Where does one begin, when it comes to a woman like Aleesha? My decade-long love affair with her evolving artistic practice has been such a reward for me as her friend, but also as a consumer of her art.
Aleesha's previous projects in poetry and photography are seductive in my eyes, and her recently released book ‘Renaissance' is imbued with the same sensual intrigue. C
“So much like the rose, you are radiance unfelled, you are lure unparalleled, you are begging to be held” — capturing the temptation of her words, in her own words.
I’ve read over this interview countless times. It's like a love letter to my soul. It’s real, it’s beautiful. Enjoy.
How are you feeling at the moment?
I’m feeling many things, most of which are positive. Leo Season has activated my bold side which is refreshing. I tend to ping pong between a devastatingly private recluse and a completely exposed exhibitionist. Right now I’m leaning into the latter and it’s more fun.
On a personal level, I’m feeling transformative. There’s change afoot which is both exciting and daunting - but more than anything it’s awfully necessary.
Otherwise, I’ve been enjoying the slower pace of life this year. The virus has been terrible but it’s also forced us to collectively slow down and create space which is important - and we seemed increasingly unable to do it before.
Earlier this year, you were invited to spend time in residence at Chateau de Orquevaux in France. You got halfway there and this worldwide health pandemic hit— tell me about the change of plans and how you ended up spending your time in quarantine.
Ah, yes. My long-awaited and highly-anticipated artist’s residency at Chateau d’Orquevaux.
I was on the ground at Dubai Airport, connecting to Paris, when I received an email from my hotel - subject line ‘this is your cancellation notice’ - telling me not to come (if possible) because France was about to lockdown indefinitely. I had 10 minutes to either board the plane or request that the airline pull my luggage and end my journey there in Dubai.
I came home, a decision that tortured me afterwards for a couple of months. I’m a big believer in cosmic timing. I have faith in ‘everything happens for a reason the way it’s supposed to’. Look, we still must try - we must do everything in our power to manifest what we want - but if it’s not meant to be, it simply will not be. Yet still I struggled with the idea that I’d made a mistake.
In quarantine I read a lot and I watched old films and anime. I threw myself into creativity as a means of therapy. I’d expected to write but I found myself drawn to the new camera I’d purchased for the trip. Each morning I’d wake up and instead of reaching for the pen and paper, I’d reach for that camera and create self-portraits and visual diaries of my life in quarantine. I valued the narrative and the simplicity of my routine and rituals. I found great beauty in my creature comforts and filmed it all to share. Creating with the camera was immensely pleasurable.
When we went into lockdown, I feel like a lot of people set the intention to use that time to make art, finish projects or explore new ways of creating. From where I’m sitting, it seems like you did all of these things! Am I right?
I definitely did. I’d been waiting quite some time for my residency in France - that precious break to live as a full-time artist with no other responsibilities or distractions. When France didn’t eventuate, it was important for me to still use that time as intended. I may not have been in the Chateau, and that was a crushing blow, but to make excuses and waste that time would have been unforgivable. I didn’t miss a beat and, amazingly, it changed the trajectory of my life.
I thought I’d be a writer. I am and always will be, but I had this idea that I would be a professional writer, full-time, day-in and day-out. I held on very tightly to that idea and it was deeply sewn into my ego, my pride and my identity. I couldn’t let it go no matter how turbulent my relationship with writing was. And it was, and still is, turbulent. I have wrestled madly with this wild love/hate for years.
Quarantine opened my eyes to something:
Writing, for me, is like the fiery lover you can’t quite pin down. Elusive and perpetually unattainable no matter how many times you take it to bed, the lover is tempestuous - coming and going on a whim, bringing pleasure and pain. I was begging it to be something it’s not and feeling hopeless when it wouldn’t change to suit me. I just need to take it as it comes.
On the other hand, photography, for me, is the marrying type. It’s the one I can wake up next to every morning and go to sleep next to every night. It’s a steady love with spectacular moments of abundance and joy. It’s a thrilling and satisfying challenge. It is something I can do every single day and I’m left feeling happy and accomplished.
Funny thing is, this was quite evident when I was creating Renaissance, I just couldn’t see it.
Your book, Renaissance is a beautiful collection of poetry and 35mm film photography. What was the genesis of some of the poems? Were they written specifically for the book or were they collected over time?
Most of the poems were collected over time. Some date back 5 years or more and I never dreamed of sharing them. I used to write privately - not even my husband had read my poetry until 2018. No one had. I was in this nonsensical place of wanting to be a writer but not wanting to ever be exposed. It took years to overcome my fear of being seen in that way. On my 30th birthday (Nov 2017), my husband bought me a typewriter. It was a great source of inspiration and motivation - I’m obsessed with old things and the old world. This perfectly enchanted typewriter gave me a new lease on life. In 2018 I decided to share my work on Instagram under an alias.
The energy around writing and sharing and engaging was powerful. I was writing so much that poems were exploding out of all my notebooks and draws, they were stuck all over my walls and strewn across the floor of my office. One day I realised there was plenty enough to create a body of work. I’ve been collecting coffee table books for about a decade and always dreamed (and still dream) of making my own. So I started sorting and organising, culling and editing, and writing some new poems specifically for Renaissance.
The title poem, Renaissance - Sonnet I, was very intentionally made for the book. The inclusion of a sonnet was important to me. Poetry is not easily defined but the technical requirements of a sonnet are clear and particular. I needed to prove to myself that I could write it. Renaissance was a mostly selfish project - it was born of my need to prove a great many things to myself, about myself, for myself. And in that sense, it was a tremendous success.
We catch a glimpse of some really raw photography in Renaissance and you’ve really channeled that into your recent photo work. What feelings are you looking to evoke through your photography?
The primary themes in most of my work, across poetry and photography, are tied up in beauty, intimacy, eroticism, darkness, love and desire. It’s all that cliche Scorpio profiling but it rings true!
I’d like to capture more men, but my passion lies in photographing women. Women are so painfully mysterious, versatile and layered. In Renaissance I explored the ways that women can be both strong and soft simultaneously. There’s this innate tenderness that may or may not be accessible to you through a potent air of intensity and wisdom. Women are mystical and magical and incredibly rewarding to work with.
The exception is shooting families, which I also do for business, where my priority is capturing laughter and light and the beautiful connection between parents and their children. I hope to freeze time and give these families a moment that they can keep, just as it was then.
No matter what style I’m shooting, I care about authenticity. I direct but I rarely pose my subjects unless the job calls for it. I want people to look and feel like they do in person, in real life. Oftentimes, at the end of a shoot, people will say to me “oh wow that was really easy and relaxed” and that is my favourite thing to hear.
In terms of art, what are you working on behind the scenes at the moment?
On the business side of my art, I’m studying photography. I’m self-taught so far and while practice and experimentation are the best teachers, I want more. I want to be more.
On the fun side of my art … stay tuned! I have a new idea I’m currently unpacking. It’s still early in the concept phase, meaning it lives only in my imagination right now. Knowing how much it will evolve and change I don’t want to make any promises. But it’s multi-faceted, across multiple disciplines - photography, poetry, film, music. It’s quite ambitious!
I’ve also been writing songs and pairing them with tracks I blindly mess together in GarageBand, ha!
I’m so excited to share your curated Spotify playlist with the Mabel community. How has music influenced the way you write and photograph?
Music is and always has been my single greatest influence. I was lucky to grow up in a house where music played around the clock. Good music, too. Most of my favourite writers are actually lyricists. My love of words bloomed from great songwriters - Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash - as a child I couldn’t believe what they did with the shapes and the sounds of words, how they could tell such detailed stories and evoke such sincere emotion.
The road to poetry was paved by artists like Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen and more recently, Florence Welch. These names are by no means a definitive list but you begin to see where I’m coming from.
I’m drawn to all things dramatic and theatrical, so it’s crucial for me to play music while I write and shoot. It’s usually classical, instrumental, or foreign artists so I don’t get lost in someone else’s daydream. I need to lose myself in my own daydreams! The absence of lyrics certainly helps in that sense.
The playlist gives you a more comprehensive look at the music that inspires and motivates me, but even that process of selecting ‘a few’ (100...) songs was tough for me! It only just chips away at the surface of my musical influences and my tastes. Don’t be surprised if that playlist continues to quietly grow in the background.
What’s your favourite song at the moment?
Fuck Bec, are you trying to kill me?! Ha! Choose one?!
This is not my favourite song, but it is a song that I believe everyone should listen to and learn from. It’s on the playlist. A personal prayer, a sacred text, an epic mantra for the ages.
Funkadelic - Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts
Travel like a king
Listen to the inner voice
A higher wisdom is at work for you
Conquering the stumbling blocks come easier
When the conqueror is in tune with the infinite
Every ending is a new beginning
Life is an endless unfoldment
Change your mind, and you change your relation to time
You can find the answer
The solution lies within the problem
The answer is in every question
An attitude is all you need to rise and walk away
Your life is yours
It fits you like your skin
The oak sleeps in the acorn
The giant sequoia tree sleeps in its tiny seed
The bird waits in the egg
God waits for his unfoldment in man
Fly on, children
You gravitate to that which you secretly love most
You meet in life the exact reproduction of your own thoughts
There is no chance, coincidence or accident
In a world ruled by law and divine order
You rise as high as your dominant aspiration
You descend to the level of your lowest concept of yourself
Free your mind and your ass will follow
The infinite intelligence within you knows the answers
Its nature is to respond to your thoughts
Be careful of the thought-seeds you plant in the garden of your mind
For seeds grow after their kind
Play on, children
Every thought felt as true
Or allowed to be accepted as true by your conscious mind
Take roots in your subconscious
Blossoms sooner or later into an act
And bears its own fruit
Good thoughts bring forth good fruit
Bullshit thoughts rot your meat
Think right, and you can fly
The kingdom of heaven is within
Free your mind, and your ass will follow
Play on, children
Sing on, lady
Follow Aleesha on Instagram: @aleeshamayroebig