A Brush With Identity

A Brush With Identity
  • Written by
  • Dyani Van Basten Batenburg

Drawing on Life

New Zealand artist, Sofia Minson, talks contradiction, diversity and intuition

“Your art will find its audience. There are eight billion people on the planet. Not everyone has to love what you do. But someone will.” – Sofia Minson

With her mane of red hair and freckles, and fun-loving air of joie de vivre, you’d be forgiven for likening renowned New Zealand artist Sofia Minson to a modern-day Pippi Longstocking. And, whilst their characters are centuries apart in storytelling, their journeys intrinsically entwine in adventure, spirit and heart. Neither content to call just one place home, one identity her own – instead connecting with all corners of the earth and embracing shifts in inspiration.

“Being born with mixed whakapapa, that links me to ancestors and relatives all around the globe, has meant that even if I wanted to, I haven’t been able to identify with one perspective or group in terms of culture of history,” says Sofia. “My hair, freckles and strong Māori heritage have afforded me the canvas – and space – to heal some of the contradictory parts of who I am.”

Carving connections, seeking solace Bequest with a unique blueprint of Ngāti Porou Māori, Irish, English and Swedish lineage, and having travelled the world extensively throughout childhood – Sri Lanka, Samoa, China – it wasn’t until she embarked on a Kiwi pilgrimage that Sofia strengthened her roots.

“The Bay of Plenty and East Cape have been grounding for me over the years – my mum was born in Opotiki, we spent summers at Ohope beach,” explains Sofia. “The flipside of having my eyes open to other cultures is that I found it difficult to settle back into life here in Aotearoa. So, in my 20s I took my first pilgrimage to Hikurangi and Waiapu – the mountain and river sacred to my tīpuna. After a soulful sunrise experience on Hikurangi I received a whole lot of inspiration for new paintings.”

“The Navigators” was the first to be born in a long series of Sofia’s works, the most recent being “Hikurangi Rising” which features the Waiapu river swirling into the ocean, met by whales and playful dolphins.

“My connection to the gifts and wisdom of my ancestors was strengthened by that first and many subsequent road trips I’ve made to the East Cape. I believe that as we heal ourselves, we heal our lineages.”

No black and white

Cultural appreciation coupled with a desire to shirk societal conformity, has gifted Sofia the freedom to paint intuitively – and unhindered in her pursuit to capture the marvels, mysteries and paradoxes of the universe.

“I am playful, spontaneous and led by my right brain in the studio. As a piece starts to form, my pattern recognition and narrative forming left brain kicks in. I start to see symbols and threads within the piece that are highly synchronous and contain potent messages,” she explains. “When a painting is finished, and I get to stand back and soak it all in, I begin to write the story about the piece and give it a title.”

Find your own footing

Sofia’s advice to would-be artists, here and abroad, painter or performer – all artist mediums inclusive?

“I think artists should live and create from whatever place they are drawn to. Trust your body and intuition about where you need to be. Paradigms of learning and doing business are swiftly changing. If everyone isn’t co- creating in commercial or educational relationships and profiting happily, something’s got to change. Perhaps you have a map to a new way of educating yourself and a new model of doing business that is true for you?” she enthuses. “Living in abundance is about learning to ride the waves of money coming in and money going out. Gone are the Van Gogh days of cutting off our ears and living in squalor.”

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