'My dreams connect with my ancestors': Sekai Machache on how spirituality drives her creative process

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'A significant aspect of my practice is based on dreams, as well. When I go to sleep, I am still working.' (Picture: Matthew Arthur Williams)

Sekai Machache is a Zimbabwean-Scottish visual artist and curator based in Scotland. Her work is a deep interrogation of the notion of self. She is interested in the relationship between spirituality, imagination and the role of the artist in disseminating symbolic imagery to provide a space for healing. Sekai works with a wide range of media including photography. Her photographic practice is formulated through digital compositions utilising body paint and muted lighting conditions to create images that appear to emerge from the darkness.

Sekai sat down with Bolanle Tajudeen, founder of educational platform Black Blossoms, to discuss how spiritual practice is part of her creative process and the importance of being engaged in the Scottish countryside as well as art institutions.

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Bolanle Tajudeen: What was your first camera?

Sekai Machache: Growing up, I had a little Fuji film camera, really basic. Then I got myself an entry-level DSLR – which was my first proper camera, a Canon 1000 D, which I bought for myself when I was 21, and I used during art school. It got me into the process of taking pictures for my paintings. I would take wide shots of scenes and then more detailed images, which would help if I drew an eye or another facial feature. But now I shoot with a Sony A7R3 for my art projects and photography pieces.

Bolanle: What is the process of photography for you?

Sekai: The vast majority of work people see from me is photography, but before the photographs, other steps are taken to do the work; there is painting, drawing, costume making and set design. I consider all of this part of artistic practice, so I am more comfortable with the term 'multidisciplinary artist' when describing myself.

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Bolanle: When did you first realise that there just wasn't just one approach to your creative practice?

Sekai: I'm interested in everything, and I want to try everything! When I was young, I used to want to be a musician, and I played piano, guitar, drums and then I used to sing too, which then moved into writing songs. I started to draw when I was about 14. I have always felt the need to create in multiple different ways. When I was at art school, I studied fine art. The course was a bit of everything; I could do painting, sculpture or performance, so I created a practice experimenting with lots of different things.

Sekai describes herself as a 'multidisciplinary artist' since she's involved in photography, painting, drawing, costume making as well as set design. (Picture: Matthew Arthur Williams)

Bolanle: As your practice has evolved, what is it now

Sekai: I have more of a structure around the way I do work now. I usually start with ink drawings. I make lots and lots of ink drawings, maybe 100 before I even begin doing the rest of the project. I use these drawings as a kind of way of thinking through the things and concepts that I'm trying to bring into the artwork, so I'll be researching, reading, writing, and drawing throughout that process. At the end of the research, the ink drawings sometimes come in hand when I develop the work further.

I'm currently working on a 'divine sky' project, and I could bring all of my different practices together. I started out drawing then transferred the drawing onto fabric. I then gave the material to a designer, and we made a costume together. I then wore it in a performance, which was photographed and filmed. I do that in all my work. The result is often performance to camera resulting in photography or moving images. So it is layers upon layers of different practices in this one project.

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'My research is just lots of different things being pulled together from lots of different places. I listen to podcasts, audiobooks, watch videos, watch films, listen to music, and have conversations with my friends and peers.' (Picture: Matthew Arthur Williams)

Bolanle: Interesting, What are you usually researching?

Sekai: I use my intuition a lot and tend to follow synchronicities. If I'm reading a book, I'll read a few lines, be intrigued by it, and then go and research more. I don't tend to sit and read a book from beginning to end, but like to read multiple books at once. I listen to podcasts, audiobooks, watch videos, watch films, listen to music, and have conversations with my friends and peers. My research is just lots of different things being pulled together from lots of different places.

A significant aspect of my practice is based on dreams, as well. When I go to sleep, I am still working; I wake up and write in my dream journal. I then end up pulling information from that, which ends up in my work.

Bolanle: Can you tell me more about how dreaming plays a role in your artistic practice?

Sekai: I have a very conscious spiritual practice. I have an altar, and my dreams connect with my ancestors. I have a deep relationship with them, and we have conversations, and they give me messages.

I am from Zimbabwe, and when I started to research Shona culture (the Shona tribe is Zimbabwe's largest indigenous group), I found out that dreaming was a considerable aspect of our cultural practices before colonisation. Interestingly, without anyone in my family telling me about it, I somehow picked up on something that we'd been doing for thousands of years before we were colonised. So I am fascinated with how we inherit things in our psyches.

'I use my intuition a lot.' (Picture: Matthew Arthur Williams)

Bolanle: Apart from spirituality, what other themes are present in your work?

Sekai: Nature, I am someone who gets distracted by nature, such as a butterfly flying past or the wind going through the grass. And because I'm an artist, I look at things and get into the minutiae stuff.

I have lived in Scotland my whole life, but I've never really engaged with the vast landscape in my art. And because it felt so vast, so grand, and so beautiful I almost felt that would overwhelm my work and that the result would naturally become about Scotland and it’s landscape alone.

However, in the past couple of years, I've insisted on working in the Scottish landscape. I have realised the work can still be about identity and psychology while also engaging with the land. I'm also thinking about Black people in rural areas of the UK, a space we are not usually associated with or welcomed into and it is about reclaiming something within that.

Bolanle: Barbadian-Scottish artist Alberta Whittle will represent Scotland in the Venice Biennale in 2022, a remarkable achievement. What is the Black art and creative scene like in Scotland?

Sekai: In the last five to 10 years, there has been a massive buzz of the incredible, amazing Black artists, producers, dancers and makers doing fascinating things in Scotland. The visibility of that is starting to come through for people outside of the city. Many of us have an art practice embedded in collaboration, so you see us all pop up in each other's work.

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Bolanle: Collaboration is so crucial for artists, especially when there are intersecting levels of marginality. You are the trustee of the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. Why did you decide to join the board?

Sekai: I decided to become a board member because people, especially artists, must be involved in or aware of how art institutions run from a governance perspective. Often, artists are basically at the mercy of these institutions and how they decide to engage with us. I also want to see more Black-led art institutions, and this is an excellent way for me to learn processes of what works, what does not work, and how to run a successful space.

Bolanle: I agree. I want to see more Black-led art spaces too. You are a part of Disrupt Space, a commercial Black visual arts agency. What is it like?

Sekai: Super cliché, but it has a family vibe. Everyone's got their unique style and their unique vibe, and the way that we do things. It is very supportive, too. Today, I was messaging everyone to say I will be in London for the 1-54 African Art Fair, which happens every year at Somerset House during Art Week in October. Everybody in the group was congratulating me; it is nice to have people supporting you.

Paul, the director of Disrupt Space, also really listens to the artists. I mentioned to him I wanted to know more about non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Then a few weeks later, he presented us with the opportunity of working with Yahoo to create our NFTs and have access to all these great workshops led by industry experts.

Bolanle: Can you share what your NFT will be?

Sekai: I have created an NFT based on the tarot cards, the High Priestess. It is the third tarot card I’ve created in my Major Arcana series.

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