If you’ve been wanting to check out more local art galleries, or just wanting to start purchasing it for your home, South Africa is home to so many wonderful creatives. We spoke to multimedia and contemporary artist Caitlin Mkhasibe about getting into the art world, recurring themes in her work and the importance of collaboration.
You studied art and completed your BAFA at Michaelis, how has the transition been to working in art full time?
I graduated in 2015 but also while studying, I joined Emergent Art Space (a non-profit artist platform based in San Francisco) which afforded me my first international group exhibition, Translations, where one version of it was held on their online platform in 2015 and the physical one was in India, in 2016.
Gratefully, I received support from my parents and six months in to my first year out of art school. Since then, I've done numerous, short freelance jobs to prop up my art career, such as being an artist assistant for Frances Goodman, Katrine Claassens and Frank Lunar.
I juggled my freelance work with unpaid ‘exposure’ work, then commissions, exhibited more in group shows, collaborated, did interviews and it eventually broadened to international galleries and even a Burning Man x Sotheby’s auction in New York with a bucket list of artists that I got to exhibit with, while writing about these happenings often on EAS’ platform. What seemed like an odd mix of skills at the time were eventually used to teach myself how to make my online store, photograph, film and edit videos of my work and source merch materials from spaces I worked for.
Along the way, there have been failed projects, working 12 hours a day, bad sleep, burn out, losing family to illness and the pandemic, which led me to re-think my time and value.
Can you give us some insights into the themes behind a lot of your work, it feels very celestial and otherworldly?
I am influenced by the last scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. What would you see if you metaphorically could just keep going further away from the familiar and maybe circled back? I serve up an online visual stew influenced by sci-fi/ horror films and comics that have themes of environmental anxiety, liminal space and intersectional-feminism.
My work also has themes on animal rights and is influenced by low-brow art and tattoo culture. It's meditative and surreal with morphed mark-making textures from my love of nature (plants, microscopic, deep sea imagery) and is mostly monochromatic from doing black and white photography and the time I was I was prompted by sonar imagery for my interactive, audio-visual exhibition on noise pollution.
Multimedia art allows for a lot of creativity but what led you to choosing this medium overall?
While listening to alternative music in my early teens, I learned of musicians who also produced their albums or made their album art, music videos, wrote stories and collaborated with other artists that they liked, which had DIY punk roots.
What they presented made sense to me as a package and I no longer felt like I had to hold my breath or try to deflate and compress myself to take up less space.
When I realised that, pressure lifted and I felt relieved that people would understand the work because myself and my ethos would be the common thread. Multimedia is the one way where all of my odd skills can fuse together and overlap, considering that I neither fit in here nor there. Growing up, I had a naïve hope in the independent nature of the internet and seeing many, multidisciplinary artists’ work online further made me see it’s a possible path.
You’ve done a lot of collaborative work recently, including journals and exhibiting at Synesthesia in Africa - can you share what some of the highlights have been?
I’m really grateful that people have trusted me to contribute to a part of their history in some way. Art-making is solitary and so it’s meaningful to me that the collaborations have all been great experiences in connecting with and supporting people who are passionate about their life’s work and expertise, where we exchanged fragments of knowledge that we can carry with us. Working with new processes, adapting to working online and still producing something cohesive together that we’re proud of at the end has been a lovely kind of growth and expansion for me.
In 2020, I collaborated with award-winning, environmentally friendly, bespoke wallpaper studio, Robin Sprong Wallpapers, to create my artist series and fine art prints that are available both locally and through global printing and installation partners. I’ve always loved artists who painted walls and did interiors so to have dipped into this field has been amazing.
Last year, I was asked to join the board of directors of the US-based non-profit, the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists and Scientists (IASAS). It’s been wonderful to meet the encouraging members who are enthusiastic about art, music, neuroscience and their overlap in representations of synaesthesia.
Finally, how can people support you and your work?
I’m on Instagram at @caitlinmkhasibe. My Linktree (linktr.ee/caitlinmkhasibe) has the collated links to recent projects I’ve been involved in. My art is on my online store and website (caitlinmkhasibe.com), on Robin Sprong Wallpapers’ website (robinsprong.com) and Unsung Art’s website (unsungart.co.za).