Interview: Shafina Jaffer
Luca Curci talks with Shafina Jaffer during VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2021 – 14TH EDITION, at The ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Shafina Jaffer, born in March of 1973, is an African artist of Indian origin trained at Royal College of Art, Ruskin School of Art and Slade School of Art. She has lived in multiple countries across different continents and is currently residing in Tanzania. Her works have been featured in several international exhibitions and publications. Her journey as an artist began at a young age, however in the latter part of her life she has versed herself in the formal training of art following a storied career as an interior & graphic designer in East Africa. She uses her art to express her sensitivity towards nature and spirituality. This trifecta of themes are often the ones articulated in her work. In her view, the current landscape of ‘spiritual’ art is shaped by interpretations primarily derived from a religious lens.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Shafina Jaffer – Art for me is an expression of consciousness in material form. It is the voice of the soul that sings when my body moves on the canvas.
LC – What are you currently working on?
SJ – At present, I am creating a series of artworks called “Portal of Light” which combines nature with the birth canal. At first glance, the spectator is met with a focused appearance of a cavernous entry. The polysemy of this central symbol creates a duo-logical dialogue of meaning. At closer observation, the image is also a vagina. A similar polysemy is provoked with the surrounding work around the central symbol. At first, it appears as the trunk of a tree – but at the second, it also appears as a woman’s legs. This heteroglossia of interpretation purposefully calls to attention the naturalistic bastion that reproduction plays in all life. The main message of the works is that procreation by natural means infuses existence with its significant ingredient – life itself. Thereby, nature ensures nature’s sacredness of life.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
SJ – There is always a message in my work – be it thematic, moral or abstract. I place immense emphasis on the presentation of a composition so that the spectator can decipher the message in the artwork. This prior stage of planning and contemplation affects the approach that I take in the execution of my artworks and is the most challenging aspect of my practice as I formulate the abstract and moral themes that I intend to provoke in the spectator.
LC – How is your creative process?
SJ – The use of painting as a medium function as the foundation of many of my works, however, I ornament the syntax of this methodology by experimenting with three-dimensional texture such as acrylic plaster and mixing of media. Marrying this with thematic messages in my work results in a creative process with a lot of thinking, meditation and planning ahead.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
SJ – Through my practice, I aim to articulate themes of spirituality, feminism and mysticism. These are my preferred subjects, especially when I can commingle all three. I primarily use the genre of fine art as my medium of choice in expressing these themes. As an artist, developing mindfulness towards the bridge between style and meaning is essential to resonating with my spectators.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this event?
SJ – These works – titled “I Am Listening” and “It’s My Life” – have been done on A2 sized canvas using oil. In these works, I have expanded my understanding of the subject, anatomy and the spectator’s interpretative projection onto the subjects. In these works, the forms of both subject’s is relaxed, slouched and even patient. Both their faces are covered, thereby removing any identifiable features from their faces. However, it is identifiable that both subjects are women. In this way, I aim to marry my works with art activism – particularly feminism. It is evident that both subjects, despite their neutrality, emit energy that expands beyond the boundaries of their form. This energy is conveyed through the vibrant red I use. Hence, the surrounding space around the subjects is populated with text that denotes what the subject’s posture, orientation and overall presentation connote. Finally, in terms of graph semantics, as also seen in “21 grams”, the text surrounding the subjects conform to the subjects anatomy in order to illustrate the relationship between the subject and their thoughts.
LC – In which way is the artwork presented in our exhibition connected with the exhibition’s theme?
SJ – I analyzed the relationship between body and space, and the hybridization between identities and cultural, physical, social, urban settings in contemporary time, through two main sections. The works I have submitted coalesce well with the theme of the exhibition. The presentation of the artworks as feminist paintings builds interpretative value which fits nicely with the theme of the exhibition. For example, the anatomical nature of my works in tangent with my use of colour and text show the relationship between the body, thoughts and the outward exertion that ensues as a result. Thereby articulating the relationship between body and space. Moreover, the hybridisation of social and cultural settings is also explicit due to the subjects being women and due to the lack of identity shown of the subjects. By not giving them an identity, the accompanying text and their being women forces the spectator to project social and cultural projections onto the character of the subject as the result of heuristic thinking.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
SJ – The ITSLIQUID platform is a great tool for artists across a variety of disciplines and genres to be able to connect with shows at reputable institutions with exhibitions that resonate with an artist’s thematic style or meaning. For an artist like myself, it is a useful platform and tool for exhibiting art across cultural hubs and for gaining access to a culturally diverse range of audiences.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
SJ – Unfortunately due to travel restrictions I could not attend the opening even. Although I must say that the team on the ground was very proficient in the handling & displaying of my artworks. The response time to queries was short & overall a good experience in entering the exhibition.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
SJ – Yes, I would definitely recommend a collaboration with ITSLIQUID. Especially for opening up exhibitions and showcase opportunities for artists around the world to display their works in Africa – specifically Tanzania, Kenya or South Africa.