Monday, June 9, 2014

"How could I take what I love and use it to sustain myself, to contribute back to society?"

Zihan Kassam is a burgeoning artist and art-writer in Nairobi, Kenya. With Trade Your Talent she speaks about taking the leap to become an artist, why she likes to paint semi-abstract nature and what it's like to grow with the Kenyan art scene.

© Zihan Kassam: Blushing in the Light

© Zihan Kassam: Comradeship
Why did you decide to change your career?   

I worked in Toronto for a long time, as part of the down-town corporate rat race. I loved my friends and the people I worked with but something was completely off. I’ve always painted, always written, so it was an organic decision. I needed to be doing something artistic.   

Describe the exact moment you took the leap?   

I asked myself how I could take what I love and use it to sustain myself, to contribute back to society? I decided to make a bold move; to move back to Kenya where the art scene was growing - and grow with it.     

What do you paint?   

I paint semi-abstract nature. Old trees, grassy fields, stormy skies, barns and swamps. I like the idea of an old world – a reprieve from civilization and development, a place to repose.  

© Zihan Kassam: Golden Haze

© Zihan Kassam: Yellow Fever

Did you ever think that one day you’re art would be known?   

I sure dreamt about it and work towards it. After so many years, it’s nice to have a little recognition from press or frequent buyers but for the most part I prefer hiding away.   

What is the hardest part of your job and how do you handle it?   

The hardest part is balancing the art and the stories. I try to keep focused on what is important to the local art scene, what is new and who shows serious talent.   

Tell us something strange about yourself.   

I despise phone calls, seriously.
What is your pet peeve?   

Being interrupted while I’m painting.   

© Zihan Kassam: Solitude I
Has your career taken any unexpected turns?   

Well, it’s been three years since my first solo exhibition in Kenya and it’s been going well.  That’s a pleasant surprise. Also, when I started my new career I remember thinking that it would be nice to write about art especially Kenyan contemporary painters. Now I’m about 70 articles in, mostly for The Star newspaper.   

Are you nervous about your next show? What is it?   

The next series is calledElysian Fields.’ It features large expanses of land, air and water where the mind can roam free. I’m worried it won’t do as well as The Bicycle Man. I’ve been battling my canvases recently but hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll manifest my visions. And yes, I’m always nervous before a show.   

What are you looking forward to in the future?   

With the spotlight on East African Art, I look forward to watching the art scene in Kenya evolve and being a part of that transition.

Find out more about Zihan on her website
The Resemble Project

Published Art Writing by Zihan appeared in:

Art Life Magazine, The Village Beat, UP Magazine, African Colours, The Star


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