For visual artist Moya Garrison-Msingwana, creating his latest work, “Laundry,” was a cathartic feat. The series includes a collection of paintings that represent the artist’s examinations of how fashion can be an outward-looking experience, driven by the utterly personal. In the second iteration, “Laundry 002—A Thread Is a Vein,” Garrison-Msingwana’s work sits at many intersections that inform people’s relationship to fashion: sustainability, access, popular culture, isolation, identity, and more. . Beyond the world of visual arts, he has worked closely with fashion brands, creating campaigns with Loewe and designing t-shirts for Stüssy.
In his first exhibition in the United States, the Toronto-born and raised artist develops the notions of the two “Laundry” projects. He does this by painting figures or “STACKS,” as he calls them, that inhabit a human form through layers of various fabrics, clothing, tchotchkes, and popular visual references (like a Telfar bag). His feelings on the subject (there are many) have been conveyed through a set of 12 new works of varying scale, all housed at the Hannah Traore Gallery on the Lower East Side.
Traoré, who makes a point of presenting traditionally marginalized artists, said O during a visit to the gallery, “I have never seen anyone paint figures or objects like Moya does, conceptually.” Below, Garrison-Msingwana opens up on O about using fashion as a medium and her favorite Toronto artists.
Congratulations on your first exhibition in the United States. How important is having a show here compared to your home country?
On my mother’s side, the family is American. My aunt and uncle actually lived in LES for 15 years, so when I was young I visited all the time. As I got older, I made friends online who happened to be based in Brooklyn and LES as well. The opening was crazy for me, because it was a fusion of two of my worlds. Some of the coins in the series even reference America in some way.
Does your city influence your work?
I don’t know how much that influences what I do, because a lot of my inspiration comes from being very bookish or watching movies and going to museums. But we don’t have the richest museum and gallery culture in Toronto. We certainly have one, but it’s not as transcendent as the one in New York. The city doesn’t foster things quite the way I would like, but I’m definitely surrounded by people who inspire me.
What made you want to expand your “Laundry” series?
The first one I found when I got out of school [at OCAD University in Toronto]. It’s cathartic work in that I can look at everything about clothing and fashion in the positive, negative – almost any aspect, whether it’s sustainability in the industry or the identity of people who wear clothes.
Will it continue past 002?
Yes, absolutely, because it’s my way of criticizing this world and praising and appreciating it at the same time. I don’t think my apprehensions or love for fashion and what it can do for humanity is going to go away; I will always have a dialogue related to that in my work. My ideas about it keep changing, so I can’t see myself getting tired of it.
One of the major themes of your latest show is identity, and how what we wear accentuates certain aspects of who we are. Can you speak to that based on your own experience?
From a philosophical standpoint, the idea of reflecting your ego outwardly and trying to influence how people perceive you is an interesting prospect. And I think how you look as a person can only change so much. I mean, we’re able to do that more and more, which I think is great, but clothes are such a time-tested way to express yourself. A lot of that work is me wrestling with ideas on a social scale, what impact clothes can have, and then also on a personal scale, what they do for your sense of happiness as a person. ‘individual.
It’s really interesting as black people (and other POCs as well) that our identities are sometimes dictated to us by others. I feel like your paintings go against that idea – your work depicts the intricacies and nuances of identity through things that society considers ‘insignificant’, like fashion, pop culture , cartoons, etc. Is the layered aspect of what you do intentional?
Absolutely. A big thing for me and what I do is try to normalize and show how smart and multidimensional a black person can be in the context of North America in particular, where we’re still oppressed or boxed in . It’s super important to show the kaleidoscope of my experience, which grows and changes – and we are all like that. It’s not just white people who become like this.
Now let’s move on to questions about the cultural regime. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
The first thing I do when I wake up is lie down. I’ll probably end up using my phone, but I like to relax in bed for as long as I can. Being the type of artist that I have become, this time to do nothing is an essential part of my day. And it’s good that I have the luxury of doing so.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
Right now I have “Dilla Time”. I’m not done, but it’s really fascinating. I’m not a big reader of biographies or autobiographies, but J Dilla had an impact on my life.
What’s the last thing you Googled on your phone?
“Suzuki Jimny Kijiji.” It’s a nice compact SUV. For the past four years I have been obsessed with cars.
What albums or playlists do you have on loop right now?
My friend just gave me “Call Me If You Get Lost” by Tyler, the Creator on vinyl, so I got this. I listen to “Mahal” by Toro y Moi all the time. Freddie Gibbs just released a new project. I’ve always been a huge fan of his stuff. I also did a deep dive with J Dilla because of the book.
What are some of your favorite galleries in Toronto?
Cooper Cole is a big one. I would also say the Moca, but I haven’t been there for a long time.
Can you recommend any Toronto-based artists we should know?
My studio mate, who is currently working on a few paintings next to me, is called Devon Price. He’s fairly new out of school, but a very talented oil painter – a black man, very expressive with his work. There are Aaron Jones, a beautiful collagist. My friend Kendra Yeewho is an amazing ceramist and illustrator that I went to school with. Joshua Advincula, a Filipino-Canadian artist from Toronto’s east end. His work has this sophistication, but this naivety at the same time.
Do you remember the last movie you saw at the cinema?
Maybe it was Marcel the shod shell. I saw it with my grandmother, my mother and my father.
What’s the last thing you do before going to bed?
Again, nothing! Just brush my teeth, lie down, relax. I’m not a big routine person that way.
“Laundry 002—A Thread Is a Vein” is on view at Hanna Traore Gallery until November 10.