If cutting-edge emerging photography tickles your brain even just the tiniest bit, UNSEEN is where you seek refuge and satisfaction. The forward photography platform channels up-and-coming talent from all over the world, enthusing meaningful discussions on the current state of the medium and nurturing soil for new artists’ creativity to flourish and bloom. For its seventh edition, UNSEEN returns to Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek, showcasing its richest and most varied programme yet. And the art-hungry predators that we are, Glamcult sat down with one of the fair’s most compelling visual storytellers: Keyezua, the Angolian KABK graduate, whose transformative work turns prejudiced narratives around Africa, the female experience and personal loss on their heads.
You have an eclectic approach to art. What are the main narratives you embrace through your work?
Art permits me to freely manifest the majesty of the Female Body, Womanhood, Blackness, Love, Pain, Depression, Happiness, Positivity, Drama, Politics, Society, Corruption. Before the idea becomes a picture, I write a story. I repeat the story to myself; I kill the main character to later on bring it back to life. I change my opinion to disagree or agree with others, I challenge myself to give each detail a meaning. The words connect me with the movement I want the body to have, the language I want to use. I never question if I am being understood—I create and exhibit to later on enthuse discussion around the artwork.
If one looks long enough, your pictures start to emit a certain kind of pain. Am I right? Would you say that pain, in whatever form this may have been, has somehow mediated your professional achievements? How about the personal ones?
My images are about sorrow, forgiveness, womanhood, betrayal and my reaction to pain, yes. I’m always in pain with others and I often take part of different pain rituals that help me understand what the character in my work feels. To intensively observe humans, to use their pain to create an artwork—this comes with a lot of emotions and that connects you to different levels of pain and disturbance. Professionally, it has helped me create artworks that are the end chapter of a life moment that I had always carried with me. My father died when I was a young girl, and the pain of losing him was always there, being young and not able to let it go. In 2017 I decided to create a pain ritual to finally say goodbye to the pain I had been carrying with me—I produced handmade masks that exhibited certain moments of my life that shaped me as a woman. You don’t grow to learn how to deal with the death of your parents, you grow to think that they’ll always be there. You save so much for later, and when later arrives, you find out that it might not be part of your adulthood to have a father. My work has helped me understand how physical disability affected everything around me, too, and my photo series is not about the image of a woman in a fashionable red dress wearing a mask. One should question what is behind the mask, who made it and why.
What has informed your creative process? And what are the aesthetics you often fall back on?
Humans and their ways of creating hell on earth has been an influence to my work. I’m a human observer, I’m always consuming peoples’ needs, fears, and ideas to later on question my own worldview. Also, the black female body is the body I know best because of my own skin colour—the full shape of my lips, my hair, my identity—thus in my photography you see a black woman. I want to talk about her not as a victim of our society but as a survivor. I don’t enjoy making images that might contribute to the miseducation of how it feels to be a woman today.
You’ve been very active since your graduation at the Royal Academy of Arts. During this time, you’ve presented different projects such as ‘Afroeucentric Face On’ and ‘Nothing’. What’s happened in between these projects? Where are you now—on an emotional, geographical and mental level?
I couldn’t stop after my graduation. I reduced my sleeping hours to five or perhaps even three 3 hours per day, and invested all my time and money to create as much as my emotions and the images in my head dictated. I graduated with a six and a comment that I was ‘lucky’. I chose to prove that wrong—if I graduate and fail, I’d be another example for the system to prove that grades and professional criticism received by your teachers should shape your artistic development. I’m now feeling that there is still so much that I can do and I find myself feeling scared by the shortness of my life-time. I ask the universe to give me more time to enjoy this trip and continue to develop projects that punch and squeeze the bad out of our society. Emotionally, I’m also constantly competing with myself, I hate to feel too comfortable and to have enough with the success of one artwork and a few exhibitions. I’m currently living in Angola, a country that has offered me so much in shapes, colours, sound, inspiration and strength, and emotionally, I feel hungry, I want more of it.
What are your sources of inspiration? What influences your work on a regular basis?
What surrounds me shapes my thoughts and I become it. Yet, so as to not only look at Angola as my only source, I use the Internet to find out what’s going on with the rest of the world and how others are reacting to it. Humans use the Internet in such an honest way that it’s easy to spot the assholes, the heroes, the fighters, the talkers and the ones failing to make the world better—all these characters are an open book to study the human behaviour from. I don’t want to use a language that’s only understood by someone just because they’re black or a woman. I want to talk about us all, so it’s important to break the walls and see what the neighbor is doing too.
On a professional level, do you think there’s anything that’s obscured your way?
Yes, the illusion of fear in KABK. Six months before my graduation, I knew that I was studying in fear and that it was stopping me from achieving my plans. When you’re in an art academy, it’s where you need to decide on your future or else others will decide on it for you. As an artist, you need to understand that you should have no fear and your art business should not focus on the opinion of others but yourself. You’ll know when someone wants to kill your creativity with their comments towards your work. So, take whatever you can take out of their comment and criticism, and prove them wrong.
As a rising talent, is there something you fear at the moment? And how do you overcome those fears?
I can’t have fear if I want to continue to rise. Fear kills our creativity, some even forget to attend their dead ideas and plans’ funeral—visions that the world was maybe hungry for. They just give up and let failures lead the way. Never let people kill your dreams, plans and ideas without fighting to prove them wrong. I’m a fighter; I’ll fight lions if I have to! I overcame my fears by controlling my mind, my mouth and my body. I never see myself failing, I never talk bad words about myself to myself or to others. I protect my body by not letting it be used in a way that makes me feel physically harmed or weak. To rise, one must feel and act fearless.