Tag Archives: African

Longing to Belong

69 Strands of (be)Longing, Fake and natural hair, branch and wire. Artwork created by Imke Rust at the ILAM, May 2016

69 Strands of (be)Longing,
Fake and natural hair, branch and wire. Artwork created by Imke Rust at the ILAM, May 2016

In May I had been in Maastricht as an invited artist to the International Land Art Maastricht Symposium. I had shared some pictures from this wonderful event together with an invitation to come and see the results, but I have not had the time to tell you more about the artwork that I created there. So today I would like to share with you some thoughts and images, especially for those of you, who could not see the work in person.

Artists were asked to propose an artwork that they would create in the park of the Chateau Jerusalem. The theme of the symposium was ‘Connected’. We had five days to complete the work, which then was on exhibition for the following two weeks.

This is the concept, which I originally formulated for my plans:

“I am exploring the ‘Connected’ theme through a material that everybody connects to African women: long, black braided hair. Although they usually are made out of fake artificial material, they have come to represent a certain identity (African), but at the same time they are also an imitation of another identity (western, long, smooth hair). In so many ways they are connecting different worlds. To me they are also a strong metaphor for belonging and identity. Hair and braids can also be used as ropes to climb to another life (Rapunzel), and relate to the migration of refugees to Europe.

As a white African I am intrigued by working with this fake hair, as a form to express the duality and paradox of my own identity and belonging. The combination of synthetic and natural materials, illusions created and the process of braiding are additional aspects, which I want to explore.”

69 Strands of (be)Longing, Fake and natural hair, branch and wire. May 2016

69 Strands of (be)Longing,
Fake and natural hair, branch and wire. Artwork created by Imke Rust at the ILAM, May 2016

I had some vague ideas of how I wanted to proceed, but since I have not seen the park and have never worked in this material before, I decided to stay open and flexible and just trust the process.

When I arrived there and saw all the grand and impressive plans from the other artists, my heart sunk. Maybe my work was too timid, too small, too unspectacular? And what if it does not work out in any way I had imagined? I had no chance to try it out before, so either it worked or it would fail… What could I do, besides just start and hope for the best? I started and was flooded with even more doubts. Am I allowed, as a white woman to make art with this kind of hair, which usually is only used by black women? Could I even dream of braiding as neatly and perfectly as those hairdressers back home in Namibia do? Aren’t they the real artists who can make the most stunning patterns and styles for their customers? Who am I to now want to use this method and material to create my art?

Well, I had a lot of time to think, while I braided. And every time the doubts and insecurities became too strong, I heard the inner voice saying: Just trust the process.

I remembered that one of the reasons why I initially wanted to work with braiding, was the repetitive process itself. Somehow it is a process that is fairly easy, but demands just enough concentration and focus, that you have to stay in the here and now, but also leaves enough space for your mind to relax and wander off into thoughts that you usually are too busy for.

This work quickly became much more about that process and the inner dialogue that happened, than the final physical artwork. For five days I just sat there, under a beautiful tree, in the middle of the park and braided. I got to understand how this synthetic material reacted to humidity, dryness, wind and weather. How it sometimes could be so stubborn and putting up a real fight to get under control, and other times it just flowed through my fingers as if it was the most natural thing to happen. I became calm and looked forward to my work and every next strand.

My thoughts turned to my first memories of braiding. When I was a young girl, it was my father who braided my hair every day. And it was also he, who taught me how to braid. And I was so proud, that I even knew (from him) how to braid with more than 3 strands. While everybody looked at braiding as a typical female activity, I connected it to my father. And yet, it was my mother who had to go and buy the fake hair in Namibia (yes, these hairs were made in Namibia and sent all the way to Germany), so it was kind of a family effort that ensured I could sit in Maastricht in a park and braid ‘my’ hair.

Masculine and feminine… control and wildness… order and chaos… expectations and reality… appearance and authenticity… there were so many concepts that flowed into and through my being and into the braids (or did it flow out of them or the process?) while I was working.

With every next strand I had another chance of flowing. The focus changing and shifting… With every movement I moved on, the strand started, got longer and longer, and then, suddenly it reached the end.

I made a rough knot into the strand to keep it from coming undone and originally thought I will melt the ends to make a neat and proper ending. After a few strands with wild and chaotic knotted ends, I noticed the beauty, the wildness and the dynamic of these endings, the contrast to the neat braids… and decided to leave them just like that.

Through folding thin strands of hair over each other again and again… the central aspect became more obvious for me. With every movement there was a longing. A longing to come to the end, but also a longing for so much more… To belong, to understand, to control, to find the balance, to find a (my) place … to just be.

Where do I belong? To my home country, where I am too white in the eyes of many? Or to Germany, where I appear (on the first outer impression) to rather belong, but where I am a stranger? Do I ‘belong’ to be more controlled, or more wild? To fit better into the pattern of society or do my ends just come loose anyway?

Click on the images below to see a larger view and read about some further details.

Braiding, braiding, braiding… in 5 days I managed to braid 69 long strands. I managed to contain my sadness in these braids, to reassess the world and my ideas about it and to learn that I can and should just trust the process. The process of an artwork, but also the process of life…

Life is like these strands. Every day you begin with a new one, a new chance. You do your best to get as far as possible. But in the end it does not matter how far you come and how many days you get. What matters is your experience and your insights, your joy, but also your struggles and what you have learned through them.

Trust the process…

Here is a video taking you around the final artwork. In the photos one aspect gets lost, and that is how alive this work seems. How it dances and moves in the wind. The video gives you a small impression of that.


The Ghost of the White Lady

2015 Hotel Deco Busting

Intervention Against Tasteless Wall Decorations in Hotels and Holiday Apartments. (Part 11)
Intervention gegen geschmacklose Wanddekoration in Hotelzimmern und Ferienwohnungen. (Teil 11)

(Since 2010 I have secretly been slightly altering tasteless or boring hotel or holiday apartment art whenever I had the chance to.)

It is that time of the year again, when my husband and I travel to Frankfurt for the LEA (Live Entertainment Awards) and as usual we stayed in the Marriot Hotel.

They have upgraded all of their rooms 2 years ago and fitted them with new decorations. I must admit, the new canvas prints of colourful digital collages of Frankfurt buildings are pleasant to look at. They look much more modern and add a pleasant colour highlight to the rooms. Certainly the best hotel art I have seen in a long time. (And ok, I must admit, I do not often stay in hotels, especially not in upper-class hotels, so there sure is more good art out there somewhere.)

At least since my public confession many of my regular followers know about my passion for improving hotel and guesthouse décor. I just cannot help myself and there is always ‘room for improvement’.

Hotel room and digital canvas print as found

Hotel room and digital canvas print as found

So, although I do appreciate the tasty art in this hotel room, there was something bothering me, about Frankfurt, the hotel and the art. The inner city is dominated by imposing skyscrapers and concrete, the hotel is decorated in a very masculine, dark style and the art represents this materialistic, powerful, male atmosphere. It’s a man’s world. I missed the humanity and the female touch or balance of yin energy.

A close-up view (or the BEFORE picture)

A close-up view (or the BEFORE picture)

As usual I let myself be inspired by what I find and then determine the best approach then and there. It did not take long and I knew I just had to add some positive Yin energy to the artwork. Also something that puts people in the foreground and add something personal, to draw attention to the individuality and humanness of the guest who stays in this multi-storey hotel.

I am not sure where she came from, but without a doubt I knew clearly that the White Lady of the Brandberg wanted to make her appearance here. Like a ghost she wanted to travel the world and inspire the modern-time city dweller.

For those of you, who do not know her, let me introduce her to you. She is most widely known as a cave dweller, a rock-painting situated at the Brandberg in the Namib desert, Namibia. Her age is not known, but she is ancient, and probably has been drawn by the forefathers of the San people. She is striking, mostly for her different appearance in relation to the other drawings. She wears strange clothes, is elegant and looks powerful. She dominates the scene.

The White Lady in new surroundings...

The White Lady in new surroundings…

She is called the ‘White Lady’ because of her white garment. Some people claim she is not female but male, but it is difficult to know for sure. Some people also assume that she was a stranger to the land and that she was honoured like a goddess or queen. There is even talk about her not being from this world. It is said that her strange headdress and suit could resemble that of an astronaut, complete with helmet and all. And if I look at her, I can very well imagine that to be true. She is also holding a strange object in her hand, I always think that it is a wine glass, but who knows, maybe it is some gadget to control her spaceship?

She definitely is full of self-confidence. She is powerful; she even has her own bow and arrow, in a time when hunting used to be the men’s job. She is a traveller. A stranger who is welcomed and honoured… She is African – at least that is where she was last seen. She is proud, elegant, and beautiful and knows where she is going. And she enjoys life… if it is indeed a wine glass in her hand. 😉

So she, or her ghost, wanted to come to Frankfurt and inspire people here too.

Inspire us to honour the female role in the world more.

To put humanity back in the forefront.

To remind us to honour and welcome strangers in our society, especially when they possibly have fled from war-torn countries.

To remind women of their strengths and the important role we need to play in this world.

To remind us of old traditions, rituals and art which honoured our spirits and the connection to nature.

The White Lady in Frankfurt (or the AFTER picture)

The White Lady in Frankfurt (or the AFTER picture) – Acrylic on found printed canvas.

She did not come alone. She brought three female friends with her. Friendship is important and together we are more powerful and have much more fun.

More white ladies...

More white ladies…

I hope you, and the guests who will stay in this room, enjoy their presence and the fact that you/they are viewing a very unique, personalized artwork.

The room and unique, personalized art work.

The room and unique, personalized art work.

Many people have asked me how come I have all the right materials on hand to do such things. Well, I am an artist by profession, so I usually travel with some basic art making tools. I cannot plan in advance, since I usually do not know what kind of artwork I will find in the hotel, but part of my creativity is to make a plan and use what is available. Also, usually I do not have much time, so I have to work spontaneously and use what I have. I do get creative. Once I was faced with an artwork behind glass and none of my pens were permanent or working on glass and I only brought watercolours, so I had to borrow a scissor from the hotel staff and used their in-house magazine for images, begged for some double-sided tape from the people laying out the red carpet in the hall and created a collage on top of the glass. Have a look at that here.

If you want to see other similar projects, just click HERE.