I WASN'T REAL by Faith Kerehona
26 January 2021 by Sancho Murphy
Passionate, driven, conscious and open-minded, Faith Kerehona’s purpose in this world is to understand the social conditions that shape humanity. While undertaking a double degree of Visual Arts and Sociology, Faith explores Street Art as a platform to help her understand, express and communicate her passion for feminism, equality, identity, and culture in an ethical and holistic form. At 21 years of age Faith was recently awarded the Westpac Asian Exchange scholarship being part of the W100 Alumni, allowing her to pursue further education abroad in Japan (albeit postponed amidst the current global affairs).
Breaking boundaries across mediums, the works that were on display at Dirty Laundry showcased a series of portraits as digital photo canvases blended with painterly, abstract, layered textures to produce a reflection on the female identity.
In this interview, we talk about the Canberra creative community, the importance of art-making in the public realm as social critique, juggling study commitments with more commercial pursuits and how Faith manages to preserve the integrity of her work, touching on influences and growth. Special thanks to CBR legends BURROWS DIGITAL for lending a hand on the process video and CITIZEN KAY for letting us use his track.
What are your thoughts/musings on Canberra, how long have you lived here for? And do you think you’ll stay?
Canberra is my home, I’ve lived here all my life, it has been such a nice place to grow up. It has such a tight and supportive art community, everyone I came across when I was younger helped me find my feet and establish myself as an artist. Geoff Filmer in particular really took me under his wing, as well as John Voir and James Houlcroft. They passed on knowledge, skill, and put me in line to get opportunities. Lisa Petheram (Graffiti Management Coodinator TCCS) is a shining light for the artistic community here, she goes above and beyond to facilitate and support artists. I am likely to leave Canberra, purely to experience other cities and expand my practice, but there’s no doubt I’ll be back (if nothing else, to visit my family and friends!).
What was your first aerosol piece you painted? What is your first Street Art/Graffiti related memory? And what gives you the biggest thrill in the Street Art scene?
The first aerosol piece I painted must have been when I was 14, I made a stencil of a woman's face. I spray painted it onto some MDF board. Back then I could ‘sort of’ skate, and me and my friends skated to a legal wall and did little pieces. We weren’t any good! But I got pretty hooked pretty quick. It was good to have friends who were also into spray painting, but it quickly grew as an extension of my artistic practice, and I started experimenting with what I knew from traditional painting.
So my Street Art had hardly any Graffiti influence, I was applying what I knew from art class. As soon as I started getting guidance my skill grew a lot. The biggest thrill of Street Art for me is the process of achieving something so challenging on such a large scale. Big walls are daunting, and each one I get, I’m intimidated all over again!
Image credit: Photograph of outdoor installation by Martin Ollman as part of Ambush Gallery's HERE I AM Exhibition
You are currently studying at the ANU School of Art whilst also practicing your art making in the commercial realm, how do you marry up the two? How do both avenues influence your overall practice? (a mixture of contemporary and traditional elements too)
Thus far, my personal artistic practice and my “Art School” practice have informed each other, but rarely intersect. I have been pursuing both practices as if they were separate entities of each other, but this is partially because we have specific tasks and projects outlined for us at Art School, that I can apply to my personal practice in varying capacities. However, there has been an inherent intersection of my practices. I’ve used spray-paint in my ‘fine art’ paintings, I’ve used projections of smaller works in designs for murals, I've incorporated oil painting layering techniques in large scale murals, I've used text, photography, digital design and abstraction in my Street Art.
I have seen a lot of growth in my work in the past 3 years, theres no doubt that Art School forces you to push your comfort zones, understand and analyse critique, and determine your level of fine art conformity. You learn to filter through how your work is consumed to identify what enhances it. This has been really valuable for my Street Art practice, I feel prepared for discourse, I feel prepared to take risks, and I feel prepared to carve my own path… my art couldn’t possibly exist in the stagnancy of a gallery space, but is activated through its existence in public space/psyche.
Let's talk about this increasing engagement of Street Artists/Graffers in the corporate world. Generally these days, you can’t avoid the financial aspects of things. Fortunately or unfortunately, the market has a big influence on how artists develop their careers. Of course, there are pros and cons, how do you form your own opinions and navigate? What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect about being a working/commissioned artist?
Graffiti for a long time thrived because it existed in opposition to institutions, to capitalism, to the system that disregarded them. It creates vibrating oppositions in public space, it’s the voice of the people, its someone’s name, identification, voice or territory. Graffiti has an important role in sociological discourses, revolution and protest. The Tahrir Square 2011 revolution, the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, and the 1968 Paris Revolution are all great examples of this. Of course, anything that exists despite capitalism is an attractive subculture to monetise, trade, and profit from.
Street Art is typically regarded as the modern, ‘commodified’ offspring of Graffiti. Despite this, I think it's important that Street Art bears no compromise in political impact and continues to subvert, rebel, and protest. It's an artist's responsibility to critique and question changes in neoliberalism, democracy, and society at large. The marketability of Street Art, in my view, is an opportunity. It represents an expansion of public audience to educate and influence. Street art is a thriving artistic movement that’s injecting the importance and relevance of art directly into the public sphere, creating dialogue and conversation.
The most challenging aspect of being an artist is balancing the tension/challenge the art creates with its viewers. It must problematise and intrigue. On the other hand, if the problem diverts from accepted norms too much, the viewer will not understand the artwork and reject it. It's important to find a balance between these in order to have an effective message. Being a commissioned artist creates an additional challenge, if your intention is to still include these discourses, you have to find a way to balance your personal expression and style with the clients requirements of the work.
Why do you think art is more important than ever right now?
Art reflects the context of our present, our socioeconomic positions, our lived experiences. Our world is in a turbulent space, we are in a global pandemic! Climate change is a pressing, urgent issue! And our political systems and institutions desperately need reform if we are to survive as a human species. Art's role in this is a communication tool. It is a form of Public Sociology, a tool to create dialogue with the wider community, to learn from them, and for them to learn from us. Information is dead knowledge, if it just ends up rotting in a textbook. Art provides an agent through which knowledge can be applied and shared and that’s why it is important in my opinion.
Do you have any exciting new projects coming up or special ideas you want to make happen in the future?
I’m doing a few murals around Canberra, but other than that, just trying to get through my degrees! It's been difficult to plan much with COVID, so I’m just focusing on the simple things at the moment.
With the portrait series on display I really like your approach ‘of women by women’. What does your art aim to say to your audience? How has your art evolved over the years? How do you decide/find your models?
These works in particular were less about the end result and more about connecting to women I know, discussing our bodies, our experiences, our thoughts about the subjectivity of being female. It was a cathartic process of creation, I had the privilege of learning about other people, doing their makeup, and creating a beautiful work of them.
These works are less about a perceived audience, but about the women’s personal presence, resonance, and existence. Some look directly at the camera, challenging the viewers gaze, and some wistfully look away, unaware, uncaring, of observation. I try to employ classicism in my composition and design choices, to give the works a dreamlike, surreal quality.
My art has evolved in many discourses and directions, but I tend to return to people, connecting, understanding, and expressing their existences. The sociologist nut in me is intrigued by this process of learning and expressing.
Are you generally satisfied with the finished piece?
I am! I’m a perfectionist, I work at things until I am haha!
Lol, other than ridic price points and making “cool” profitable with the luxxe brands, I love streetwear because it challenges traditional notions of who can access wearable art and who it is for. Streetwear – defining/measuring/how does streetwear talk? How does streetwear sell? What are your thoughts all things streetwear? And tell us about the tee-collab with Dirty Laundry.
This is really my first venture into creating wearable art and engaging with streetwear. My biggest concern was my art isn’t ‘cool’ enough! I was very doubtful and nervous about this process, but I am so into the end result. They came out exactly as I envisioned, I based my design off the process of an abstract painting I did for a course last semester, and used the screen-print to unify the chaos of the abstracted ground.
Each shirt has a completely unique design and pattern. Sancho picked up what I was putting down and made a super cool, vapourwave-esque design for the front. Its been one of the most exciting projects I’ve done all year, and I’m so proud of how they came out. I hope all the shirts find a loving home!
How do you deal with the ever-present politics in the ‘scene’?
I think the politics are unnecessary battlegrounds drawn. It's just a symptom of competitiveness, territory, and positionality. I try to be very specific about what politics I choose to engage in, the rest, I ignore!
Do any childhood memories stand out? Particularly those that inform your art?
Did you draw a lot as a kid? Do you have any images of drawings from your childhood?
I’ve always loved art so much, and loved drawing animals when I was little. Heres a frog I drew in Kindy.
Lastly, can you recall your version of how we met again? I remember you as an underage kid hanging out in the alleyway with your friends of the long gone Chop Shop warehouse pop-up bar hehe.
I met Sancho at the old Chop Shop, when I was 15/16. Through a mutual friend, she agreed to let me display some drawings as part of a group show. I remember being super nervous, my friend Andrew introduced us to each other, Sancho was behind the bar at the time, I think I remember complimenting her tattoos, thanking her for the opportunity, and gushing and talking too much!
I remember this night I thought to myself, for the first time, in a realistic capacity, I can actually be an artist, and what I’m doing tonight is the beginning of the rest of my life. It was a really important moment for me, once I had this experience, I started pursuing what I wanted, it instilled self-belief. This is a gift Sancho gave me, and gives so many other young artists, through her continual and selfless support of local artists in the community.
Faith's Exhibition has since been and gone in the Dirty Laundry window pocket gallery. However we do have the second round of hand painted/screenprinted merch available in the form of tote bags (limited stock left in store) and hoodies (incoming! - stay up to date on the shop Instagram account for release date)
If you see something you like but would love it customised or perhaps you want something made-to-order, the artist is available for commissions!