Matt Hong/ Highlander
Matt Hong/ Highlander

Kaliah Hekima, a fourth-year art major and creative writing minor, sits across from me: She is reserved, but definitely not shy. After conversing for only a few minutes, as each of her words are carefully weighed before they are uttered, I immediately sense a high level of creativity. She is a painter and a poet, an artist working in the two forms she believes are most expressive.

Hekima’s introduction to art began at an incredibly young age: “I was an only child growing up, and so when I was a kid my mom buy me paints by numbers sets and art supplies, so I just got into drawing and painting as a kid.” Her childhood upbringing nurtured this creativity: “I used to actually draw characters and write stories to go with them.” While this creativity was nurtured at a young age, it was certainly developed through her engagement with multiple artistic mediums.

This engagement became a singular outlet for her, which led her to poetry. As a teenager, Hekima increasingly turned to writing as a means of dealing with personal and family issues. “I felt like I just wasn’t being heard, so I used to have this journal that I would write in. Just writing about how I felt.”

Hekima wanted to stress, however, that her writing is not expressly political, but revolves around a personal element, claiming, “Well in my writing I like writing about my experiences and discovering more about myself. I found that in writing I uncover a lot more about myself, and I come to an  understanding of things that happen to me that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

For Hekima, her work has not just an aesthetic dimension, but a practical one — it serves as a medium to explore the larger human condition. The evolution of her painting and drawing began when she started working primarily on portraits claiming that she wised to focus on black representation. As a student of art history she felt that the black community was either not represented, or when it was, it was misrepresented. “In classic painting and art history you don’t necessarily learn about too many black artists. I was trying to insert my own place into that world, and to just kind of provide a representation of black people that was not necessarily skewed, because we are either unrepresented or misrepresented. I want our truth to be told. Now it has become more specific, pertaining toward me exploring myself.”

She added that one of her favorite artists is Fred Wilson, an artist who works in installation art, mainly focussing on institutional critiques of eurocentric museums and galleries. However, while Hekima was definitely inspired by Wilson, she stated her work was more personal, and explored herself as a person, instead of focussing on larger institutional forces.

Painting and poetry are the twin mediums she uses for expression: One personal, the other communal. For Hekima, both forms create a binary between the private and the public which grounds her work.


Be sure to watch Kaliah Hekima’s RADAR Sessions performance on YouTube at HighlanderTV