COMRADES / Sarah Sandusky
Sarah Sandusky in Harare after her Musimboti exhibit in Mutare, 2018
Sarah weighing harvested pigment for color, Chinhoyu University labs, 2016. Picture by Jessi Glander. She was paired up with a painter from Chinyoyi University of Technology, Obey Mushonga, who assisted in the research as well.
Person, Place, Thing is a project where I explored the process of making paint. Before we departed I researched how paint is made, the materials and techniques historically used to create paint and more specifically, natural paints. I discovered that on a basic level, paint of any kind is made up of two parts: a pigment and a binder. The pigment is the aesthetic aspect of color itself, and the binder is anything that acts as a vehicle for the pigment be it oil, egg, glue, water etc. If we look at it through a semiotic lens, then the binder signifies the pigment the way a word signifies meaning. The process of making paint is the same of that of language.
While in Zimbabwe I spoke with Samaeita, a spiritual healer, about the plants I was collecting. I was told that if I drove an hour or two in any direction, I would find different types and species of plants—products of their environments, even in minimal geographical shifts. One person I met noted a particular tree that I would find in Victoria Falls that I would not find in Harare. The tree had a notably large trunk and was shaped like an umbrella. The fruit of this tree, I learned had healing properties. As an herbalist, Samaeita’s interest in plants was their healing properties, though because of this he was also knowledgeable about their color and their potential for color after the process of boiling the plants in water, which is how he extracts the plant’s healing properties into a consumable medicine. This is the same process I used to extract color from the plants and produce the dye—the colors I extracted from the plants are the pigments and water was my binder.
In the past year as I have traveled to countries outside of my own for the first time, I am only beginning to understand our worldly narrative and the narratives it conceals in its strict formulas and oppressive languages. My travels have led me to consider my personal narrative and where it is I come from. I continue to question these existing structures on a deeper level by looking at my personal narrative and how I can connect where I am with where I come from. How do I access this truth and tell my story with sincerity? How can I trust my information? My personal belief is that ‘the only thing we can know is how we feel’. Even accessing the truth of our feelings today is difficult because of all of the structures in place to silence them and bury them.
Much of the conversation around painting analyzes the illusory aspect of painting, the way that painting a picture is the act of creating an illusion, contributing to the concept of a fabricated worldly narrative. Although, as I witnessed in a cave in Zimbabwe, paintings and representations of life are in fact a part of our nature. Paintings are illusions because it is not about what they are it is about what they represent, the only way to turn what’s inside, out. Feelings are real but not physical. Illusions are a question of reality. The word ‘illusion’ itself creates a hierarchy of logic over emotion. The word ‘illusion’ dictates what we can physically see and experience is the standard of what we determine is real. This word in itself removes emotion from our definition of reality. My language itself cannot even be trusted. I must question where everything comes from.
Because perhaps my spoken language in itself is corrupt, perhaps I cannot trust it to say, or represent how I feel or what I know. I documented my experience in Zimbabwe by exploring its natural world. Obey and I collected plants, roots and barks to make pigments out of. These plants I collected are an archive my travels within Zimbabwe, signifying my hikes, personal connection and physical exploration of Zimbabwe. By painting with dyes made of materials that were of personal significance to me and my experience, I am able to tell a narrative that is sincere, and use a language of something I can be certain is real.
Assistance from : Samaeita, Walter Chimpambwa, Calvin Chimutuwah