Sara Golish on Multiculturalism, Afrofuturism and Black Beauty
In the sixth part of our continuing series on artists in the diaspora who promote Black identity and pride through their work, we present emerging Canadian artist Sara Golish. Previous features include Philippe Attie, Tim Okamura, T.S Abe, Patrick Earl Hammie and Mario Henrique.
Golish specialises in figurative drawing and painting. From an early age, her passion was to become an artist. After excelling at the Windsor Centre for the Creative Arts, she moved to Toronto in hopes of finding a more challenging artistic environment at an art school. There she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in drawing and painting in 2008 and also received the Eric Freifeld Award for Proficiency in Draughtsmanship. In order to expand upon her visual language, she completed courses in graphic and web design and development at George Brown College in 2011.
Golish has completed extensive work as a decorative painter, which has included designing and painting murals, bas relief, gilding, and faux finishes in traditional and contemporary styles. She has also worked on high-end residential, corporate, and retail interior design projects across Canada, the US, and Barbados. In this interview with Omenka, she discusses her work, process, and focus on Black women.
You earned a BFA in drawing and painting in 2008 but also took graphic and web design courses from George Brown College. What informed your decision to become an artist?
During a family trip to Washington, DC, when I was three years old, I gazed up at a very large wall with a very large painting. It was The Dancer by Renoir, a simple portrait of a posed ballet dancer set against a greenish-blue background. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was stunned by the beauty of the painting, the artist’s skill, and knew I wanted to be a master painter like Renoir. I have my parents to thank for always instilling the arts in me and supporting my deep love of visual art, music, and dance from a very young age. I owe so much to them for where I am today. They have been supportive of my interests from day one.
Can you please elaborate on your relationship with painting and drawing, the roles they both play in your process and your preferred medium?
I appreciate them both in their own way as they can be very different mediums, despite the fact that they are two-dimensional materials. I purposely extract very different styles out of each medium in an attempt to allow their inherent nature to shine through. I use drawing to sketch out ideas for both drawings and paintings. I also use drawing for the foundation of my paintings, so, in those instances, they are always interwoven.
How do the concepts of multiculturalism and Afro-futurism apply to your art?
They are used, I would say, mainly within the figures I consciously choose to portray. To the best of my knowledge, Toronto (where I live and work) is, or at least has been, considered the most diverse city in the world. We have over 230 nationalities, and over half our population consists of foreign-born residents. You can step onto a single TTC subway car and see people from all corners of the world. It’s quite beautiful. I feel multiculturalism is ingrained into the fabric of this amazing city, so it’s naturally present within my work and the choice of models I use. Afro-futurism has long been both a concept and an aesthetic that I’ve been drawn to and I’ve also incorporated into the work. The portrayed women of colour and Black women in the ‘Moondust’ and ‘Sundust’ collections respectively are displayed as positive deity-like projections of the past and future simultaneously.
Your figurative paintings and portraits are a representation of the beauty and grace of African women. What is it about Black women that inspires you to capture them in so much detail, and at what point did you realize it was important to project the Black race and femininity positively?
I’ve long thought about the importance of not only acknowledging but giving centre stage to marginalized people, in this case, women of colour, in displays of glory, significance, and power. I do not apply this line of thinking strictly to African women. I do this to honour many of those who have historically been eschewed. I have been aware of this lack of representation since at least my teen years and understood the vast importance of artistically representing not only one ethnic group, particularly in a world that promotes whiteness above all. Breaking down these deranged concepts, and uplifting those whom I believe need it most, is at the heart of my work.
How does your idea of a beautiful Black woman conform to or diverge from Western notions of beauty and stereotypes of Black beauty?
I’m not sure anyone is completely immune to societal standards that are placed on us from the time we’re born. What I can say is, in many aspects of my life, I actively question those norms. I am constantly combating what patriarchy has placed on women, what hetero-normativity has placed on queer folks, what white supremacy has placed on people of colour, and so on. It’s really a daily practice to not be susceptible to certain biases. I also don’t subscribe to the notions of shadism/colourism that white supremacy has imposed on the world. As a resident of Toronto, I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful to have the opportunity to see various cultures first-hand and gain alternative perspectives from those people. I’m able to see through their eyes what they consider beautiful, instead of digesting it through the filter of Western media. Reading and research play a pivotal role as well, both in my life and in my practice.
Kindly take us through your creative process.
I don’t have a set process per se. Sometimes a concept or an image comes to me when I least expect it. Many of those ideas are quickly scrapped, while others are fleshed out over an extended period and take time to come to fruition. What I can say is that once I have formulated my idea, I use Photoshop to visually plan out said concepts before they become paintings. I do this in order to see what the elements and the composition will look like before I begin painting.
Some of your works possess an almost decorative-like quality. How correct would it be to infer that they draw from your early experience as a decorative painter of murals, gilding, and faux finishes?
Most definitely. For example, once I started working with metallic leaf as a decorative painter, I immediately knew I needed to figure out how I could successfully incorporate it into my own personal work. At this point, nearly all of my work consists of some degree of gold or silver metallic leaf, so it is fair to say that my early decorative experience has had a significant impact on the work I do to this day.
You earned much recognition with your calm academic style. Are your series ‘Sundust’ (2014) and ‘Moondust’ (2014), both executed in a more expressive manner, and which achieved more acclaim, purely experimental or points of departure for future work?
I would say that all of my art is experimental. Each drawing, each painting, and each collection is simply evidence of me trying to hone my craft. Artists continually experiment until we have that “ah ha” moment and something clicks. I’m always in the process of getting to that next “ah ha” and have many ideas for future works, some of which include both extensions and slight departures from those series.
In your most recent body of work, ‘Birds of Paradise,’ you question the symbolism of Western conventional oil portraiture through a lens of eco-feminism by depicting traditionally oppressed coloured bodies with dignity and grace. Do you find that referencing Greek mythology in this series presents a dichotomy of meaning?
I’m a painter in the classical Western tradition simply due to the appeal and satisfaction of capturing something in paint representationally. However, that tradition is also tied to a narrowed subject matter and adverse treatment of women, which I can’t stand behind. So my aim is to intervene from within that practice. To hold onto the techniques and aesthetic, but lose the objectified status of the traditional female “subjects” and present them as persons in their own right. By constructing them as goddesses, I interact with that previously mentioned tradition and challenge it. The goal of my work is to return that “goddess-ness” to their artistic representations.
The Grecian mythology I used may seem unusual or even contradictory at first when illustrating the power and tenacity of women of colour. This is precisely why I inserted these women into that space, as it is one that they have been rarely allowed to occupy. During my research for the project, I discovered Caryatids. These support columns were sculpted figures of women that upheld immense portions of ancient Greek structures with silent strength and resilience. The series was an attempt to bring that quiet Caryatid-like endurance, which many women around the world exemplify, to the forefront—to bring that often-overlooked strength from the sidelines of culture to the spotlight using a medium that more times than not fails to recognize this fortitude.
Finally, Greek nomenclature was used as a means to tie in my classical painting style to Caryatid concepts of women’s stalwartness and my usage of bird symbology.
In your opinion, what is the role of painting in today’s clime where relatively newer media like photography, video, and installation thrive?
Playing music from a streaming site has its benefits but is a different experience to seeing that musician live and in person. Likewise, as I often say, seeing a solely digitally created piece online has its place but can never compare to viewing an oil painting in person and admiring all of its colours, textures, and nuances up close. I believe no matter where technology takes us, there will always be a place for handmade, analogue work. While being a powerful artistic form, new media could never replace that which is crafted by hand with raw materials.
What future project would you like to share with us?
I like to keep my project ideas close to my heart and inner circle until they’re ready for the world. They will reveal themselves in due time! Until then, the ‘Birds of Paradise’ series will be showcased in Tucson (Arizona) and Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) in 2019/2020. To keep up with my current and future ventures, you can find me at saragolish on Instagram and Twitter as well as saragolishart on Facebook.
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