APIECE APART WOMAN
When much of modern life is lived digitally, it’s natural to retreat toward the analog, the tangible. For Kenesha Sneed, a Los Angeles artist, designer, and art director, working between the two worlds has also been a lesson in self-discovery.
An LA native, Kenesha works independently, producing art and ceramics under the name Tactile Matter from her Altadena home. We sat down with her earlier this month to discuss contemporary calls to action, female friendship, and leaning into complexity.
Photos by Claire Cottrell / Text by Leigh Patterson / Styling by Lauren Spencer King
You work in both the digital world (as a designer and art director) and in the tactile (as an illustrator and ceramicist). What challenges have come from finding your own creative voice as you’ve started working for yourself?
It’s hard to navigate what it means to be a creative person. I think when everything is so in your face and you are continually inundated with so many styles and voices, it can be easy to get distracted and lose sight of your own. Sometimes looking around at what other people are doing can feed your inspiration and sometimes it can hold you back and limit your ability to follow your own path. For me it took developing a daily practice, figuring out what mediums I wanted to work with and in what combination. It has outweighed the distraction. Finding your voice has a lot to do with confidence, and a lot of that just comes from practicing.
That’s a good point — self-discovery requires proficiency.
I think the biggest difference between when I was first starting out and now — as far as my daily practice — is that now, it’s easier to immediately dive deep. That’s not to say it’s not still an ongoing process. There have been plenty of mistakes made and I’m sure there will be plenty more; understanding there’s no perfect path is something I’ve had to realize along the way and I’m okay with that.
So much about being an artist is about surrendering to the time that is required to make something complete (while also realizing that nothing is ever complete). There’s that uneasy period in the middle that is necessary but no less difficult. I can’t help but correlate it to this bigger conversation about where we are right now politically…
I think collectively we’re in a time where you’re trying to navigate through all the weight that is put on you and wanting to come out of it feeling like you’ve done your part. I think as an artist there is that pressure to create something that is able to lend a voice in some way…to respond to the world around you.
From an early age it was instilled in me that I was going to have to work twice as hard as the person next to me to carve my path through life. I feel like that is something that resonates with a lot of families like mine…that was the collective feeling. I’ve had so many great opportunities working at design studios but in all those situations I was usually the only person of color, and definitely the only woman of color. It makes it very hard when you are so young, trying so hard to find your own voice while at the same time fighting to have your voice heard at all.
I think women of color hold a heavy weight on our shoulders, and I think I’ve known since a young age that I would need to look at life through a different lens than other people. That’s why in my illustrations I always try to convey women who bear resemblance to me. For me, the process is a form of self-care; showing carefree color [is a way of showing] how proud I am to be who I am. Women are everything in my mind, and my relationship with them shapes the way I have navigated through life; showing women through my art makes up a huge part about who I am.
What lessons have these women in your life taught you?
Many of them have come from my mother — she holds onto her independence, and has shown me the importance of strength and independence. She’s shown me how to protect yourself while leaving your heart open to others. That’s really translated into my life. I see that same connection in my close girlfriends. I think close relationships with women are so important as a support system, a community, an exchange of ideas. Right now it feels more important than ever to hold onto relationships like that.
How do you care for yourself? A quote we have been referencing and re-referencing is by Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.”
On days when I feel mentally heavy, I’ll paint more than usual to de-clutter my thoughts and it really has a way of zenning me out. Having an outlet to express myself and communicate what’s on my mind through art is a necessity. I try not to hold too much inside but when talking with someone isn’t the solution, letting it out through a paint brush or clay is my kind of release.
I try not to put too much pressure on myself to have to be some sort of “voice of reason” or feel like I have to know the answers. I am working on being patient with myself. That has taken a really long time. It’s hard to take the time you need to figure out what you want to do in life. Recently I finished a whole collection and I was photographing pieces and started to add them on my website and then I just had this ah-ha moment: I don’t connect with this. So I went back to the wheel and started making a whole new collection. I feel like even a year ago I would never have done that. I am trying to be better at trusting my gut. I think that translates to a lot of life. You can’t depend fully on what you think other people will respond to or connect with…you have to take the time to listen to yourself. And if that means that’s a month of not having new things in your shop…then that’s okay.
It didn’t come naturally to me to dive into being an “independent creative” and leaving my job. It felt like the right thing to do at the time…and it wasn’t easy at all. I had to force myself to take a next step. But I do think there is a call to action that once you see outside the situation you are in, you have to question whether it’s worth it to stick to it or to break out and try something new.