Originally from Zambia, Henry is a focused and self-driven individual, actively taking the opportunities and skills life grants him. After experiencing a harsh upbringing, he strives to constantly improve himself in a variety of ways and engage in numerous fields.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
In what sense?
In whatever sense you want to introduce yourself, as an artist, or as a person.
Okay, uhm, my name is Henry, Henry Chikoti, artist name Henry Kry, you can check me out on Instagram. I’m an upcoming artist, I like to call myself a professional artist, cause it gives me the sense that I’m in the field, doing what I want to do. Sculpture and installation is my forte, started with drawing and painting, and I enjoy working with human figure more than anything as an artist, and I enjoy depicting what I find my reality to be with a touch of surrealism I’d say.
What year are you in?
I’m in 3rd year, I’m 21 years old, I just turned 21 actually.
How was your OCAD experience so far?
OCAD experience is good, its great as long as you make it great.
So teachers are as good as you make them to be right? They may seem like hard asses, they’re only as great as you take their word to be. Their word is only as great as you take it. The OCAD experience has been great for the most part, I take all the criticisms as things I should work on.
When you talk about the profs — you’re basically saying that their word is only as significant as you make it, so if you don’t care about their opinion, it is no longer significant.
Not necessarily saying that, but yeah I’ll say yes; the reason why, because let’s say me and you are talking together and the professor knows what they’re talking about. You as a person that just came to me, you might know what you’re talking about, but me shunning that off is like essentially shunning that professor off, you know what I mean? I look at everyone in an equal stance, but then with my professors, I look at them in a higher academic point, thus I prefer not to shun their opinion off, where as I can be more stubborn with other students.
So other students may not have the right to be critical of you work as much as your profs?
Do you believe in the significance of a post-secondary art education?
Yes and no, at the same time. Reason why, I, personally, feel like if I was not in art school, I would still do what I’m doing; it’s me mainly through hard work getting what I’m getting, but at the same time, without having post-secondary education, I wouldn’t have met many great teachers, you know? I wouldn’t have met amazing professional and intermediate artists, I wouldn’t have met these future & upcoming artists of tomorrow, thus I find it very necessary and I find that having that post secondary school is great in a sense that yes, it helps you open up. Having said that, I have um, access to foundries that I wouldn’t have had access to and would have difficulty getting access to if I wasn’t here.
So yeah, I’d say yes and no. Yes, in the fact that I get a lot of access to resources, and no, in that my own hard work can enable me to achieve what I want.
You’re from South Africa, right? Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Yeah sure, long story short, I was born in Zambia and my father is European and my mother is African. I moved to South Africa at the age of 4 and have lived there for about 12 to 14 years. Then, I moved here to Canada to Prince Edward Island, and now I’m in Toronto.
How was the transition?
I’m one of those people who kind of switched and moved from school to school often, and I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really care about anyone or getting to know the community as much.
Would you say that you were more focused on work?
Leaving South Africa, I found that an opportunity had been given to me, and I felt like I knew that I was going to move around quite a bit. Therefore, I was like, okay let’s just take this opportunity and focus on my studies, rather than focusing on making friends and then losing them, and then making friends again and then losing them.. you know what I mean?
Yeah of course.
Now I’m here and staying in Toronto for a bit, and I’m actually using this time to make connections and settle down. To get to know people as I did before I started moving around.
Do you believe your background somehow influences your art?
Oh yeah! I lived in South Africa. Johannesburg. It’s a local area, people might know it as Hillbrow. This is bad term to use, but it’s more of the ghetto. That’s where I lived – and living there opened my eyes to seeing the world in a perspective that I find children should not see. I had to, in a sense, grow up faster than many people. I have the mentality of not being robbed for instance, but that’s another aspect, not going to talk about that. I learnt to mature up fast enough and that has a play in my art. ‘Cause I would enjoy, and even right now, I would enjoy having influence on how I saw mainly South Africa to be, my area and my location. Not through others eyes, but through mine alone.
May I ask why you moved to South Africa?
From Zambia to South Africa? Um, so my father, biological father – I have a step father, he’s the greatest guy alive ever, but my biological father left us. Me and my mum. When I was young, and my mom wanted to get something better and then we moved to South Africa. And in that sense, South Africa was better than Zambia, you know?
And does that have an effect on your work as well?
Where does your interest in human figures come from?
With African art, a lot of it, it’s represented in figures and dance for instance. In South Africa I went to an art school called National School of the Arts, and it was comprised of art, dance, drama & music. And these are the 4 main elements of African art on its own. And yes, you can also say that for Western art, but then this type of art has a huge and high influence, and most African work is depicted through these mediums. And thus I found myself to be more skilled at the artistic drawing aspect of it, and I thought “Hey, I’d like to convey my art through drawing and painting,” but then I switched from Drawing & Painting to Sculpture & Installation, but I still wanted to keep my figures. Because I used to draw figures, I could still have a sense of them and a sense of main depiction of African art through figures. Right now, I’m making a collection. It’s similar to the seven deadly sins but then it’s more called ‘Developing World.” And, through my eyes, these are a few of many things that help developing nations grow. I have a rope piece, if you’ve seen my website, that represents overpopulation. That’s a factor. And then I have this aluminum piece that I’m currently working on, will be finished by the end of the month, and that to me is about protection, protectionism and security.
Do you have a specific medium you prefer to work with?
I personally find that as artists, we have to have connections to what we do. Some artists work is in a certain material, and they master these materials, but for me I find that I want to make the same pieces, or look-alike pieces, in different materials. So I have the rope piece, the aluminum piece and I have a chain piece that I’m currently working on. You can currently see the head on my Instagram, and I want to make a silicon piece that represents a figure, an actual looking figure, with fleshy tone. I work with multiple materials. The way I look at it is the seven deadly sins, each sin is connected, but then they’re different in the sense that they have their individual problems, and that’s how I look at my art with mediums. I enjoy breaking the same form, or very similar form but with different materials, textures etc.
Have you ever gotten an unexpected reaction from an audience to any of your work?
Most of the time, when I do my work, I tend to add a touch of emphasis in my pieces, especially when I know I’m going to use it for something in the future, like this collection. But then if I know I’m not going to use it, I’m not going to put a whole lot of effort and thus I can get a bit of bad feedback. But honestly I’m the kind of person that’s just neutral, whether I get good comments or not, I’m neutral. I’ll take it into consideration. Today actually I was talking to my professor and was asking him for his feedback. I’m making a head model and I was putting scars in, and he said it looks more like an engraving, like a character build, and I didn’t know how to take it. But at the same time, feedback like this, for an important collection, makes me rethink my entire source and everything that I’m doing. In this case, having this one about corruption. Yeah I can say that it was a bummer, but at the same time useful. I’m not good with good comments though. I’m the type of person that prefers to get hard shit, you know? Like I’m hard on myself, so yeah. I prefer people talking to me about what I could’ve done better rather than ‘hey yeah I like this about your piece’.
If you had a million dollars what would you do?
I would invest the money, I enjoy stocks. I currently have a company that I’m working on, I would invest money in that. I wish I could start a school with a million dollars, but I can’t. Like an art academy or something, but that’s not possible. I would save most of it and then would go buy a studio, without anyone to complain. Not in Toronto, I’d look for a city that’s cheap as hell.
If you weren’t an artist, what other jobs do you see yourself doing?
Psychology. Either psychology or engineering.
Those are very different, one is all about math and the other is very conceptual.
It sounds really odd, eh? I always enjoyed entrepreneurship, more than anything business, but I’ve always looked it as a second choice. Art was my first first, psychology was my second first, and engineering was my third first and business is my second, my second first. Now that I think of it, I have a second second, which would be philosophy.
— Interview by Hanin Zaki
— Photography by Zhuoqing Tan