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Qyya, pronounced 'kai-ya'


As the product of multiple ethnicities and countries, my work is inspired and fed by questions of disparate identities, histories and knowledge systems. A storyteller at heart I am constantly exploring ways to interrogate the manner in which I, and the societies I occupy, grapple with complexities, organise, categorise and accept narratives about who we are and who we want to be. 


Born in England in the mid-1980s, but raised in South Africa in the dying days of Apartheid, notions of belonging and the "correct" way to order and interpret the world were my daily bread. From being denied entry to schools because the pencil wouldn't fall out of my hair, to witnessing the violence and chaos of political upheaval, an awareness of these questions was planted in me very early in my life. These themes are ever present in my work, which has evolved from an academic study of history to textiles and performance. One constant in the responses of my audience is the affirmation that I am not alone in regularly attempting to process and understand the past in order to visualise a future in which these particular battles are more equitably settled. 


My teenage years in the north of Scotland further illuminated my “difference” as a result of the total lack of ethnic diversity in my immediate surroundings. What does it create in a young person when they are disconnected from their ancestral knowledge systems and the everyday practice of the cultures they most identify with? How does one’s sense of self form? What does it mean to belong?


Many of these questions began to clarify with a move from the Scottish Highlands to the American Deep South, my maternal homeland. My mother, a playwright, painter and sculptor, reckoned with the African American experience in her work and inducted me into that part of my heritage through her work, which drew heavily on West African iconography and knowledge systems as interpreted through the American lens. It was through her that I came to understand the ways in which the arts create shared spaces in which to engage the deep questions I had. 


The primary goal of my creative practice is to create and perpetuate these communal spaces where pressing, unresolved issues can be aired safely, though not necessarily comfortably. The use of movement, audience participation and costuming in evocative textiles invites people into an experience where they are not passive spectators but equal interlocutors in the overall conversation. It is my highest intention to manifest the great power of the arts towards healing empathy and understanding in these increasingly divided and turbulent times.

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