Malicka Sangaret’s infatuation with the ancient, mythical West African sea deity, Mami Wata comes as no surprise once you meet her in person. Standing at a statuesque near six feet tall, cloaked from head to toe in sapphire blue, with a penetrating gaze and disarming charm, it would be easy to suggest that she might be a modern incarnation of the folktale beauty.
But, as I later come to uncover, she is so much more than meets the eye.
Her appreciation for her ancestral traditions, stories and customs, is rivaled only by her love of the visual arts and creativity at large, rooted by a family legacy of arts and crafts, which include a distant familial tie to the Sidibé family and their most famous son, the iconic Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé.
As she worked diligently on a new series of breathtaking mixed media portraits in her home studio, I dared to venture into her midst, averting my gaze, to learn more about her brilliant practice, and equally mysterious background.
How long have you been painting, and at what point did you consider yourself a professional artist?
I started at seven years old, as my mother is a fine artist too, then I went on to study art in college.
Four years ago, I decided to share my art with the world and make a living from it; that’s when I considered myself a professional artist. There is nothing better than living off your gift and passion.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where were you born and raised, and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Paris, France, and I grew up in-between France, the Ivory Coast and the U.K.
My best memories are from my childhood in the Ivory Coast. I grew up living with my grandmother, who was a retired midwife, and a businesswoman. My mother was into advertising and marketing at the time and is still an incredible artist. I was a witty Gemini child curious about everything, trying everything, creating anything and always looking to learn something new. I would juggle between crafting, business and entrepreneurship with my grandmother, then would go to my mother’s studio and beg her for some paint and a canvas. Eventually, I could do so many things, yet I wanted to do more.
Where do you currently live and work now?
I currently reside in London for now, and I work here until the end of this current collection.
Your work today pays homage to your West African heritage and customs, especially folk stories and myths, such as Mami Wata. Why was it important for you to depict your culture in your work?
My culture is in my DNA; it represents me, and it also represents my elders and ancestors. Our customs, stories, myths and traditions are insightful and can teach everyone something, regardless of your personal religious beliefs. My obsession with water lead me to learn and extensively research the connection of water with my culture, which inevitably relates to Mami Wata (mother of water - mermaid)
Some parts of our culture, especially myths, are looked down upon until someone outside of our culture brings light to it and makes it trendy. I chose to celebrate it before it was popular. I use my culture as a tool to reinstall or re-interpret life. The most authentic work of art to me is being able to share your version of something to people, who although familiar with it, will learn something and walk away with a new perspective. My approach is unique, personal and thorough. It turns my work into a gift that keeps on giving.
How do you reconcile the age-old customs and traditions of your heritage, with contemporary culture and modernity?
My work is personal, current, timeless and most importantly, educational. What I aim to communicate is experiences with references to elder’s teachings and counseling, which often refers back to the culture I live in the now. Contemporary is what I know and what I’m part of, anything I make that is current will be with a contemporary perspective.
The color blue appears to be the prevailing palette of your work. What significance does it hold for you?
Blue is a color representative of my childhood, which is a huge inspiration behind my art. From being dressed in blue most of the time to being gifted blue toys instead of pink because my mother loved blue. As I grew older, after rebelling against the color because I wanted everything pink, I noticed one day I was naturally more drawn to the color on my own for other reasons. Blue represents royalty, strength, boldness, diversity (in shades), peace, depth and, most importantly, water. I have an emotional attachment to the color and the element of water, which has turned into my signature. It is the best way for me to depict the element of water through my art. I play with lights and darks to express different depths. When you restrict yourself with one color, you think further into your ideas and ways to communicate via your art.
You are a daughter of West Africa, with roots in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Mali, respectively. Each of these nations has a deep and unique history of visual arts. How have these diverse cultures informed your identity, world view and your artistic practice today?
I’m heavily based on culture. My inspiration stems from folks that I have grown to love over the years who are working with culture themselves. One of my favorites is Malick Sidibe, also from Mali, (who based on our last name and lineage is related to me) and is a famous Malian photographer who amazingly created timeless retro African photography.
My mother, is, of course, a huge inspiration because she introduced me to art and is one of the most talented artists I’ve known thus far. Coincidentally, I also have a few family members, like cousins and aunts, who are also professional artists and work in the industry. These are my visual art references. As for conceptual inspiration, everything is organic and generally pulled directly from childhood memories, life experiences and artisanal work like Bogolan pieces, mud cloth, cowry shells, etc. All things I’ve been surrounded by and fell in love with from childhood. This is why you find some of these pieces in my work.
As an artist of African descent, what are your views on the surge of interest in modern and contemporary African art?
Six to seven years ago, I wondered how I could enter an almost non- existing market. I’m blessed to see the interest in African art rapidly growing as I’m building a name for myself. I say blessed because my mother’s generation did not have such a platform to excel within their craft and talent. It was appreciated then but not necessarily as valued and praised as it is now.
The idea of being an artist is no longer viewed as an irresponsible life gamble. The amount of untapped talent within our culture, whether on the continent or in the diaspora, is endless and will continue to grow, as we, artists, prosper with the messages needed to be shared. It will benefit our communities, just like every other culture benefited from art, because art is meant to raise awareness and questions, bring forth the unspoken, and start conversations.
You were scheduled to have your first solo exhibition in June 2020, which was unfortunately postponed due to Covid-19. How has the lockdown impacted your art?
I planned 2020 quite well in advance, so the lockdown seems to have helped in disguise because I was already planning on quarantining myself to finish all pieces for the exhibition, which would have been a tight but achievable deadline. Now I’ve taken time to focus on the art, finish pieces and start more before curating the exhibition.
I strongly believe that when I'm able to set a date for the exhibition, I will be more than ready.
What is next for you as an artist, and what can we expect in the future?
An exhibition tour.
For my first exhibition, my work will speak for itself!