring. I was fascinated by plants, the patterns on insects, towering termite nests…. all sorts. Once I’d started painting I used to go and dig for pigment, and harvest and prepare plants dyes. It’s important for me to continue working with natural media, to keep this connection and natural pigments allow me to develop subtle and unusual nuances.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
MM – In nature, and in life… places where I’ve lived or visited, dreams, memories, music. I love music and musical instruments. The first time I heard a classical orchestra when I came to France for example, I was so stunned I had to go and paint the experience to digest and process how powerful it had been for me – the visceral experience of the sound of an orchestra and a kind of music that was totally new to my ears.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
MM – You don’t really choose to be an artist, you just are – and to earn a living as an artists doing what you love can be hard, but also very nourishing and rewarding. I’ve had the opportunity to exhibit in some wonderful places and met and sold my artwork to a lot of very interesting people along the way, and I’m humbled by the various awards I received. I’m happy when I see that my work touches people.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
MM – My early work was figurative – depictions of village life, animals etc and my sign painting and publicity work was made for specific orders. I then naturally graduated towards semi-abstract and abstract work, to explore and develop a much more personal style and language, and creative freedom. I’m not interested in producing works that portray things exactly as they are, I prefer for my works to be atmospheric, evocative versions of my own experiences, imaginings or visions of life, and to leave enough space for the viewer to have their own interpretation. Also I’m not interested in depicting violence or troubles as I believe we don’t really need this – I like my work to bring peace and comfort and encourage people to dream.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? How did it inspire you?
MM – It’s interesting to think about the notion of mixing identities and the labyrinths of our consciousness, how everything is connected. Creativity, by its very nature can be expressed in infinite ways. Our bodies and souls are unavoidably influenced by our surroundings, both physical and energetic and this affects how we adapt and feel and function. As artists, our visceral response to everything we perceive resurfaces sooner or later in our work, and it’s important to allow absolute freedom to this creative process, however closely linked it is to the concrete reality of life.
LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the festival’s theme?
MM – “La Ville” is my stylised representation of the Place de le Comédie in Montpellier. I didn’t want to make an accurate copy, but rather kept the freedom to create an atmosphere, the crowds, and conjure up certain imaginary architectural details.”Maternité” is about deep connection, tenderness, silent communication, the deep layers of our human nature, identity, origins. “Xylophoniste” is painted sound, a painted version of how music and individual notes can be felt viscerally. Music can be described in different shapes other than what is formally taught and recognised as readable music.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
MM – Yes.