One-on-One with MH Sarkis

A-Zone – Hi! For people who don’t know who you are…who is MH Sarkis?

MH Sarkis – I make artwork to solidify experiences. No, I will not disappear into thin air, and yes, my history is very real though perhaps unusual. 

A-Zone – How do you feel that comes out in your artwork?

MH Sarkis – Through paint, I connect with my past in Lagos. I sometimes paint from memories and experiences, perhaps a single image that stands out, and I characteristically enjoy “carving” into the paint. Wood carvings were a big part of growing up, in my home, and that’s something that I like to bring in my art through digging into the paint, carving lines in an organic way..
But in doing so, I also connect to my present: for example I would paint my friend in the above manner, sitting opposite me in a crowded cafe. That’s what art can do – solidify and unify varying moments and experiences.
Moments like these can be euphoric. Afterwards, I feel at peace, a brief moment of reconciliation of past and present.

A-Zone – Do you remember the very first piece you ever did?

MH Sarkis – Well I was about 3 years old when I drew a wobbly stick man…just kidding. I think the first piece that truly set off what I do now, was made when I has just moved from Lagos to London, in 2008, after seeing the Expressionist work of Schiele, Kokoshka, and Nolde. I painted a caricature-like version of myself, crouched with the outline of a dog and disappearing into a darkened room with people’s shadows. It’s interesting to look back at it now and see how much things have changed, both in my artwork, and in myself as an artist and person generally.

A-Zone – What do you think has changed since 2008? Have you adapted your style or do you see things differently?

MH Sarkis – A lot has changed since 2008. Lagos was an alternate world for me which I experienced in an almost painfully-removed manner. I listened, I observed, but I did not feel able to act or interact in society. Once in London, I was let loose – and it was here at a distance, that I truly came to understand my background that will never shake off, and my attitudes toward it.
So in an attempt to understand myself and others better I have turned myself inside out, also trying to understand myself through paint; and the resulting artwork has also changed. Perhaps less contrived, less caring about pleasing others visually. I don’t think the process will ever end.

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A-Zone – It sounds like art has proven almost therapeutic for you…what advice would you give someone unsure about how to express themselves?

MH Sarkis – It has indeed been therapeutic, the process itself as well as the resulting and surrounding events.
I find it very interesting how when we cannot express our story, our story becomes us… We act it out in ways we and those around us cannot understand, especially if our stories stem from negative, detrimental experiences.
If someone is unsure how to express himself/herself, he/she must find some form of release. Talking about it helps. But if it doesn’t (some things cannot be said), try turning to the arts. Explore and experiment with as little fear of failure as possible. Just do it. Oh, and Nike has not paid me to say that.

A-Zone – Is there any artist who has influenced your style or you wish you could meet? (dead or alive)

MH Sarkis – Twins Seven Seven. Egon Schiele, Emil Nolde, and fellow Expressionists. Rainer Fetting. Nigerian craftsmen and mask-makers; I want to talk to them and hear their stories.

A-Zone – However, you’re not only an artist are you? You also write poetry. Do you feel your poetry compliments your art work or are your art and your poetry two separate entities?

MH Sarkis – Yes, I write poetry and prose within the spaces or “quiet” moments between paintings. Painting and writing are not really separate for me, rather they feed off each other. I paint because I often feel tired of words, but there are moments my paints run dry and I need to give my brushes a break. A cycle. Albeit a short-lived one.

A-Zone – Where do you want MH Sarkis to be in the next 5 years? Is there a final goal in her journey?

MH Sarkis – Without saying too much: the goal, the ultimate catharsis, is for my artwork to take me back home but keep me mobile. In the meantime, in the next 5 or so years, I want to be more able to freely and continuously exhibit, to share on a wider scale. I want my work to be a reference, part of the contemporary discourse on Afrocentric, emigrant artwork and similar.

A-Zone – Finally, how can people find out more about you and access your work?

MH Sarkis – You can find out more at www.mhsarkis.com where there is a link to my CV, portfolio, blog, and various bits & bobs. If you’re curious to see my work in person, contact me via the website; I love sharing!

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