Multitalented artist Amy-Leigh Braaf, also known by her moniker Hakopike, was a Design Indaba Emerging Creative in 2022, chosen for her many artistic exploits including photography, ceramics, illustration and painting.
Back from months of travel and now based in Cape Town, she is exhibiting her paintings in a solo show, Echoes of Ancestral Threads, at the Brutal gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town, until 20 February 2024.
We spoke to Braaf about exploring her mixed ancestry and bringing to life her vivid dreams using paint.
What was the inspiration behind Echoes of Ancestral Threads? What motivated you to explore this particular theme?
There has been a calling for me to explore my mixed ancestry as a coloured woman, and I have felt this for most of my life. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into two art residencies last year: one was in Sukawati, Bali, Indonesia, and the other was in Itoshima, Fukuoka, Japan.
I spent six months exploring East Asia solo, which I have done many times before, especially when I lived in South Korea for two years, but this felt different. My father’s side of the family told me I have ancestry in Indonesia from the Java Islands, and I felt that the synchronicity of my heritage being the same place as an art residency that accepted me meant something.
So I explored Indonesia and took South Africa with me, exploring painting visions
I had on rolled canvas I had bought in Cape Town. I discovered how to depict in paintings the flowers and animals I was seeing in my dreams. The vivid nature of the world I was losing myself in sparked this series. It was an echo of my ancestors calling me to a place that may once have been the home of my bloodline.
How did your personal and cultural background influence the creation of the artworks?
I was raised by my mother, Carol, and we formulated a unique relationship that focused primarily on allowing me to create art my entire life. It started with documenting the world around me through photography, which eventually led me here.
The women I paint are the women who raised me: my grandmother, the elegant and stoic rock in the family; my mother, the free-flowing, curly hair flying in the air; and then myself, the ambiguous body that carries so much history that I sometimes don’t know how to document it all.
My personal history exploring love, heartbreak and an identity crisis is what led me to create a world of my own in which to feel safe. The artworks that feature in this exhibition are focused on creating a backdrop for my own colourful life.
You used acrylic and markers for this series. Was there any particular intention behind this medium?
The intention behind most of what I do is normally founded on flow. I found that acrylic paint was easier for me to work with fast, as I’m impatient to get my creations sketched down. Acrylic was the perfect type of paint to bring these vivid images to life, and the markers allowed me to fine detail the large ideas.
Working on the large scale that I do means that I need a lot of paint and a very clear vision. Markers help to outline the pieces after I sketch them down.
You also draw from the nation’s biodiversity. How did you reconcile the cultural and natural elements in this collection?
I found that documenting the cultural and natural elements of the country to be something that came very easily to me while painting because I feel that South Africa’s vibrance is founded on its people, its flora and its fauna. I have a friend who gifts me with proteas from his parents’ protea farm and I use these flowers as real-life references for my work. The people I create are one with nature; their identities are ambiguous and unpredictable. However, the one consistent symbol in pieces is the plant life. The plants in my pieces are just as full of life as the people, and that is why they can coexist so seamlessly in my creations.
What impression do you hope visitors will take away from Echoes of Ancestral Threads?
Working with Brutal truly brought all of my experiences together in an authentic way that carries viewers to the same places I once walked. I hope that people who visit Brutal have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that they get to explore the countries I travelled to, the conflicts within myself I had, and the ideal world in which I would like to exist.
I think that the gallery space at Brutal has allowed my pieces to not only stand out against the black walls, with beautiful lights that illuminate the gold paint I have used, but it also allowed my ceramics to have a shining moment too.
The exhibition has been very insightful for me to see the effect of large-scale work (which I enjoy calling ‘portable murals’). I don’t normally have a hope for anybody to feel anything directly, but I do find excitement in seeing their reactions to a world that I created from scratch.
What else do you have planned for 2024?
It is an exciting year for me. I am planning to work on a new ceramic series that I hope to exhibit. The Cape Town Art Fair is coming up, which is an exciting time for artists to showcase their work. I am also going to embark on more murals, now that I have collected and curated a style of work that I am ready to share with the world. I want to see my paintings of my ancestors on large walls that people of South Africa can walk by and experience on a daily basis.
I am designing and working on my cinematic photography as well, but I am most excited to expand the world that I created through painting. I dream of painting spaces with backdrops for our lives; I want to make spaces vivid and colourful, to showcase the gratitude I have for life - the same ambiguous life that I once did not fully understand.