Art & Design

Moki Cherry's Multidisciplinary Psychedelia, as Remembered by Her Granddaughter Naima Karlsson

In line with the ICA’s retrospective of the Swedish artist, Hypebae sits down with Karlsson to discuss her grandmother’s legacy and interdisciplinary artistry.

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Moki Cherry's Multidisciplinary Psychedelia, as Remembered by Her Granddaughter Naima Karlsson

In line with the ICA’s retrospective of the Swedish artist, Hypebae sits down with Karlsson to discuss her grandmother’s legacy and interdisciplinary artistry.

“Here and Now,” presented by ICA, honors the extraordinary career and creative vision of Swedish artist, designer and educator Moki Cherry. With over 30 artworks and archival materials on display, the comprehensive showcase provides a rare opportunity to delve into Cherry’s artistic journey and celebrate her exploration of the intersection of art and life, her collaborative approach and her resilience as both an artist and mother in the face of enduring gendered challenges.

Cherry’s immersion in Stockholm’s cultural scene began during her training as a fashion designer when she crossed paths with jazz musician Don Cherry in 1963. Their 20-year relationship and artistic collaboration, known as “Movement Incorporated” and later “Organic Music,” produced renowned tapestries and costumes. While the exhibition features these well-known works, it also illuminates lesser-known aspects of Cherry’s repertoire, including a 16mm film documenting her inaugural solo exhibition in 1973, as well as sculptures, paintings and writings spanning several decades.

The exhibition was co-curated by Naima Karlsson, who not only happens to be Cherry’s granddaughter but also a talented multi-disciplinary artist and musician based in London. We had the chance to talk to Karlsson, who provided us with a unique privilege: we were able to delve into her personal memories of her grandmother, gain deeper insights into Cherry’s remarkable artistry, explore the intricacies of the exhibition curation process and understand the profound impact Cherry had on Karlsson as both an artist and a person.

Keep scrolling to read the full interview with Naima Karlsson.

Your grandmother’s artistic career spanned textiles, sculpture, painting, drawing, writing, collage and video. She was certainly the definition of a multidisciplinary artist. I reckon limiting her expansive oeuvre to over 30 artworks and archival material must have been a hard task. What did you base your curation process on, and are you happy with the final result? Does it encapsulate Moki Cherry’s energy and creativity?

It’s true that Moki worked with many artistic materials throughout her life, and yes, it was challenging to narrow down the selection for the exhibition. Moki’s work is multi-faceted, but her strong visual style and values remain consistent throughout. Many people are unaware of her diverse artistic output and decades of interdisciplinary practice. Maintaining a balance was crucial to me when combining works from different periods, which include textiles, sculpture, painting, drawing and film. My aim was to create a space that could invite the viewer to journey through Moki’s visual world and perceive the interconnecting themes and philosophies as a cohesive visual thread. Despite the limited size of the show, I believe we have succeeded in achieving that.

The exhibition title “Here and Now” resonates with me as it signifies the enduring presence of your grandmother’s legacy. Could you provide further insight into the choice of this title? Additionally, I would love to hear about your aspirations for the visitors to the exhibition. What do you hope they will take away from the experience?

The title is a quote from Moki that appears in writings, drawings and music posters she made, as well as in the title of a Don Cherry album from 1976 called Hear and Now. Many of her artworks contain words and text, creating a space where color, sound and language coexist. The words “Here and Now” have a dual meaning, connecting to notions of perception, interaction and staying aware at this moment while also listening and hearing what is around you. The word “NOW” appears and reappears in Moki’s works, such as “Eternal Now” and “Here and Now,” which align with Moki and Don’s long-time study and practice of Buddhism, as well as her engagement with other spiritual philosophies, like the writings of Annie Besant that also mention The Eternal Now, which Moki read. Moki’s work repeatedly highlights and explores our human existence within the biosphere. I believe she is asking us to pay attention to who we are here and now and to put our energy, awareness, strength and creativity into this moment, as we all contribute to the greater cycles of nature, life and existence.

The exhibition explores Moki’s work and the unique challenges she faced as an artist and mother. I’m curious to know about her role as your grandmother and whether any memories have influenced your own artistic journey. Can you share specific moments that have had a significant impact on your development as both an artist and musician?

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up. Moki was very dedicated to both her artwork and her family; it was all one for her—life, family, art. As an artist, she made the choice to integrate her practice into daily life and used her practical skills as a clothing designer, textile artist and painter to build stage sets, children’s clothing, a family home and an incredible garden, among other things. However, I am conscious of the fact that putting so much creative energy into her daily environment meant that a so-called commercial artistic career didn’t really happen for her. It’s not possible to be everywhere at once, and her life circumstances as a mother in the earlier decades of her career, in addition to her artwork existing mainly in the music scene for many years, meant she didn’t reach as many art audiences.

I helped in Moki’s studio since I was small, preparing for exhibitions, and so on. I would paint her wood-carved cut-offs and sew little pieces of fabric. She was probably just trying to keep me busy while I would come to stay with her during the summer holidays. But as I got older, she got me involved in hanging her exhibitions, and she really taught me a lot. She showed me how to be resourceful, how to use tools and make things, and how all the time and energy we use, even while having fun, can be productive and useful. It’s all based on that, really

“Moki Cherry: Here and Now” is available for viewing at ICA London until September 3.

Institute of Contemporary Arts
The Mall, St. James’s,
London SW1Y 5AH

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