Can you tell us something about your childhood?
I was born in Munanira (Burundi) and I’m the youngest of four. My mother is of (mostly) Congolese descent, my father is Belgian. I got introduced to art and different cultures from a young age. The community I grew up in when we still lived in Bujumbura was very mixed. In 1996 we had to move to Belgium because of the genocide. And I’m extremely grateful my mind held on to so many memories from those early years. They say trauma makes you forget certain periods of for life, undoubtedly I was a very happy kid in Africa. I also believe that’s the reason why I’ve always been very sensitive to natural elements or I still feel very connected to nature. That, my first years of life in Africa and my mother. Which makes me the artist I am today. We went from lush nature and a very mixed community to a home with a view on the North sea in Ostend and a very white environment.
My mind blocked a lot of periods from that point on, for the better. I had a very hard time growing up in those surroundings. And I needed that view of the sea to keep my mind at ease. I lived there until graduating from High school. Education was very important to my father, in the widest sense of the word. Meaning school obviously but I also did gymnastics for fourteen years, and I went to the music academy as well as the art academy growing up. Plus my old man is a walking encyclopedia – I don’t know anyone smarter than him. He made me a real national geographic/biology geek. (Way too many unuseful animal facts living in my mind rent-free.) Until the age of fifteen, I mostly heard stories about my heritage and the African continent through the eyes of my father. It’s remarkable how much he knows, from different tribes to languages. He has the ability to hear an African name and tell you which tribe and region of which country they’re probably from.. And he’s mostly right. Later, my mother started sharing stories of her childhood and upbringing. She’s the most wonderful storyteller, her stories are so vivid and precise. Somethings she would tell stories her mother told her and she’d tell me: „Your grandmother had the memory of an elephant“ meaning she remembered everything. My mother has it too, as well as I. Which is both a blessing and a curse.
What inspires your work?
When I first started painting I draw my inspiration from what I knew and what I was taught in high school, white male painters such as Paul Gauguin and David Hockney. After a while I started educating myself, looking into artists like Faith Ringgold and reading a lot of Audre Lorde and Toni Morisson. Now it is really easy to find black artists through social media, like Toyin Ojih Odutola or Cassi Namoda. Other than that my real inspiration comes from childhood memories, current events, unprocessed traumas, my surroundings. Everyday life really, but most of all my heritage and love for black people.
When did you start painting?
I can’t remember a single moment in my life where I wasn’t drawing of being creative. Until I started studying fine arts when I moved to Ghent. After a year and a half, I quit my studies and I didn’t do anything for a solid two years. I started painting about four years ago. One of my uncles on my mother’s side was a painter as well. He died in a plane crash when I was about 5 years old. The only things that were given to my grandparents afterwards was his luggage full of his art, his remains were never found. And somehow his art started wandering through my mind a few years ago. Up until then I really didn’t like to paint, I don’t know what changed but I love it now.
How would you describe yourself?
Well, there are a whole lot of me’s. I’ll try to embody all of them, keeping it as short as possible. I think the first thing people notice is my smile, I love to laugh. At this point, I’m sick of people asking me what I’ve been smoking or if I’m drunk, only because I laugh so much and I’m definitely very adventurous. I would say, a creative soul who loves to travel with music and cooking as a second passion, very calm. Even at my lowest, struggling and going through it all, I’ll look calm. Both perfectionistic yet lazy. Stubborn and stressing myself out because I don’t like to ask others for help yet very go with the flow, easy. Proud and sure of myself yet very much in doubt. Annoyingly loud yet a shy and awkward introvert.
I love bringing people together and enjoying quality time yet needing a lot of me time. And I’m extremely caring of others, though I will come with some eye rolls and sarcasm. I think that’s about it. And although certain parts are still unclear to me myself, closest to my heart I’m an artist.
Love is …
Not letting differences become dysfunctions, accepting every version of yourself and giving to same kind of respect to another person. I saw a nice quote of Carl Rogers recently.
People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, „Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.“ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.
And Love is.. Waking up to the sound of the ocean after a great nap on the beach.
What do you hope will happen in the future?
If anything, I’m just filled with gratitude at this moment. Life taught me there’s as much beauty to darkness as there is to light. And it’s important to sit with it and go through all the feels. Not just focussing on being happy, but acknowledge every part of your emotions and you. So I guess just to keep creating and growing, expanding my universe. Sharing an abundance of love, while making art that moves through other people. Honestly, the people that have been contacting me these past few months, I have to pinch myself every second. Oh and moving back to Africa for a while. May be forever, who knows. But Belgium isn’t exactly feeding my creative soul.
Bahati Simoens – www.bahatisimoens.com