Born in Maputo, Cassi Namoda is a New York based artist who explores the joy and suffering of human nature through capturing scenes of everyday life in a post-colonial Mozambique. From life-changing events to quiet mundane moments, Cassi’s paintings draw you into the human experience and conjure honest emotions through powerful storytelling. Rejina talks to Cassi about her creative process, her relationship with fashion and what it’s like to let go of work.
Rejina: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
Cassi: I think my being is definitely intertwined with a creative life. I have always been certain about this.
Rejina: Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there any photographers, filmmakers, writers who you look to whilst you are in that process of 'living' the work? ?
Cassi: I draw inspiration from everything. I look to culture and experience whatever resonates through me at the time. My library is a big source of inspiration. Books on African belief systems often show through in my work - for example John Mbiti speaks about African theology, he was a professor in Uganda and he is someone I look to in terms of making sense of everything I experienced growing up in Africa. But it is whatever I resonate with, it could be Brancussi, or the painter Max Beckmann or Djibril Diop Mambety - the Senegalese director.
Cassi: Living, eating and breathing the work - it’s the only way it comes into pure form, its essence becomes clear, abstractions are no longer a boundary. It’s as if the painting is an illusion, something I have lived.
Cassi: No, no stories as such, just human living. It’s not just Mozambique, it's the human experience, the black experience.
Cassi: No one in particular, they just come through me - and they stay as long as they need to, as long as it feels necessary. This is the beauty of storytelling.
Cassi: I am very connected to the mundane, traditional, everyday African wear. It is called “Capulana” in Mozambique, a simple textile cloth that originated in India. The people in the paintings are sometimes set in a particular time period, so it's fun to imagine or recreate this.
Little is Enough For Those in Love. Mimi Nakupenda, 2020. Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.
Cassi: I used to do colour forecasting for fashion and colour has always been really important to me. My friend calls me a ‘colour sage’. I am very sensitive to the language of colour, and now in my practice it has been a big challenge and a great exercise to work within a very tight colour palette. At the moment I am working with magenta, bone black, deep sky blue and a pale green that I am using to paint the horizon, and all of this creates a really interesting experience, like when you close your eyes and you see a colourscape, it is almost like that. Magenta is a really important colour, as it represents compassion and I feel like that is very important to hold onto this year. Colour is almost in your DNA, it comes through you.
Cassi: I wish I still owned some of her pieces. And actually she is the reason why I am very interested in things that have a hand made look or old world quality to it, as I think of a certain time when women always knew how to make clothes or use a sewing machine. And somewhere deep down inside I would love to experience that. My mother definitely influenced my style; looking at old photos of her in a plaid top, denim bell bottoms and an ivory necklace, she was very nonchalant, but in an elegant way. Even today she puts pieces together so easily, never overly contrived, always simple and effortless.
Cassi: It comes from a sensitivity, creating a code and language within painting and making it my own. The work always sits in the middle between reality and a dream world, this is something I am really interested in exploring. It is a sensory thing, almost like something you might have experienced before. The Portuguese word ‘saudades’ encapsulates the meaning beautifully, a kind of deep longing for something or someone. I try to delve deep within my emotional psyche, almost being in touch with different peripheries of time, different sensations and being really attuned to life. It is almost like a 6th sense in a way.
Rejina: How do you feel once you finish a work or a collection of works and they are released into the world?
Cassi: It's a good feeling, a job is complete, and I think that is what I strive for. It’s not really bittersweet, but maybe it has felt more challenging during the pandemic to send off work and not have the typical opening with friends, audience and supporters. Every exhibition has been different. For me it has always been a celebration, like a kind of theatre. I had an African drummer come in to my first exhibition, so it was more than just the paintings, it was an experience, bringing people together. So in some ways it is very like fashion, you work on it for months and then it goes on the catwalk. I am very interested in that visceral experience and the engagement of the viewer with the work.
Cassi: It is utterly connected to the self. I’m not interested in the metric of the fashion timeline so much. So vintage and designing my own clothes have a real appeal.
Rejina: What advice would you give to young women wanting to become artists?
Cassi: Follow your truth.
Rejina: What do you think you would have done in life had you not become an artist? Are there any other passions you might have pursued?
Cassi: Life is not over yet, I have just started living. Everything begins at 30 it seems!
Rejina: What are you working on at the moment?
Cassi: I have an exhibition coming up in Sao Paulo, Brazil this Spring and might be in the UK next year.
Family Portrait in Gurué.