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Two-Headed Eagle: A Night Journal of Oaxaca, Mexico

NB: Interview took place in June 2018

What’s your story?

I’m a French-born Moroccan-British artist with roots in India, where I lived from the age of six until eighteen. Now, I live in Montreal.

I curate the Archive Collective and The Earth Issue – two independent platforms which focus on art and environmentalism, and I also paint and write as well as photograph. I work in marketing.

How did you become interested in photography?

Although I had worked with photography in the past, I became more interested in it as an art form when I switched from digital to analogue and started to develop my own photographs in the dark room. Having creative control over the entire process, from framing the shot to scanning or printing the final image, brought a new level of appreciation to the medium. At the moment I alternate between analogue and digital.

I am most interested by landscape photography, botanical photography, and documentary work that looks at the relationship between humans and the natural landscape. I also appreciate projects that move between creative disciplines – bringing together images, writing, and research or theoretical work.

For the past year, my photography has focused on the strange and wonderful world of botanical ecology. It began as a hands-on way of engaging with the natural world in familiar landscapes, such as the city I live in, or unfamiliar landscapes encountered during my travels.

Nature is constantly morphing, carving out a space in its human and topographical environment – I try my best to capture that state of movement.

Let’s talk about your series Two-Headed Eagle. What was your motivation behind it?

In February, I spent a month hiking in the Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca and along the the Pacific Coast. During this month I spent a lot of time thinking about roots and rootlessness, and the psycho-geography of the natural world. Having relocated to over five countries in the past ten years has forced me to renegotiate my personal narrative of belonging, time and time again; a process which visual storytelling has helped solidify and reinforce.

In a new terrain I found traces of the past: a particular plant, Bougainvillea, which reminded me of my home in India; the smell of damp pine in Ixtlan Juarez which brought back memories of the Canadian countryside… I documented flora and other natural elements which inspired feelings of nostalgia, intimacy and “home”.

Were there any moments you experienced which stand out?

As I discovered more about the botanical ecology of Oaxaca, I also became aware of the extent to which naturalisation had shaped the natural landscape. Crops introduced into the local ecosystem during the Columbian exchange – such as onions, wheat and pears – were superimposed onto an existing structure, creating a patchwork composite of old and new; here and there.

Thinking about plants this way helped me to see them not only as markers of memory, but also metaphors for human experience. I felt a sort of comfort in this complex landscape and its ways of inhabiting multiple layers marked by a personal history of migration and adaptation.

What are you recommending?

For this specific project I read Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks. It’s a journal documenting the ten days he spent in the Oaxaca region foraging for wild ferns.
I would recommend it for the beautiful way he weaves in and out of research, observation, reflection, and illustration. Also, Radiolab’s From Tree to Shining Tree episode is a great listen on the topic of ecological networks.

Can you pinpoint one photograph or piece of art that has strongly influenced you?

John Cage’s piece and subsequent interview on noise and silence. I love the way he pulls the “natural” world into his work, unfiltered, allowing it to speak for himself. I also find his playful and experimental artistic approach very inspirational – crossing boundaries into performance, participatory art, comedy, poetry, and installation.

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