Artist Profile March 16, 2022

Art as Comfort and Care: Interview with Artist Extraordinaire Xeynamay

By

Xeynamay Gezahegn is a content creator with multidisciplinary training in Film, Music, Writing and Performance. Gezahegn is a poet of many mediums hoping to tell the stories of the people she encounters. At 13, Gezahegn moved from Ethiopia to Canada. While she was fluent in English, some experiences couldn’t be fully translated. It was then she began exploring the act of communicating via art. Her content creation focuses on the documentary style. She wishes to continue exploring how to capture true stories in traditionally “fiction” styles like animation, audio storytelling and more.

Most recently, she has been the creative mind behind the execution of SKETCH’s Making With Place Public Art Projects, from photography to videography, graphic design and the creator and producer of the MWP Podcast.

We spoke to her about her art practice, how the pandemic allowed her to take her music seriously and how witnessing SKETCH’s Making With Place Public Art Projects made her a better artist.

Xeynamay

SKETCH: Describe your art practice?

Xeynamay: My primary art practice is music but I still do work in Film, visual arts and audio storytelling!

SKETCH: Describe your creative process?

Xeynamay: In documentaries, I tend to hyper focus on an object or person until I find a story there. I like people. That usually means that I can spend time getting to know their stories for as long as they let me. Once I find a story there, I try to find the best way of telling their stories.

SKETCH: How has documenting and creating for the MWP Public Art Projects influenced you as an artist?

Xeynamay: It’s helped me understand that my process is not really everyone’s. I don’t like creating a product. I just like stories. I like having the freedom to create in every way that I can simply by giving myself time. In a lot of the MWP projects, it was not about creating a product. It was about exploring and pushing the boundaries as artists. I got to be present with many people willing to expand on their talents and explore different narratives. That method of creation is most likely connected to how present the creative teams were with place. It definitely has encouraged me to work more with place. I think it’s the best inspiration.

SKETCH: What was a highlight for you from witnessing these projects?

Xeynamay: A highlight for me is getting to witness Queering Place and watch how their LIVING creations transformed in 6 months. It’s wild! I felt like a distant auntie that came back on holidays to take pictures and videos and show them off.

SKETCH: Tell us about a piece of art you’ve created that you’re proud of?

Xeynamay: I like all the pieces I create (not because they’re all good haha) but, I particularly like all the music I’ve been able to create late 2020 and all of 2021. It’s my first time taking music this seriously..it’s been the art practice that scares me the most. I have a song called Blaming Game and I think I’m the most proud of that. Lyrically, it was very simple. It felt like a very honest reflection of how I felt a little bit like a lunatic when saying things weren’t my fault.

 

I kept going back and forth with people trying to come into terms with how something is or is not my fault. So much energy was put into “fault.”  For anyone that dealt with a lot of gaslighting, you can understand how sometimes abuse can be reflected back to you as if it was your fault. At the time I wrote it, that was the case. I felt like a villain for considering the fact that things may not be my fault. I ended up writing from that perspective. What if I was the villain? What would she say?

SKETCH: How did you find out about SKETCH? What has your experience been like?

Xeynamay: I found out about SKETCH through community. I used to attend a theatre school (Watah) and had many friends that worked with or attended the workshops at SKETCH.  It was through those same friends, I got to learn more about SKETCH and align well with MWP.

SKETCH: How has art transformed your life?

Xeynamay: Art has been the one consistent thing in my life. It has been the thing I look to for comfort and care. It’s still changing my life. I still feel comforted by it. I still feel cared for. It doesn’t really need to do much. I genuinely just feel held by art.

 

SKETCH: Who or what are your inspirations?

Xeynamay: My dad is my main inspiration. He’s a Goldsmith and a painter. I watched him create beautiful works of art my whole life. He has many stories to tell. In the 6th grade, he used to sell charcoal in the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and used his earnings for school and rent. He didn’t have much until an elder in the community decided to teach him how to be a Goldsmith. 

His belief in community and our ability to hold each other is always inspirational to me. He has taught me so much about remaining open and giving regardless of the individualistic culture that seeps into our minds. He has inspired me artistically and morally. His ability to be present is what made him such an excellent artist. When I get in the zone and just create, I think about the many nights I used to see him create Jewellery in our garage. 

SKETCH: What will you take into your own arts practice from working on these projects? 

Xeynamay: I’m not going to lie, I was pretty jaded before I entered these projects. I felt a cycle of disposability in Toronto art for a long time. I almost gave up on trying to create a home for myself in it. Seeing how artists were navigating creation with each other has really shown me that creative spaces focused on creation still exist. I feel encouraged. I feel like there are a lot of artists in the city that deserve more opportunities like this. I am just grateful to have taken part in this small scale.