With her breezy, laid-back nature and relaxed sense of style, artist Cassi Namoda proves that you don’t have to be from the Golden State to exude California cool.
The Mozambique-born Namoda, who grew up traveling the world, found herself fascinated with Southern California in her early twenties and decided, one day, to move to Los Angeles.
Today, she spends her time between LA and East Hampton in New York, making artworks that examine the influence of Portuguese imperialism on African and African-diaspora cultures. For Namoda, her practice—which she likens to exercises in “contemporary consciousness”—allows her to engage fully in artistic explorations of her own childhood, which was spent in several countries across Africa.
Ever since she can remember, Namoda has admired those who choose to pursue creative paths, and has pursued several in her career. Although she is a painter, she also studied literature and film as a college student, and worked as a fashion designer, art curator, and even a perfumer.
In honor of Artnet’s “California Cool” sale, presented in partnership with LA-based fashion brand Vince, we sat down with Namoda to hear more about what inspires her these days, what “California cool” means to her, and why she values the art of collaboration.
What does “California cool” mean to you?
I think the term “California cool” is sort of like a state of mind or being. It embodies a sense of beauty and a real passion for something intangible, like watching the sunset over Malibu Canyon, or taking a hike in Topanga, or the visceral energy you get from downtown LA. It feels raw.
Why were you drawn to living and making work in Southern California?
At the time, it felt like a great way to alienate myself. LA is complex and it’s not an easy place to navigate. I think it’s good for creative people to experience that.
You were born in Maputo, Mozambique, and then spent your childhood traveling and living in different countries around the world. What was it like to experience so many different cultures from such a young age? When did those experiences begin to manifest in your work?
I was born in Maputo, yes, but being of Mozambican descent didn’t start to inform my work or my thinking until much later.
My experience growing up, moving from place to place very often, was, for my family, very much a quest to achieve a higher understanding of the world and what it means to be alive and human. I think my father really wanted to instill that in his children.
You’ve also worked as a fashion designer, an art curator, and a perfumer, for which you collaborated with Linda Sivrican of Orris Perfumery to design a signature scent. How did you go about gathering inspiration for each of these different creative endeavors?
Collaboration is a very important part of my DNA. I think it’s because I was born into this world as a twin, and the idea of making something beautiful with other people makes a lot of sense to me.
I don’t think there’s one path to creativity, or that it has to be achieved through solitary, traditional methods. You can work together in the way that two people get married and have a child, and then that’s the product of making something beautiful with someone.
The scent I made with Linda Sivrican was based on one of the recurring characters in my paintings, Maria. I always thought about what her scent would be like if I were to ever bring her to life. The scent we made for her felt appropriate. I could tell from the process that Linda has the same spirit that I do running through her veins.
A lot of the drive behind my collaborations comes down to intuition. I have a couple more projects coming up, like [the production of] a single-origin tea from my grandfather’s property in a place called Gurue, in Mozambique. For that, I am working with a graphic designer named Maria Triconis. Her name was a serendipitous surprise, and worked so well for this collaboration. The tea is also very special, and it makes you remember your bones on this earth.
Has your background as a curator informed your work as an artist at all?
I’d like to think of my short time curating as a period when I was telling a story that I felt was crucial.
What period in art history has influenced your work most?
You can view it at the Neue Galerie: German and Austrian art from the early 20th century.
What’s inspiring you right now? Who are some of your favorite artists?
Right now, what’s inspiring me is [the late German expressionist painter and printmaker] Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and very early Makonde sculptures.
What are some of your favorite ways to relax and unwind when you’re not in the studio?
I really like to read, do yoga, be in nature, and spend time with my family. I like to learn new things.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything planned for 2020?
I have a show forthcoming at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London in January, and of course the launch of the tea project in Mozambique.
See Cassi’s auction picks from our California Cool sale below.
Notepad Doodle 3 (State II) (2018)
“There’s something about Jonas Wood’s works that are so effortlessly full of joy. There’s a real sensitivity to living, and daily life. I like these plants—they’re so colorful.”
Prototype #4 Methenge (1990)
Edward and Nancy Kienholz
“Composition, form, abstraction, theater, and Surrealism—this work has it all. It’s a very good survey of all these components combined.”
Marilyn Crying (2013)
“I love this screen print of Marilyn Monroe crying. I often paint a figure crying in my work. I am attracted to vulnerability in humans.”
Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (complete set of 45 works) (1969–70)
“I love Hockney’s illustrations, and to have them in the format of a book is such a treat. There’s a certain lightheartedness and tenderness in the work. I also love fairy tales.”
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