ART AFRICA talks to Sitaara Stodel
Cape Town based artist Sitaara Stodel graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2014. She has been in multiple group shows, working in the medium of photography, collage, video and print. The artist uses a digital language to reflect her itinerant childhood whilst referencing how this technology helped tune out her busy reality.
Sea View, 2018, Photomontage and collage, 30 x 30cm. Courtesy of the artist and SMITH.
ART AFRICA: You have moved to a new house over 37 times over the past twenty years. What is your understanding now about the experience and when did you decide it would form a motif for your art?
Sitaara Stodel: I never thought about my experience of moving houses before I started making work about it because for me it was normal. I did not have the headspace to think about it because I was pursuing my degree and figuring out how to live outside of my family home and exploring my independence.
In my final year at Michaelis School of Fine Art, I had a whole year to make a self-motivated body of work. I did not know what to make work about, but I had these old family photographs that I purchased from a 2nd hand store. I started cutting them up and playing with composition and perspective. My lecturers pointed out that there were strong themes of home and domesticity. This is when I realised my subconscious had started to explore this concept before I even realised it.
Your work deals with the struggle of your attempt to create a dream home while simultaneously knowing that this ideal does not exist. Can you tell us how this is reflected in your work and chosen mediums?
In my photographic collages, the use of other people’s old family photographs will never give my art a ‘polished’ feeling. They are often discoloured, torn or bent to start with. So, despite my attempt to remake a memory with them by cutting or sewing into the images, I still will not make a perfect picture.
As well as the dream home not existing, it is also impossible to recreate a memory perfectly. The real can become hyperreal, a dream could become an event in your mind that really happened, or you could fabricate a memory you never had by looking at a photograph of yourself as a child.
Sitaara Stodel, Home is the best place to be, 2018. Photomontage and collage on linen, 58 x 46cm. Courtesy of the artist & SMITH.
Your use of collages along with your medium to explore possibly alludes to childhood activities. How do you select the memories and personal stories you choose to share as you conceptualise your exhibition? What is your process?
I start by writing down memories of home. First, I list the different suburbs I lived in, and then pick a home to write about. Then I pick a memory that I feel is interesting and would be fun to portray. It is important for me to play when I make art, as it makes the process so much more enjoyable. For example, I lived in Muizenberg 3 times, but the most interesting house I lived in was 14 Melrose Road. We moved in but paid minimal rent for 2 years because the house had already been sold and was just waiting to be knocked down. When we moved in I made friends with about 6 cats that were living in the garden, and they ended up having babies, so we ended up with 14 cats. So, I look through my pile of photographs for cats, I cut up pieces of interiors of home to make the scene seem broken, I cut up a square of a patch of grass that has started to turn brown. I may sew into a photograph something that was said to me or that I had said, for example “change is as good as a holiday”.
As a practicing artist, there is a possibility of constant travelling. Is this something that you have reflected on?
I now have a full-time job and I have lived in the same house now for over 3 years. It is the longest I have ever lived somewhere. Now that I have this stability, and have explored a lot of my moving through my art, I am starting to explore this new possibility. I am now in a place where I can afford to make art and make a living at the same time, so I am experiencing more possibilities. Travelling whilst making art could open the possibility of a new body of work.
You have an interesting work titled A house is not a home. What is home to you?
I chose to title that artwork A house is not a home because I would often feel as though I was living in someone else’s house, and so it didn’t feel like a home to me. To me, a house felt like home when something felt familiar – like the smell of my mother’s cooking or the sound of my sister’s laughing. To me, a home is not a house, because it is a feeling.