We are not one static thing, we contain multitudes: multiple identities, multiple emotions. Sometimes you don’t get to express this in life, but if there’s one way to do it, it’s through art.
Idris Veitch, the Jamaican born artist living in Japan, knows this all too well. His collage collection African Masks x Ukiyoe weave together the elegance of Japanese prints and the raw beauty of African masks, whereas his latest series (it’s so exclusive, it doesn’t even have a name yet!) delves into an ethereal dreamscape of identity. I Felt That caught up with Idris about life being a never ending journey and how to answer the (often harrowing) question “who am I?”.
How did you find yourself living in Japan?
I was a computer techy in Colorado, you know, that guy that would fix computers, do virus / spyware removal, build PCs… I moved back to my home country of Jamaica the year after and I found my passions shifted to fashion design while attending a two year course at the Edna Manley School of Arts.
I moved to Japan in 2009 with the hopes of saving money to attend fashion school in the States. I was out drinking with a friend one night when I was introduced to their friend who was a former student of Esmod Fashion school in Tokyo. They told me about Esmod’s international program and encouraged me to apply. I wasn’t quite ready to leave Japan so I applied and got into their fashion design program. I moved to Tokyo in 2013 where I have been living ever since.
When did you begin to be interested in art?
I dabbled in tee shirt designs during my senior year in college. I think I only sold four tees in total to friends that wanted to support me. I also tried picking up drawing a number of times only to quit a few weeks in.
It wasn’t until attending fashion school in Tokyo where my senses started expanding. It was a very raw and forceful process. The first two years had me researching, designing, drafting and cutting patterns then putting it all together and giving presentations multiple times. Looking back on it I think I had a hard time trying to find my own path because I had no idea what my influences were. I was just exploring at the time.
How did you find your style of art?
My style of art came to be during my final year at Esmod fashion school while working on my graduation collection. The theme and concept of the collection was around the question of identity. At that point I had lived in Japan for 7 years and also lived in America for college. I am also half-Nigerian but never had any contact with that side of my family. The question that kept coming up again during that time was “who are you?”.
Some of my research centred around Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock prints from the 17th-19th century) and masks from different parts of Africa which I collaged together in hopes of making a textile print. The graduation collection came and went with me not doing anything with the material.
I posted the two images on Instagram several months later. It got a good response and a friend suggested I do a series: which I did. Going back to my answer on the previous question, it took a lot of trial and error before I landed on collage as my preferred medium. It just feels like a natural fit for me.
Who or what are your biggest sources of inspiration?
My peers that I follow on Instagram inspire me a lot. It’s a good feeling when we like and comment on each others’ work. I feel like we are a part of a community. We’re all in our different worlds with our own influences. I definitely get lost in mine from time to time! It’s good to come to the surface to see what other artists are doing.
Pinterest is life! The images I’ve been saving over the years help me find a balance with colours and teach me how to compose my images. Google Images is great for finding material to use in my collages. I also have a very precious collection of hard-copy books of Japanese, African and fashion images which I use for reference and material.
A lot of your pieces combine the cultures of Jamaica and Japan. Do you find these cultures to complement or contrast one another?
I think these two cultures are the complete polar opposites! Going back and forth between the two countries means having to re-wire and adjust everything from my behavior, body language to even how I talk.
It’s this duality that constantly feeds me: wanting to take things that don’t necessarily belong together and trying to make something new from them.
Culture often plays a significant role in someone’s identity. How do cultures affect your sense of identity?
I would say it is the LACK of a concrete identity that shaped me. I still wouldn’t describe myself as Jamaican because I never felt “Jamaican” growing up. You had to listen to a certain type of music, subscribe to this religion etc in order to fit into this very narrow definition. I was forever in my own world and grew up as an outsider.
It’s been the same story moving to Japan. I speak the language (somewhat lol), acclimated to the culture as best as I could but would always be considered the other.
It’s the viewpoint of always looking in from the sidelines that shaped me and also influenced my art. I’m always trying to answer the question “who are you?” .
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with their sense of identity?
Stay true to who you think you are, even if it doesn’t match with what you see around you.
Whatever struggles you are going through, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Try to connect with like minded individuals that will build you up and keep you planted.
There’s a quote that I like that says “Happiness is best shared”. I liken that to art, music etc where it’s elevated whether you share with one or one million people. I also strongly believe in the opposite of that: art can be a very selfish act. Art is also a form of therapy. Don’t feel like you need to share everything that comes out. It’s ok to keep your creations to yourself.
You once told me that art is escapism. Why do you think escapism is important?
I think it’s important to have somewhere to go to when things get too hectic. My art is kind of like a safe space for me.
Each time I open a new document, it’s a new chance to create a world that I can disappear into.
I feel very fortunate that my means of escape is something that I can share. There’s a sort of magic that happens when people offer their own interpretations of my work.
When you’re feeling lost or jaded, what picks you up?
I sometimes get severe “writer’s block” where I just can’t make anything. I would put this huge burden on myself to put out material on a regular basis. I felt like if I didn’t, I would be missing out on something. Instagram does something where it has you chasing that high from likes. I’m also guilty for sometimes comparing myself to other people on my feed, or getting impostor syndrome.
Nowadays whenever those feelings creep up, I immediately step away and do something else to clear my head. I’ll either go for a run around my neighborhood, sew something, pick up my Kindle or binge on Netflix.
When I create I always want my head to be in a peaceful space. If I land on a creative streak then I’ll ride the wave until I can’t work anymore. Creating is no longer worth it once it starts feeling like a chore. I’d prefer to walk away from it if it ever feels like work.
What does the future hold for Idris Veitch?
I will be moving back home to Jamaica in the next month or two. It has been my dream for a few years to be an art / design teacher and I hope to start doing so while I’m there.
I’d like to continue exploring my influences and create more and more collage pieces. I also intend to start a small swimwear brand.
Be sure to check out Idris’s Instagram @idrisveitch for links to his shop where you can buy the sickest t-shirts and stickers. We hope that Idris + IFT zine has lifted your spirits by sharing insight into the daunting task of a personal journey. 🥀
Words by Kay Knofi.