Pictured left to right Terrence Musekiwa of Zimbabwe, Narsiso Martinez of Long Beach, CA and Elechi Todd of Trinidad.
Artist Terrence Musekiwa showed no signs of fear as he dove into the Atlantic Ocean, despite it being the artist’s first time in such an expansive body of water. “To clear your mind, baptized in thousands of liters of water, is another opportunity I have to get inside my work,” he says. “I’ve never had a chance to even go in the river in Zimbabwe, but here I am, going kilometers deep into the ocean.”
The magic of the Fountainhead Residency is often attributed to its openness for experimentation, ability to forge connections, and commitment to bringing together underrepresented artists of color from regions of the world that haven’t quite entered the frenzy of the global art market. The May cohort of Fountainhead artists, however, proved that the experience’s true draw lies outside their comfort zone, in a space not so easily defined yet fully, immersively lived. The intimacy of the experience, intensified by frequent, unplanned opportunities for creative growth, often spark a sort of revelation in each artists’ work.
Artists Narsiso Martinez, Elechi Todd and Terrence Musekiwa each hail from relatively small art communities and powerfully uplift the marginalized communities or customs that have shaped their artistic lives. “I was really drawn to the tremendous diversity the three of them bring to the Fountainhead,” says executive director Kathryn Mikesell. “They have very different outlooks, not only in their practice, but in their paths to define themselves as artists, where they live and their life experiences. Their histories brings a real dynamism to the work and their evolving voices.”
With each of the artists having little experience with artist residencies, each has taken away a renewed sense of inspiration and encouragement around their work. Martinez, for example, has vowed that the experience will lead him to “seek out a community, because being alone in a studio can be really depressing.” Musekiwa, in turn, was invigorated by the opportunity to share and discuss his process with fellow artists. “These guys have given me more energy because seeing someone else working gives me more courage,” he says. “Our work may be different but we’re bringing the same energy to it.” Todd expressed an interest in continuing to expand upon the value of building a community of collectors and art enthusiasts with whom he can share his work. “I want to put something in motion where there are people around the art community who are not artists but can invest in artists’ careers,” he says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility.”
Get to Know the Artists
Born in Oaxaca, Martinez migrated to the United States when he was about 20 years old, ultimately settling in the Long Beach neighborhood of Los Angeles. His path to becoming an artist was certainly atypical: Though Martinez had always exhibited a propensity for drawing, he hadn’t necessarily envisioned himself becoming a professional artist. That began to change once he completed his GED and decided to pursue a college degree, where an array of art classes prompted him to consider higher education training in the arts. But because tuition represented a high barrier of entry, Martinez decided that he would pay for his education by spending several seasons working in agricultural fields in Washington state, where his brother held a similar position. “He offered his home to me rent-free, so I could work and save the money I needed to pay for my classes,” he says.
There, Martinez would come to be inspired by the landscapes and eventually, the workers themselves. “I started to focus my work on my coworkers, doing drawings of them picking fruit. And somehow I would eventually wind up going to the homes of the ranch owners, and I would say marvel at the size of the house and the cars,” he recalls. “I would compare that to where the farmworkers lived, in parking lot trailers with no paved roads that would become muddy when it rained, holes in the ceilings, and daisy chains with cables running from trailer to trailer. These differences between their lifestyles were what I wanted to bring into my paintings.”
That body of work became pivotal for Martinez, who would come to draw his farmworker subjects on the cardboard boxes transported and sold to grocery stores that carry fruits and vegetables. The labels on the boxes are left intact and juxtaposed with the images of the workers to relay the income disparity present within these two factions of the agricultural industry. “When we go to stores we see all this produce but we don’t see how they got to the grocery store. In this way, I’m acknowledging the farmworkers’ contribution to the community.”
Martinez feels “a necessity to paint and raise awareness around the oppression of farmworkers,” and he has spent his time at the Fountainhead expanding upon this practice. A large work, depicting a women carrying bananas painted onto One brand banana boxes, hangs in the entryway; another drawing, this time a man carrying bananas painted in metallic gold, is a work in progress. “I see how this system works and it’s my goal to continue talking about it, in an effort to support the workers who can’t defend themselves,” he says.
Arresting in its imagery and diversity of medium, Musekiwa’s work builds upon the rich traditions of his native Zimbabwe; though for the artist, the work is really about exalting and uplifting his spirit guides. “I speak often of spirituality in my work, because I believe that my spirit guides help me to transmit the cosmic information within my work,” he says. He aims to expand time within his practice, sometimes focusing on a present circumstance or past event as a window into what the future might hold. In this way, viewers of the work can transcend one spiritual plane and enter the next, honoring their ancestors while imagining some future reality.
Musekiwa comes from a long line of artists and artisans - his father is a second generation sculptor, a practice that is revered in Zimbabwe, which translates to “house of stones.” Musekiwa took to the medium but studied printmaking, photography, and painting, as well. Musekiwa became drawn to found objects, and has collected a myriad of items over the years. Often times, the artist will begin collecting a particular type of object without necessarily knowing how he will use it; but these objects almost always have some historical or cultural significance, such as telephones from the 1940s or playing cards from the 1970s. Musekiwa pairs these objects with traditional elements of African culture, in a nod to the region’s susceptibility to imperialist influences. “Zimbabwe is a landlocked country and much of these things are imported from other countries. These other cultures come into our country and become influences,” he says.
At The Fountainhead, Musekiwa exhibited his propensity to expertly blend mediums and cultural influences. He constructed a mythical, towering figure with silk, wood chips, beaded necklaces, and a stone carved face, an homage to the unnatural way of life our ancestors might today find disconcerting. In another work, Musekiwa creates figures out of found plastic telephone receivers, adding gold jewelry and stone-carved faces for a Surrealist take on a perceived cultural divide. “My work is about blending the traditional and the contemporary world to come up with a vision that young and elders alike can understand,” he says.
Todd, who lives in Trinidad and Tobago, embodies a quiet solitude in both his person and his practice. Heavily self-referential, Todd’s oeuvre frequently references the body to communicate feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and nomadism. “I use the body because I’m really depicting myself, so I’ve always just used my own image in my work, to be very direct about my experience,” he says. Through painting, drawing, and photography, Todd captures the exquisite angst so common to the human experience; his practice has ranged from street art and graffiti to video works and collage, each of them invariably initiating from a reference to his body or experience.
In his specificity, Todd unwittingly achieves a universality. He describes a recent body of work, in which he would paint silhouettes of his body around different areas in Port of Spain, in an effort to spark a dialogue about how he might use his body in that space. The work hearkens the notion that black and brown bodies must move through certain spaces differently, in an effort to shield themselves from embedded racism or underlying prejudices. Though the artist is referring explicitly to his own personal experience in that series, it’s revelatory about the larger meaning of his work.
Todd constructed a large, collage-like painting while at The Fountainhead, using a video he shot of himself screaming as its source material. In the video, Todd is spinning in circles. “I felt like that was a powerful expression of expulsion, and like it could make a form that was in motion,” he says. He expanded on this concept by adding floral and organic elements to the work, drawing a parallel between the human form and forms in nature. Constant development and self-actualization is at the crux of the work, and Todd is excited to continue working within this paradigm. “I feel like recently I’ve been zoning in on getting more specific with exactly what I want to express,” he says.