Multidisciplinary Contemporary Artist: Ellex Swavoni
Updated: Jun 28, 2019
Photo courtesy of Ellex Swavoni.
Ellex Swavoni is a multidisciplinary contemporary artist and sculptor. She sculpts the idea of being who you are through her process of discovering the universal truths of life.
In what moment were you first aware of your artistic ability?
ELLEX: I was probably about four or five...always drawing. My mother would buy me crafts sets. Easy Bake ovens.
How was the journey of embracing your creativity?
ELLEX: It was natural, almost like speaking.
Did you always know this will be your creative path?
ELLEX: No I just realized this as a career path. I was a graphic design major in college. Did not consider I can make art and make a living.
What purpose does your artistic expression serve for you?
ELLEX: It’s a way to consolidate my feelings and philosophies of the world. It is like creating data.
What mediums do you naturally gravitate towards?
ELLEX: Music and clay.
Can you tell me a little bit about your sculptures?
ELLEX: I make sculptures...It started when I was 8 years old. I discovered art toys via the internet. In 2015 figured out how to put money towards making it....The women upper body figures is the Sage series. It’s a character and exercise...I created characters that were based on phrases I heard over and over again in my upbringing. Be as innocent as a bird and as wise as a snake. Don't be anybody's fool but be kind...I just wanted to take those phrases and make them into an image that represented that.
What does your creative process entail?
ELLEX: Binge and purge. I binge on information. I write a whole lot. I might do some thumbnails. Then I just get clay and just make it.
What message do you hope to relay to your audience?
ELLEX: Hmmm. Good question. Its complex but I think overall the message I’m trying to get through is an introspective message. It's a call for people to become more aware of themselves internally and translate what information they receive externally from their environment into something that is valuable internally. Also. I lately have been trying to put a face to a different energy I have experienced. An image to the idea of what it feels like to grow. Kind of creating a logo or symbol for something I experienced.
How do viewers typically respond to your art?
ELLEX: Respond really well. Dope and positive. So inspiring. I often hear its very inspiring.
How are you able to get such precision
ELLEX: I use a building process. Not sculpting not as much as building. I’m using tools. Metal tools. Sandpaper. Exacto knives.
Can you tell me about a significant moment in your artistic career?
ELLEX: A lot’s been going on. Being an independent artist..at first I was a part of future artists...now I am coming into my own...I guess when I realized how much I was worth. I think I have a chance and ability to communicate to your people. Miya bailey reached out to me. Miya Bailey offered me my first show. I was Eugene’s apprentice so I offered loyalty to him.
How does it feel to have renowned artists reach out to you?
ELLEX: It was really weird.. It was really early. I sold and had to go home and make more art. Miya had never seen any of my work up close. He complimented my work and offered me my own show.
In what ways is your art directly related to you and your life versus the world and society?
ELLEX: It relates to me because it’s my perception. And it relates to the world because I think that I'm translating something that is universal. I’m not alienating anyone with my work. Really spiritual and human both ways and human beings want to connect. For a long time as a teenager I was looking for God and in that I found the Qabala. Krishna vishnu. Buddha. African Religions. Anunnaki. Egyptian Stuff. Mythos. All the ancient religions and ancient imagery…. Aztec. There is only one universal truth. My stuff looks both African and Aztec .. My work looks like it comes from the Earth. God must be in the cracks. God’s in between everything. Each story is told over and over again. Everywhere. One universe. One truth. We don't know what it is but it's somewhere out there.
Are there periods of time in Black History that inspire your work?
ELLEX: Hip hop and the Harlem Renaissance for the most part. The Harlem Renaissance just because the financial empowerment. It's really important to me, financial empowerment. Hiphop because hip hop pretty much raised my perspective. Like my concepts, my brand and how to profit off of creativity comes from hip hop. I make music. I make beats.
In a sense, can your art rewrite history?
ELLEX: Probably yeah. Because I think that right now there’s like this overbearing energy of separation ...there is a reason for separation. But ultimately as a species, the best way for us to exist there needs a certain type of harmony and unity. I think that the work that I’m creating is gonna get to a point where anyone can see themselves in it.
How does being a Black Woman Artist living in Atlanta feel? And in what ways do you receive support from the community?
ELLEX: I don't know. I don’t have enough information because I am new to this. To be honest, most of my supporters are male. And women have been really supportive too. Tiffany Fick purchased one of my pieces.
How does your art add to the contemporary Black Arts movement?
ELLEX: I don't even know. I haven’t done enough research to answer.
Can you comment on the Black Woman Experience and how it is expressed through the arts.
ELLEX: It’s a really complicated question. It’s deep. The experience of black women is slightly different across classes and across the board ...It’s so complicated because the smallest thing as the color of your skin and the ring of your hair...people of darker complexion..texture...some type of class have harder suffering...society suppresses you, suppress each other. A lot to heal a lot to to heal with ourselves relationships with men. I think that although these things exist they are being coped and dealt with. I know that black women are the most educated in America. We have the most education. Our earning power is ridiculous. We have a lot of power. We are pretty dangerous. We have to be. And we have been like that and had to do it to stand up for ourselves. I have only seen strength from black women all the way around. And it make sense that that power is being personified on a larger level….
Would you say that there are now more ways for Black Women artists to find mentorship, display their work, and gain community in Atlanta and can you share how?
ELLEX: Yes, I’ve only been in the scene for a short amount of time. All you have to do is ask. The internet makes everybody available. If you have the guts to ask you’re either gonna get no, silence, or a yes. If you ask for free mentorship you’re going to get it. Just ended an apprenticeship. People are very open to showing female work. All you have to do is submit. There are different curators you know. C.brooks. She-hero show. A lot of female owned galleries. Tila studios.
How does your identity influence your artwork
ELLEX: Gender and sexuality not so much. But in terms of race --- looking for divinity in myself and looking to religions outside of what's provisional in America. And looking at the African diaspora. Spirituality has influenced my work more than anything. Egypt and West Africa.
In what ways does your work relate to social justice?
ELLEX: I don't think it’s related to the route I’m going down
Have you ever experienced discrimination against your race or gender?
ELLEX: Yeah. Of course. A couple things have happened. Regular things in America. Firecrackers thrown at me. Someone spit in my face. I’ve been called the N word. I had to quit my job because I was referred to as the ‘help’ at my job...one of my bosses put her hands in my afro and said “ I love your wild woman hair.” I hated working for a company.
How can black women artists defy stereotypes
ELLEX: I don't even think that's a route an artists should go down to express something or defy a statement. Like the angry black woman thing. First of foremost … Because if we are angry we have the right to be because of the oppression from so many angles. I don’t think we should try to erase any stereotypes. Just be an artist and express yourself.
Are there any current social or political events that have evoked emotions for you, how do they make you feel?
ELLEX: So much going on. I have gone numb to shit. Last major thing I was a part of was the Kaepernick thing. It was bittersweet. She was happy I was able to sustain myself. The reason why he kneeled still hasn't been resolved. Happy for him but shit still hasn't been resolved for us. It’s the age of spin. Narcissistic behavior on a national scale. The powers are able to manipulate the narrative and completely deter you from the true issue. Its narcissistic behavior on a corporate scale. We are talking about human beings right now. The NFL is going down. People are not watching. People are not allowing their child to play.
In what ways do you use your voice or platform to speak up against current events in the media?
ELLEX: I can't act dumb to be honest. I probably should start doing that more. And I will. I probably wont do it with art. I will probably do it with education. I think a lot of the problems that can be healed by being introspective and internal healing is financial empowerment. If we have more leverage financially we won't have to tolerate much. You know what I mean.
How do you think artists can expand their work and receive proper recognition for their talent?
ELLEX: First of all just worry about being dope and and being really good. Being really serious about your craft. Showing it on social media. Showing by advertising. Spending money on it. Look for a philosophy. People make art to just to make art and it's fine because its for you. I think the greatest artists have some type of philosophy that they are reaching for or practicing. Andy Warhol had philosophy that informed everything that she does. And I'm still looking for mine and I want to find something that explains me to the core.
What pieces of advice can you give to aspiring Black Women artists?
ELLEX: I’m so fresh i feel like a kid telling a kid what to do. Just worry about being yourself and about your craft. If you're that good. No one can deny it. As an artist you don't have to sell yourself. Just your work. If your philosophy and work is strong no one can deny it. I don't post pictures on social media of myself anymore because I don't want to. I don’t want to be famous. I want the work to speak for itself.
What kind of future do you see for the Black Arts movement?
ELLEX: It's going to takeover. It's going to just as big if not bigger than hip hop. It's the next revolutionary wave ... Hip hop has hit every corner of the goddamn globe. Dance has hit also. The culture is ridiculous. The last wave that hasn't been empowered as much as everything else is art. Atlanta right now has so much brilliance brewing. And when the world finds out about it will just blow. BOOM!
Transcript by Samiyah Malik.