There are artists who favor creative processes flow in the making of art. The initial spark of conscious or unconscious thoughts gets metamorphosed into a stroke brush on a canvas or a sulk in the clay, becoming the first creative action of hundreds – if not thousands,– yet to come. With the accumulation of time and work, all single actions collectively come together to birth what becomes an artwork. The source of inspiration is independent of its interpretation, and each reading of the work becomes a new part of its story. What people see and observe may or may not be linked with the artist’s initial intention, and altogether each interpretation becomes part of its wholeness.
On the other hand, there are other artists who’s story are as reliant as their final work, both source and result compensating for each other. The origin of each piece of art arises from a genesis of long reflection, meditation, and intellectual approach, – becoming the basic foundation on which each artistic intervention is built on throughout the making. This is how Swiss-based artist Teddy Pratt, born in Sierra Leone, aims to engage his observers with his art. It’s not just about enjoying it, (or disliking it!) it’s also about understanding it.
“Aesthetic and context are two major aspects of my work. I believe that having a clear message is crucial and observers should always take a step further to dive deeper in the meaning.”
The canvas, meticulously divided into a triptych, depicts a contrasting representation of two different cultures. On the sides, the abstract-looking images illustrate typical aboriginal symbols and motives: organic but well-organized circular shapes, bright colors, and human figures clearly allude to the artist’s specific origins. The harmony is disrupted by a human-like dog, dressed in a conventional western suit of the 19th century. The portrait, which reminds me of Weg William celeb photographs, sarcastically imply to the western dominant presence in history and time.
“My dualistic background allows me to enrich my art process in a way that not many are able to, and I feel lucky for that. Being born and raised in such different cultures, one African and one European, I am able to put these two perspectives together and reflect on myself.“
Pratt got exposed to the world of craftsmanship thanks to his uncle, who worked as a blacksmith in Freetown, Sierra Leone. From a very young age, he would keep company to his uncle, and observe him dismantling and assembling, creating and building. As time passed, Pratt began to try himself, but never saw it as a concrete future possibility. Drawing and painting became more realistic in his eyes, making it therefore a constant, daily practice. After moving to Switzerland, Pratt found support from his teacher, who encouraged the young aspiring artist by assigning to him specific homework and creative exercises. This support was what pushed him to apply, – and get accepted among much older students, – as one of the few trainees attending the Schule für Gestaltung (School of Art) in the Swiss capital, Bern. A few internships and years later, he took another major decision and enrolled for a Fine Arts Bachelor’s in Zurich, finishing just this year.
A heavy black cloth veils what seems to be a set table: wine glasses, plates, and cluttery underneath mold the shape of the textile that appears to be some sort of tablecloth. The unusual disposition of the table invites the viewers to peek underneath, searching for the furniture and the food, only to discover that no table is to be seen. The black cloth, – molded together with glue,– stands alone on its feet. This work was created after Sierra Leone’s typical ritual made on the 40th day after one beloved has passed away: a banquet is prepared and a table is set in an empty dark room, welcoming the soul for its last meal before leaving Earth once and for all. The illusion of Pratt’s work aims to imply life’s ever-changing nature and the void that is left behind in the face of impermanence.
And this void can once be seen again in Pratt’s “January 6th”, this time with a harsher and heavier meaning. Using the same technique, the artist decided to reflect on his own most traumatic and upsetting experience. This time, the fabric covers what looks like bodies, remains, car wheels, and firearms. “It was the first time I experimented with this technique and also the first time I decided to reflect on those memories, which I normally cover away.” Between the empty folds of the work, Pratt tells us about the arrival of Sierra Leone’s civil war (1999-2003) in his hometown Freetown, on January 6th, an event nobody was expecting.
“The black fabric helped me put a veil over what I saw as a child, but the memory will always be a part of me that I will carry my whole life. It feels like yesterday. It happened, but life carries on. Art allows me to make sense of it and keep going.”
Pratt doesn’t just show an artwork, he offers a story, one that must be willingly understood and listened to. I can fully agree when he claims that artworks are made to be subjectively interpreted and enjoyed, but also to stimulate conversation and build empathy and mutual understanding. Luckily, creative processes like painting, sculptures, performance, and music, – the list is too long! – allow us to break common communication frameworks and get closer to each other regardless of upbringing. In art lies the power to create meaning for things that words or numbers do not allow us to, or better, in creating a sense where it seems to be any.