For Black History Month we're highlighting the practice of Tokyo-based painter Ba Ousmane. In discussing how heritage impacts his work, Ousmane reflects on his own identity and how this informs his current practice. Watch the full interview on Instagram, or continue reading below.
Where are you from and where are you currently based?
I'm originally from Strasbourg, France, but am currently living and working in Tokyo, Japan. My flat in Tokyo is both my home and my studio. My favorite part is a balcony, which has a view of Mt. Fuji. Every night when I'm watching the sunset on the mountain, I take in all the colors on the clouds. It's a way to reconnect with myself and to get inspiration from nature.
Can you describe the kind of work you create? How is it made and what inspires you?
My work focuses on movement and gesture. I'm very inspired by Japanese painting and I try to capture a subject with minimal gesture. I've been working in this style for four years now, and originally discovered this approach to painting when I came to Japan and was working for a graphic designer in the fashion industry. My boss at the time offered me a set of Japanese brushes and paper. Although it was the first time I was touching these new materials, it felt natural to me, as if I already knew how to use it.
What moments in your process do you enjoy the most?
The part of the artistic process that I enjoy the most is when I’m about to piece everything together and I realize, in that moment, that anything is possible. The pieces could become something amazing, or it could be just another painting. I'm constantly thinking about what my next project will looks like, and I'm excited to see what my next movement is. At the end, I'm often surprised by what's happened next.
A concept I've been exploring in my painting is the visibility or invisibility of the Black body in society and religion. I'm approaching this concept through the lens of my culture and identity, not only as a Black man from France, but also as a human from this world.
What does 'heritage' mean to you?
Heritage has two meanings to me. As a Black man, I feel empowered by Black culture and tradition. However, that heritage often comes with past trouble which can contribute to ongoing trauma. I hope that we as humans continue to work on our heritage and what we pass down. I'm excited to make my heritage bigger by absorbing what I'm learning from Japan. I hope one day I'll be able to hand down what I learned from Japanese culture to my kids and to my art, of course.
How do you think about culture and identity in relation to your work?
I see culture and identity as useful guides. Each person has their own, and each person chooses how much they want their identity to lead them. I believe we must continue to question, challenge, and deconstruct our own identity. As a society, I hope we can continue to push our expectation of a ‘culture’. I think people expect artists to push those boundaries. If people agree or disagree with me and my proposition, they know I'm an artist and that is supposed to ask some questions.
What have you been working on lately?
A concept I've been exploring in my painting is the visibility or invisibility of the Black body in society and religion. I'm approaching this concept through the lens of my culture and identity, not only as a Black man from France, but also as a human from this world. However, that doesn't mean that my message is limited by who is creating it. I try to be the most open I can be and to have a universal message. I use my culture and my identity to touch on something that is universal in humans because culture and identity can sometimes be shared. I love talking with people, especially with people who think differently than me. In my future work, I will continue to talk a lot about different cultures and identities.