I came across the work of Jacoba Niepoort for the first time few months ago and I am mad at myself for not discovering her before. Her large scale murals as well as her works on paper have something captivating and magical. It is not a fairytale the one she’s telling, she speaks about loneliness, alienation and fear. Nevertheless, there is hope in her works, there is love. Her continuous sign mimics the connection between people and her murals integrate with the landscape, linking the human with its environment in a respectful and graceful way. I am extremely grateful that she took some time to answer my questions. Here’s the result of our chat:
The thread is a recurrent presence in your works. The lines that compose your drawings look like threads too. Can you explain this choice? Is it a specific symbol?
J.N..: I started using painted threads some years ago, to visualise outside the body the memories, histories, emotions that we carry inside. In general, to me, they resemble connection and overlap, and I sometimes tie figures or objects together through strings to signify the ways in which we are in some ways all connected to each other and everything around us. My way of drawing – with scribbles – is something I really enjoy for a number of reasons. Drawn fast and as one continuous line they allow the shaping of an organized, inseparable mess, full of little imperfections.
Your works often address emotional issues such as isolation and alienation. We are experiencing a global pandemic which is forcing us to stay as much isolated as possible even if the proper lockdown is over. To feel connected we are depending on digital devices even more than before. For an artist like you that works on the street to reach out for people, what does it mean? Are you changing your practice to seek a digital form of engagement?
J.N.: In general—or at least here in Denmark—I think months of isolation, alienation and the constant stress of not being able to plan for the future is hitting us all pretty hard on a societal level right now. Adding to that, I think much of the ways we use online medias are not especially beneficial to our health. That said, given the times, I’ve had the chance to create some unexpected projects this year, and connect with artists more digitally that originally planned. One project I’ve really enjoyed has been organizing and curating the Home MuralFest together with the team behind Void Projects (a cultural platform initiated by Axel Void). Over some months, over 100 invited artists who usually work in the public space participated by painting murals for themselves inside their locked down location. For me, it was a new way to connect and organize simultaneously across location in times were other options were limited, and it provided new networks, friendships, inspiration in a super strange time.
I am very fortunate that rescheduling my plans abroad to painting public murals in Denmark has been possible for much of this summer season, so I have still had the possibility of getting out and connecting with people face-to-face on the street, which is a very important part of my outdoor practice. Now that we are going back into lockdown-mode in DK with the arrival of the cold season, I am honestly looking to use this time of cancelled exhibitions to disconnect a bit from the digital world in order to take time to go a bit more inwards, reflect and recharge.
Speaking of the Home Mural Fest, I know you had a large number of submissions and you are already thinking about a second edition. What I would like to ask you is about the curating process. Was it your first experience as a curator? Do you think that curating can influence your creative practice? In which way?
J.N.:We did do a second edition back in the spring that we are still slowly posting on social media and the void projects website
I’ve curated exhibitions and projects on smaller scales before. However, what I really liked about HMF is that I really respect the Void team’s curatorial choices and processes on projects – the organizers are themselves a group of diverse an competent artists who are passionate about what they do (Axel Void, Helen Bur, David Olivera, Aruallan, Stefan Krische, Nubian, Bryan Beyung, Pawel Ryzko, Doug Gillen (a.k.a. FifthwallTV). All in different locations across Europe and the states, we are organizing the entire project through a whatsapp thread.
From the curatorial process and the project in general, I had my eyes opened to new artists whose inspiration and work methods have broadened my horizons and in that sense affected my own creative practice.
Beyond the curated festival, as a parallel, a home muralfest open to all was also initiated, and through this we saw smaller regional homefests and individual projects pop-up, made possible to connect to and share through Instagram.
Your murals can be found all around the world and you participated in different festivals across the globe. Do you have a favourite experience and why?
J.N.: What all the projects have in common that I really love is that even in the most remote locations, it’s to some extent always a community effort. Someone is helping out with paint, finding a wall, stopping by with a bottled water, or providing a place to stay. I paint alone, and initiate many projects on my own, but I realize that a cushion of support feeds that possibility.
I don’t have one favorite location or experience. One project I really appreciated though, was painting in a tiny town in Esterillos, Costa Rica – a place with no previous murals. I came across the town on the way to somewhere else and decided to stay. After sharing my dreams, a large group of the townspeople came together to support everything necessary to make this happen- and I stayed and painted 5 walls there. In every project there is always some resistance, but also a genuine ‘for the love of art’ support. And the insight that standing on one street corner from morning till night, observing the coffee shop owner, kids playing in the street, the local alcoholic, the dogwalker, over multiple days – its just beautiful. The world might be full of inequality, greed, hatred, but its also full of beautiful, likeminded everyday people seeking to be and do good—beyond language, age, location, etc.
Another project i’m really fond of was painting in Halifax, Canada. My biggest wall to date – supported by friends, the local business community, local mural curators, restaurants, videographers – at times fully unexpected and when most needed. As always, adrenaline filled and physically exhausting. The friendly, open attitudes of people in that city allowed for an overflow of coffee-break conversations with strangers on street corners near the wall.
And of course, the mural festivals are incredible because they provide new friendships and drive with likeminded creative nomads.
In your career, which one is your greatest achievement so far and how would you like to develop further?
J.N.: In general, learning to challenge my own limits and visually dissect my own emotions without too much concern for what others might think is probably one of the things that have gotten me the furthest. In the sketching process, thoughts like ‘is it even acceptable for me to paint something like this—or, I’m curious to try this but don’t know exactly how or why yet’ are inspiration to go ahead. Many of my best walls have started with a calm mind but pounding, excited heart.