Conversation with Sofia Zu’bi by Kathryn Morris
Sofia Zu’bi wants to capture a lost innocence each of us has experienced. Her paintings and drawings show scenes of dollish cartoon individuals forming a colorful congregation. These scenes radiate emotion; something the viewer can pick up on a momentary view. It’s obvious that Sofia goes above and beyond her creation. She embeds whatever emotion she feels into every stroke, line, and color choice.
At the Linda Matney Gallery, where her work is being featured in it’s current show, Zu’bi shows us new drawings and paintings that she’s been working on. She places papers in her portfolio all around the room. She takes a deep breath and explains each piece as if each is an individual religious experiment. I read one of the papers she has laid out from a briefcase: “’Real artists are God’s Messengers’ –Sofia Zu’bi”
What’s refreshing about Sofia is she is genuine. She will tell you what it is and how it is. As she shuffles around the gallery explaining each piece it becomes obvious that her artistic process doesn’t end the moment she drops the paintbrush in her Brooklyn apartment; in fact it arguably never ends. She does use her work as a message, maybe not God’s message but certainly Sofia Zu’bi’s.
As it is with all things you must have began somewhere. Describe what lead you to where you are now. Where you always doodling? Where you a precocious child?
I believe it started with poetry to be honest. I always wrote poetry as a kid and would hide in the closet and just write to get all my pain out. I thought that that liberated me mentally. I was young so I thought it was strange because my friends were playing soccer or playing Barbie’s and I was a complete weirdo. A few days ago I fully accepted who I was as a person by looking back on my childhood. I think who you are as a child is who you are. I’m like a little kid inside still; I think it’s the most liberating feeling in the world to finally embrace that as a human being.
So you’ve had this cyclical inspirational revolution. Where you are now is where you were. If where you were was this child making poetry and now you’re realizing that’s okay where do you want to be?
Well I want to be a role model. Since I was young I was always inspired by powerful people like Susan Sontag, Tupac, and Bob Marley, you know different poets. I always wanted to be that myself but I never believed in myself. I mean a week ago I became extremely confident and it’s made me really nervous and it’s because I realized something crucial, which is love yourself first in your life.
These individuals you list, they were personally role models for you?
I feel through art such as music and imagery, nothing else. Well, animals of course. I believe that innocence in life is extremely empowering and people need to embrace it more. I’m twenty years old but I know I’m going to be someone big in life because I’m extremely affected by things that people ignore on a daily basis. When I travel to see my father, the children on the street begging really bother me. They look sad and people drive by in their Mercedes Benz and don’t give them anything. You know, that’s disgusting. I go up to them and give them a pencil and I feel like that can make all the difference for them.
How would you say that innocence and these nuances of life that the layman I suppose doesn’t notice, how do they come across in your art.
Innocence… People sometimes take things too seriously. I love the work [in the Linda Matney Gallery] but some people can think too much. Art should be an expression of self. Everyone was happy when they were children because we were innocent. Nothing really fazed you, like days, months, or years. And then you finally understand what a day is and then time is able to completely alter your perception on life. We shouldn’t be so conceived in what happens day to day it doesn’t matter, at least that’s how I think, but I’m just an artist.
Anyways, innocence. My work is made of arbitrary objects such as things I find on the street in New York. When I see a piece of paper I literally cannot keep walking until I pick it up. Something is telling me to pick it up. I think “so many people are going to be looking at me right now because I’m going to pick up this stupid thing.” I pick it up and I save it, I don’t know why I do I just do. I save it in a box and then later when I can’t sleep I create all these things like I did when I was little.
One of the first things I heard about you as an artist was that you had your “Love Series.” I believe, as I think most people believe, that there is something very co-aligned with love and innocence. Can you build on that a little bit?
When I was little I used to throw tantrums when my parents would kiss. I know that’s extremely bizarre but I felt something weird in my heart, like it wasn’t right. So I would cry. My parents thought I was totally crazy, I am so it’s all right. I was totally accurate with my assumption though. I’m not saying I’m a genius, I’m just an artist. I relate to certain people. When I go to the MOMA, I don’t pay attention to what I’m looking at but something attracts me to certain paintings, specifically Picasso.
That leads me to one of my next questions actually. When I first saw your piece “Women” I immediately noticed a very similar composition between your work and “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon.” I feel like most artists have a personal straighter that some things go through and some things stay. What sorts of artists have you found stay and go in this strainer.
I don’t want to name any artists because I believe I’m one myself. I don’t replicate.
Explain more of your process psychologically and the methodology --- the tools you use.
I use Japanese tools. Asian tools. As a kid I went to a school where the kids were very fortunate. So people who were perfectionists surrounded me. The kids would come in with these tools that their parents would give them I was completely intrigued by that. Like this (holds pencil up) I really like this. It’s a .7 mechanical pencil. I really like detailed thin lines, which you can’t do with the majority of materials. You have to do that with Asian tools. I used to look up to Fafinette, a French graffiti artist, and Audrey Kawasaki.
I’m very intrigued with the pieces you were telling us that you were making in your hotel room.
I don’t think when I do things; it’s more of an agitation. I’m shaky when I do art. I feel like a child again. I hate spending money on materials so I use kid’s stuff from the dollar store. I walk down the street with my dog, go to the dollar store, fill a basket full of stuff and I buy all these little tools. I walk back to my apartment; I lay out everything on my floor. My dog looks at me while I’m doing this, like he totally gets me. I just work then, and this stuff happens.
These two paintings here in the gallery can you comment on those.
Yeah I don’t like this stuff anymore.
Because it’s unhappiness.
Explain that a little more.
You know, I’ve lived my life in denial of who I was. I’ve always been watching movies and reading books and always have been looking at other people to decided who I want to be. I was always made fun of but I’m an artist I just don’t think like the majority of people do. And I painted this when I was with a man whose work I was in denial of trying to replicate. I was trying to replicate myself to be like him instead of being me. This work is me, don’t get me wrong, this stuff is not like his at all. That’s why we actually had to break it off because I could tell there was a negative competitive tension that bothered me immensely. Some artists just can’t work together. I do love working with artists though. The ones that push me in healthy ways.
In your work there is a lot of fantastical images, do you draw from these fictional ideas as a sort of escapism?
I don’t want to explain my work I think it should be interpreted. I know Susan Sontag dislikes interpretation, but, sorry. Interpret my work. Look at it; the answers will reveal themselves to you. My wound is my gift.
No, I mean more fantastical ideas that allowed you to escape momentarily and helped you find your flow
It’s all religious symbolism. That’s it. My grandmother was extremely religious. When I was little I never understood it because I couldn’t see it. I feel like I need to see something to believe in it and it’s not always like that. That’s why a lot of the figures have their eyes closed. Me, the little girl, my eyes are closed. I want to treat the world as if I was blind. You know people judge so much on image; it’s disgusting. I’m a beautiful girl; I know it. Yet there is more to me that my exterior; don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a painting by its imagery; feel it.
When I lived in Bahrain I was 13, which was very difficult. People think you’re really stupid, ignorant and…
Yes. I wasn’t, I was just shy. I didn’t know how to express myself because I was shy. People who were extremely successful surrounded me. I want to do that on my own. I hate being privileged but I love it at the same time. It’s a complete juxtaposition. I want to be self-made; I don’t want to be someone because of what I have. I want to be someone because of who I am, Sofia Zu’bi.
Use three words to describe your art.
Three words… innocent…free…and aware. That’s it.
See works by Sofia Zu'bi at http://lindamatneygallery.com/sofia-zubi/
More works by Sofia Zu'bi
Balloon’s Carry Me Higher is a piece Sofia created inspired off a memory she has when she was a child. After her 25 year old sister passed away. On her sister’s birthday, Sofia and her mother would set balloons with messages written on them with sharpie out into the sky every year. Balloons are a symbol of communication and transcendence to heaven. She believed from a young age she could still tell her sister she loved her even though she couldn’t see or physically be with her. Balloons were an outlet and magical way to send messages to heaven. The central figure within this painting is a superhero. She paints her flying through the sky empowered and aided by the attached balloons on her limbs. Angels hand her tools such as a sword and baby symbolizing protection and innocence. The hero transcends into the argyle-printed blue sky into a new world of understanding. The hero has the courage to find strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. She understands the responsibility that comes with her freedom; determination, loyalty, courage, perseverance, patience, focus, intrepidity and selflessness. She gazes down from an acting point of view upon the childlike, colorful town below her laying stagnant. She has given her life to something bigger than oneself.