Interview with Cujo Dah for “A Quarantine Daydream”

How did you begin this body of work? What brought it about? 

This body of work started with several sketches and ideas I thought could become really dope paintings. As the world dramatically shifted with Covid19, racial injustice, protests, etc, so did my thoughts about what I was painting. I wanted the work to create a space for people to stop and think about their place in the world. All while addressing issues like race, time, and the environment, without being overtly literal. 

How do you arrive to the characters featured in your work? Your work has been described as both abstract and Afro-futuristic. Are the subjects in your pieces also influenced by these genres? 

My subjects are basically Chicagoans. I love my city. We have a very unique style and way we move through life. I try to bring those qualities and vibrations into my characters and wrap them in a lot of culture and colors. The abstract pieces have a ton character as well. Similar to a galaxy or an atom they can be read as a unique source of energy/life. 

What are the major differences between this body of work, A Quarantine Daydream and your previous works? 

‘Black’ by Cujo Dah

It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve had a solo showing. I have grown a tremendous amount as a person as well as an artist. The obvious differences would be the level of execution and the composition is much more structured and thought out. Another major difference is the relationship between the pieces of AQD. They are much stronger and function more as a complete unit than most previous bodies of work.

Who are some of your biggest/favorite artistic influences? 

I like Kerry James Marshall, Chuck Close, Kara Walker, and a host of others. However, my favorite artists are the RK Crew Chicago. 

How have those artists influenced the genres you work with and the pieces you create? 

I don’t really know. I’m most likely a hodgepodge of several artists from various mediums and craft. I’m a student in general. I love art in all its glory and disfunction.

But, while in the studio, most of my biggest influences have been from my sketch book doodles, animations, movies, and random media. I try hard to stay in my own little bubble while creating. I really enjoy the freedom of allowing my mind to wander and thinking on the fly. 

As someone who does a lot of collaborative and community-based artwork, how is your creative process different when you’re creating inside, on a more intimate scale, on canvas, etc.? 

When I’m in the studio, it’s just me, it’s the ultimate freedom. I make the rules and control the tone. The only challenge is to extract thoughts and physically create what I imagine. 

From the press release for AQD: “Due to the current state of events, many artists are reflecting on their work and how they can best respond to what is happening. Cujo Dah is revealing an introspective perspective which is both personal and universal.” Are there specific details in the work that stand as commentary on that introspection?

This set of characters are not focused on the viewer at all. Even the straight facing Abacus looks through you. Much like us they are all in their own world dealing with their own issues and tasks. With so much happening in the past few months, it would be an understatement to say people have a lot on their minds. This body of work reflects on thought space and thoughts in space. I wanted to try to capture those moments when your body stops moving and your mind drifts off. 

What would you like viewers to recognize in this body of work? 

I would like people to take a moment to seek out the unique stories of each piece and the relationships between all of them; the abstract paintings as well as the portraits. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received on art or creating art that continues to influence the way you create today?

When you paint like you care, it will show through the work.

Is there any advice or recommendations you would give to artists who are inspired by your work and looking to get into abstract and Afro-futuristic genres? 

No matter what style or genre, there is only one you. Always be you. 

‘The Abacus’ by Cujo Dah

-interview written by Taylor Imel

‘A Quarantine Daydream’ – July 24th – August 22nd, 2020 at Elephant Room Gallery, Chicago

Published by taylorkimel

Artist located in Chicago.

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