A.centric Artist Profile: Shirley Mpagi.

October 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

Installation view, Shirley Mpagi, Well Endowed Imagination, October 4 - 29, 2011, University of Toronto Art Centre, photo: Toni Hafkenshied, 2011


Welcome to the A.centric artist profile. This time around, we have Shirley Mpagi. She is currently showing her work in the the UTAC Lounge and was gracious enough to answer some of my awkward questions. Here are the results.

You use a lot with transparencies in your work and you use them in a few different ways. I was hoping you could tell us something about why you chose to go in this direction and what advantages it has.

Usually when I make use of transparencies, it is to denote something that is intangible and in the mind; usually an idea, memory, mindset, a way of thinking…stuff like that. The ideas or themes behind those particular pieces are very layered and each viewer may have a different experience with that idea or theme. The main advantage to is that its is aesthetically appealing, to me at least…

Do you construct these pieces with the desire to take advantage of how they are altered by the shifts in natural light? Why do you so explicitly put into play the role of light after an image has been taken?

Nope, not at all. The use of light, in relation to the image, is simply for it to be seen. They are almost independent of each other. However, the use of light and the “see-through” nature of the image, is to denote the mind and our thoughts; sort of like a personal enlightenment (pun semi-intended, lol).

Installation view, Shirley Mpagi, Well Endowed Imagination, October 4 - 29, 2011, University of Toronto Art Centre, photo: Toni Hafkenshied, 2011

The transparencies, as well as the use of cut-out images placed directly on the walls, suggest that the contextualization of the figure in space is of enormous importance to you. How much does the end placement play a role in your process? Does it significantly alter the work and would you manufacture the work in a very different manner if the display space were different?

I would say that the end placement has little to do with my process. Initially, when creating a piece, my first priority is the content and the message, because, I am more interested in the issues presented and suggested in my work, then how it will be displayed. Also, the work is created based on my resources and what I have access to. As an artist with humble beginnings, I have learned to do the best with what I have. The display space doesn’t determine the outcome of my work. So in any case, I try to maximize the efforts of the space and what is provided, with the work the I produce. On the other hand, if I had access to what the space was like before manufacturing a piece, it might have a slight influence on the process and the final product. But most likely not…

Installation view, Shirley Mpagi, Well Endowed Imagination, October 4 - 29, 2011, University of Toronto Art Centre, photo: Toni Hafkenshied, 2011

All of these things also lead to you foregrounding the material quality of the pieces as much as their quality as images. Is this deliberate and, if so, what are you interested in when it comes to this more tactile relationship between the work and the gallery-goer?

With reference to my print work, the material quality is important because I want it to facilitate and enhance the understanding, relationship, and connection to the themes in my work. Since I explore the African and Hip Hop culture in some of my work, what I use is deliberate in the sense that I’m trying to express my own interpretations, understandings, and experiences of these ideas through the materials and images. On the whole, I am also interested in creating a dialog with my work, therefore, I felt that I wanted to share part of my experience as an art-maker with the viewer. Aside from the ongoing issues and subject matter within the work, one way the dialog can be facilitated or enhanced is by the material or colours used. And I feel like it’s okay, sometimes, for the viewer to have access to work that is not hindered by a piece of glass, or something. My hope, then, is to share in the art-making process and to offer the gallery-goer a different experience and relationship with the art. Given that opportunity, as long as they resist the urge to touch the work, in most cases, then I’m cool with that, lol.

– Matthew Purvis

Well Endowed Imagination runs from October 4-29 at UTAC.

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