Stopping by with Saif Azzuz
During this extraordinary moment in time, we asked writers, musicians, curators, and innovators to reflect on influence, memory, language, shared spaces, and the power of poetry to bring us together.
Saif Azzuz is a Libyan-Yurok artist who resides on unceded Ramaytush Ohlone Land also known as Pacifica, CA. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Painting and Drawing from the California College of the Arts in 2013. Azzuz has exhibited widely in the Bay Area, including a solo exhibition at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in March of 2022 and has had solo exhibitions at Pt.2 Gallery, Adobe Books, Ever Gold [Projects], NIAD, Rule Gallery and 1599dt Gallery. Azzuz is a 2022 SFMOMA SECA Award finalist and has participated in the Clarion Alley Mural Project and the Facebook Artist in Residence program. Selected public collections include Renni Museum, Facebook, North Carolina Museum of Art, Stanford Health Care Art Collection and UBS Art Collection.
What is the last thing that moved you?
“A trip to Indian heaven” in the book Ararapíkva, which is a collection of Karuk creation stories edited by Julian Lang. I was grieving a fresh loss in my family and was feeling the hole from that loss and the urgency to feel like I needed to move on to meet the pace of capitalism. I read that book so many times, but something about this reading brought me to tears and resonated differently at such a necessary time.
What is a piece of art that changed or greatly influenced you?
Seeing the painting and sculpture of the late Brian Tripp was the first time I felt stopped in my tracks by an encounter with art. His use of material, language and mark-making felt so intimate and personal, that it stayed with me on multiple levels. The work has a connection to place and people that is intergenerational in its ability to communicate across such expansive experiences.
What is your first memory of poetry?
Making Haikus in elementary school, but to be honest, I always struggled in school and felt the stigma of that. I didn’t start having a positive relationship with reading until I was in college and that's when poetry and I really connected with each other on a deeper level.
How has this last year changed you, and what is something that you learned that you will take with you into a post-pandemic world?
This last year/years have been so hard to process. It really felt like the possibility for transformative change was there, to then have that momentum transition back into this new sense of normalcy that is so much more violent than the one we were already being forced to live, is hard. It is still difficult to intake the trauma we all are asked to accept. But to answer the question, I take with me the necessity to slow down. That’s not to say I have that ability to do that, but I realize the necessity of rest and reflection, none of this should be normal.
Who or what is your greatest creative influence?
Right now, it's my family, nature, and intergenerational exchange. When I was younger, it was my grandfather and great aunt; I would sit around and watch them bead or weave for hours, and that connection to the material and making as a way of processing one's life has stuck with me.
If you were to choose one poem or text to inscribe in a public place right now, what would that be? And where would you place it?
Nikichyu ‘ok’w ‘w-ewolek’ which is in the Yurok language and translates in English to “Everything has a name.” Coming from a language that relied on oral histories, I think it just needs to be spoken.
What do you see as the role of art in public life at this moment in time?
For me, the role of the artist is to make work that reimagines life and that questions all structures and frameworks that we believe to be true.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I hope that the participant feels anything. I welcome all feelings; art is so subjective. I just hope that my work resonates in any way with the viewer. There are so many interesting conversations to be had on all sides of how or why art connects with the viewer and their lens as participants.
Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
I will have work at Miami Basel with Anthony Meier Fine Arts (San Francisco) and will be showing at Frieze London with Nicelle Beauchene Gallery (New York) as we work towards my first solo show with the gallery in February 2023.
What are you hopeful for?
I have sat down to answer this question multiple times, and every time I do, so a new tragic event happens in this country or world. At this moment in my life, I'm just hopeful that we can all someday heal, get rest and know peace outside of larger violent controlling structures