Paradoxes 3 by Maliza Kiasuwa
Left: Paradoxes 3, 2023, 23 × 16.5 in. Paper and sand paper. Right: Maliza Kiasuwa. Image courtesy of Morton Fine Art and Maliza Kiasuwa.

“Art feeds on our emotions to create a reconnection and understanding of the subjects that divide us,” Maliza Kiasuwa explains. The artist’s new series of paper-based collages highlights forms that represent faces and masks. They communicate with each other, freed from the weight of any intention.

Traveling and living between Africa and Europe, Kiasuwa has been inspired from a young age by locally available materials with cultural references. Featuring talismanic qualities of everyday objects, as well as the strong, sometimes shocking contrasts between natural beauty and human intervention in the region, Kiasuwa’s practice blends globalization with traditional object-based animism. 

We spoke with Kiasuwa about cultural references, the power of mysticism, and how art affects people in ways that words alone cannot.

The artist’s second solo exhibition with Morton Fine Art gallery, “Art as a weapon,” will be on view until July 25, 2023, at the gallery’s D.C. location. 

You were born in Bucharest, Romania, to a Romanian-Congolese mother, now living and traveling between Africa and Europe. How did you find your entry into becoming an artist?

Maliza Kiasuwa: I grew up between Europe and Africa. I’m a third-culture kid, raised in multicultural places. As a child, I was surrounded by various objects of worship that stimulated my curiosity, such as masks and orthodox icons.

Becoming an artist is a long journey full of obstacles. The hardest part is finding your artistic identity. I had several lives before becoming an artist and I think that’s what built my artistic personality.

Maliza Kiasuwa, Talisman 2
Left: Talisman 2, 2023, 16.5 × 12.5 in. Collage on paper. Right: Detail. Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art.
Maliza Kiasuwa, Talisman 3 & 4
Left: Talisman 3, 2023, Right: Talisman 4, 2023. 16.5 × 12.5 in. Collage on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art.

What other lives did you have before?

Maliza Kiasuwa: I haven’t always been an artist. I previously practiced a profession that allowed me to travel, to work in difficult contexts (Sudan, Nepal, Congo, Rwanda, Colombia, Ethiopia) and to meet diverse people with very strong life experiences: I was an emergency nurse for the Red Cross. 

At the same time, I have been interested in becoming an artist since childhood, but it is a difficult path to pursue in a family of first-generation immigrants living in Europe. In such a family, there is often stress and worry when their kids don’t have a “normal job.” In general, they, unfortunately, find the idea absurd. My life experiences clearly influenced my way of working, and the ideas that I pass through art. I try to make people travel through my work and let them imagine what I have experienced as a human being. As a self-taught artist, I’m more instinctive, I presume.

I feel that I am only continuing a tradition of craftwork in Africa and Central Europe that has been shaped by the work of its predecessors, all of them adding their own touch of creativity.

Your new body of work is based on cut-paper. You call it a “stylistic breakthrough“ in your career as an artist. Can you tell us more about your transition from objects of texture to paper collages? 

Maliza Kiasuwa: My artistic evolution has not been linear, and, to tell the truth, I resist the trend of putting artists in a box by limiting them to a specific approach or medium. I started working with collages before painting, for example. I am naturally creative, so maybe the only constant in my production is that, while the medium may change, the thematics always drive me back to the power of mysticism.

Intersection 1
Intersection 1, 2023. 40 × 27.5 in. Paper and thread. Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art
Intersection 2
Intersection 2, 2023, 40 × 27.5 in. Paper and thread. Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art.

“Art as a weapon” features symbols, talismans, and animism. Many of the works show some form of conversation between two parties. Can you share a bit about the idea of exchange you’d like the viewer to experience?

Maliza Kiasuwa: This question suggests that art has the power to be a potent tool for bringing about change and that imagination is a crucial component of this process. It implies that art can serve as a weapon in the fight against injustice, oppression, and other social issues.

In essence, the question implies that art is a means of communication that can reach and affect people in ways that words alone cannot.

Much of your prior work puts African ingenuity into the center, giving a second life to damaged objects. Please tell us about the materials and textures you use in these works?

Maliza Kiasuwa: My approach is creative, not conceptual. I instinctively pick up objects and visuals that inspire me, without much intellectual consideration. I feel that I am only continuing a tradition of craftwork in Africa and Central Europe that has been shaped by the work of its predecessors, all of them adding their own touch of creativity. Tribal and religious arts are a common good to humanity; there cannot be any appropriation if the artist is sincere and listens to his or her heart.

Your works often address sustainability and waste. Do you think that artists are obligated to be socially and politically engaged?

Maliza Kiasuwa: While my works are engaged, I think any form of art is a means of expression. It reflects the soul of the one who created it.

What is the next project you’re working on?

Maliza Kiasuwa: I would like to move away from chemical paint and produce my own colors from natural ingredients. Using organic and non-organic elements, I try to honor nature and its underpinnings in life and art by producing artworks with a juxtaposition of different materials. It’s a difficult question for me as I have no idea what I will find along the streets on my way to my studio.

Thank you for the interview!

You are welcome. Many thanks for letting me express myself.

Find more information on the gallery’s website.