Interview by Ililli Ahmed, Youth Editor
I have always loved art; more recently, I have made an effort to commission more paintings for my room. In doing so, I was lucky enough to come into contact with local artist, Hasina Kamanzi. Not only was she willing to do a stunning commission for me, a picture of which is featured at the end of the article, but she also took the time to speak to me about her introduction to art, artistic development and made some insightful comments on the current state and potential future of Ottawa’s art scene for minority artists. Here is what she had to say.
Ililli: How long have you been an artist and how did you start?
Hasina: I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember: I was introduced to art in kindergarten during allocated craft times, and funnily enough, I didn’t really care much for it, though I recognized that I had a natural aptitude. I become much more serious at the beginning of high school and made sure to address weak points in my art. For example, I couldn’t draw hands because of the many bones and muscles in such a small area, so I would draw characters with hands behind their backs. I also began setting goals for myself, seeking out ressources that would help me improve stylistically and began my instagram page ha.ha.ha.sina.
I: What kind of art do you make?
H: Because of my kindergarten introduction to art, I began with simple crayons. Now, I categorize my work under the umbrella term of “visual arts.” Material wise, I use a lot of acrylic paints, watercolors and gouache, which is a mix of the two. I also make digital art and oil paintings. Conceptually speaking, my work is centered around black women, in all of our diversity and rich complexity. Because I also enjoy art that combines realism with anatomic accuracy, I do the same with my pieces: this way, I can deviate from a story to inject my own unique vision, while keeping the message accessible.
I: Has there been an evolution in the art that you make? Is there any correlation to your own personal development?
H: There has most definitely been an evolution in my art. Unsurprisingly, after being introduced to manga at the beginning of high school, I drew in the Japanese manga style for a long time. I definitely had to unlearn how to draw the exaggerated and anatomically incorrect proportions, but it was still an important first step because manga was my first introduction to non-white centric media. After that, I started realizing that I never drew Black people, mostly because the lack of media representation for us made me think that we couldn’t be represented artistically. A major turning point for me was when I visited Burundi in 2014: there, I experienced the beautiful and pre-colonial history of my ancestral country. I also met my grandfather who was a tailor, and his pieces, along with those of other tailors, lead me to explore mixing traditional patterns and idea with modern techniques. From there, I started contacting and surrounding myself with more Black creatives, and in doing so, I shifted perspectives on how we can be portrayed. My pieces became more meaningful and carried this purpose, and I started using my gift to chip away at the ever-present one dimensional Black narratives.
I: Describe your creative process.
H: To be completely honest, my creative process is a mess. I’ve become a lot more confident in my abilities, but I used to take a lot of time to create because I was being too logical, which halted the natural flow that art has. With more practice and less rationalizing, art became a lot easier to produce, and I began practicing as much as possible in my sketchbooks; I still use those sketchbooks as inspiration if I’m in a rut. Pinterest has also been a great tool for me: I always pin model, hairstyles and body parts to help me in my own work. I also take notes on my phone when I get hit with inspiration. After doing multiple sketches, I make thumbnails to figure out a pieces colours and techniques, and then I sketch on the canvas, paint it and varnish it so it lasts.
One of the most important parts of my creative process is making sure that my concepts have a deeper meaning: for example, a recently painted a black woman holding a made-up fruit that was drawn like a heart, and the model was saying “I bite.” People often tell me that I’m unapproachable because they’re used to women endlessly entertaining and accommodating them. Women are expected to be agreeable, so when you do not show as much warmth, you are automatically categorized as standoffish, frigid.In short, this painting referenced the phrase “Don’t worry, I don’t bite,” that people often use to make people at ease and played with the perception people have of women. This painting is announcing loudly that, ultimately, I do bite. I value my time, energy and space, and reclaiming that phrase was what inspired that piece.
I: What does representation in your work mean to you? How important is representation in the art world?
H: As I said, I didn’t even think Black people could be represented in any artistic capacity due to media exclusion. After my own journey of self-understanding outside of eurocentric influences, I realized the power of media in a world where attention and visibility is currency y not interacting with the lack of minority visibility, this system remains unchallenged.
Most white Canadians don’t have non-white friends, so once again, the media becomes their only way to connect with us; and the media is doing us a great disservice by ignoring the nuances of minorities. Because representation is a tool for education, my work aims to represent Black women accurately, straying from frequent, homogenous stereotypes that erase our multitude of identities and unique personalities.
I: Thoughts on the Ottawa Art Scene as a young artist, and as a Black woman?
H: It’s no secret that the Ottawa art scene is inherently white centric, largely because it is based around gallery art. Although there are Ottawa art gallery that do display Indigenous art such as the Ottawa Art Gallery, I don’t think these attempts are enough to represent the myriad of cultures that live in Ottawa. There’s also a clear lack of precedent that makes it hard for minority artist, specifically Black and female ones, to be featured in these spaces. It’s time that the City of Ottawa become more inclusive with their art endeavours, and recognize art as a serious enhancement to city life, revenue and development.
I: How can the Ottawa Art Scene become more representative of the city’s diversity?
H: There are so many things that can be changed:
-To my fellow artists, make sure that your voices are heard. This can mean a myriad of things: find out who your parliamentary representative is, contact your city councillor, let them know that you expect them to invest in arts and culture in your districts. Even go as far as to attend their public open house events. Hold them accountable to their job as your political representative and let them know what you expect. Also, make sure to network with other artists in the city, link up and grow together. This is how we can make our own platforms and create institutions that can help us prosper in profession.In short, we cannot expect others to spontaneously represent us; We have to lead the way.
-To art collectors and art lovers, you must actively seek out marginalized voices. Remember that the money that you invest has the power to influence the art scene. Use your privilege to stop the exclusion of underrepresented creatives in these white dominant spaces.
-To patrons, speak up when you are not satisfied with the amount of representation that you see in the galleries that you sponsor. Support artist by referring us to opportunities, following us on social media, sharing and frequenting our events with your network.
-To the City of Ottawa, provide accessible opportunities for non-white artists to display our work around Ottawa. Commission us to create works of art to decorate City Hall. Showcase Muslim art at Eid celebrations, have Black dancers and singers at New Year’s and Christmas. Invest time into equitable advertising of municipal art grants to diverse Ottawa communities. Lastly, support your local industries: in an ideal world, exposure will help the public consume art and will benefit the artists, but because we aren’t socialized to understand the power of art, exposure is not enough. Investing in local artist’s endeavours ensures reimbursement and makes that the value that our art provides in city spaces is paid back in equal value.
I: What advice would you give aspiring Black creatives in Ottawa?
H: Fellow Black creatives, never underestimate the strength and power of your voice. By putting yourself out there in whatever way you find most effective, and by being patient, you will find that soon enough, you will find an audience that will actively listen to what you and your art has to say. My other advice is to create local networks, find like-minded writers, videographers, photographers and grow your own social medias. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll accomplish.
I: Lastly, How can interested clients contact you for commission inquiries?
H: Feel free to slide into my instagram DM’s at ha.ha.ha.sina or email met at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hasina Kamazi is a 19 year old, full-time French civil law student at the University of Ottawa. Along with her successful art career, Hasina is also a new youth contributor for Black Ottawa Scene. Read her amazing analysis of the powerful imagery behind The Carters video “Apesh*t” to hear more of what she has to say.
About the author
Black Ottawa Scene Youth Editor Ililli Ahmed is a recent Colonel By Secondary School graduate who loves to listen to Frank Ocean, write opinion pieces and watch Netflix’s “The Get Down.” In the past, she has been a youth journalist for Radio-Canada, and is the current youth editor for ‘Black Ottawa Scene.’ Ililli is also a member of the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee, and co-founded her school’s Intersectional Feminism Club in 2016.