top of page
  • Writer's pictureMerle Emrich

“Art Always Finds Its Little Space”

On an afternoon in late May, I enter a mostly empty space at Bellevue köpcentrum, Malmö. At the center of the room stands a seat that matches the dark orange of the floor, and the paintings line the walls carrying titles in English, Oshiwambo, and Swedish. Ino Ati—a Malmö-based artist, originally from Namibia—sits by one of the large windows that let in the sunlight. Ino and I met in 2022 when we took a Swedish exam at Sfi (Swedish for Immigrants) together. We recently reconnected while he was planning his Irregular Circles exhibition—yet another irregular circle, he says.

The store we are in, which has been standing empty for a long time and which Ino hopes Stena Fastigheter is going to continue to use for more cultural events, consists of a large room and a smaller backroom. Ino uses the bigger room to showcase scenes from Sweden, including his neighborhood Bellevuegården. When a couple walks in, they take a look around and recognize some of the places he has painted. “You should talk to the housing company that owns the buildings in this area,” one of them suggests. “They should let you paint murals on the buildings to bring more color and liven up the area.”

The smaller room is reserved for paintings linked to Namibia. They depict animals, landscapes cast in mesmerizing light, and family members. Cow skulls feature in more than one of the paintings, and Ino explains: “Cows are important in my culture so, we keep the skulls.” As we talk about his art and painting in general, he reflects on the separation between the ‘Swedish’ and the ‘Namibian’ paintings. 

Onjila (2021) by Ino Ati
Onjila (2021)

“I am trying to engage people in a conversation,” Ino says, “and to do so, you have to start with something that they can relate to. This is why the paintings showing Sweden, which is familiar, are in the first room, and then in the second room is something new and unfamiliar.” He tells me about previous experiences when he attempted to include scenes from Namibia among the paintings he showcased but the places that exhibited his art were only interested in Swedish motifs. “Here, some people like the Swedish paintings and are entirely uninterested in the second room—which is fine—but there are also people who love those paintings. I would like to have them in the same room together because they are not opposites or disconnected. Maybe, next time, I will show them next to each other.”

Ino points out one of the works in the smaller room: A drawing in black ink on paper. Intricate, interwoven lines form a face, and the longer I look at it, the more details emerge. In a way, this drawing is the beginning. “Painting is making me see different things. But I first had to get into myself to get out of myself,” Ino tells me. “For the longest time, I was focused on business. I used to make music as well but then I stopped and only dealt with it in terms of business managing artists. But I changed and opened up to different things.” Then, in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ino applied for a visa to come to Sweden. One day, he found himself sitting outside an office sketching lines forming a face on a piece of paper. He realized that what he was drawing was actually quite good which led to him picking up a paint brush for the first time since primary school.

Irregular Circle (2020) by Ino Ati
Irregular Circle (2020)

I ask him why he is painting; and what it is about art that makes him return to the canvas over and over again. “I don’t want to talk,” Ino explains and thereby inadvertently points out the irony of our conversation. “I want to tell things without telling them. So, I paint.” He continues to explain that it is less important to him whether people like or dislike his art than that they have some reaction to it: “One time, a lady told me that she had to switch off her phone when she saw one of my darker paintings on Instagram because it was so disturbing. And that was the best compliment. I put myself in a very dark place to paint it and she felt what I felt and wanted to express when I painted it.”

“Sometimes I can’t say what I feel but I can show it. I want to depict what I paint as accurately as I feel it. But at the same time, what I depict is not known to me, yet,” he elaborates. “In a way, it is an obsession with communicating something to the world, and sometimes people don’t get what I want to express. So, I have to come back to it and sit down and think about how I can communicate it better. I tried to be more upfront and tried to paint something that can be seen as disturbing but people didn’t like that because they just focused on what they saw, and not what I felt. It made me feel unheard and I needed to repeat what I wanted to express differently.”

We’re sitting by the window now and he points towards the paintings on the opposite wall: A snowy street, a bus passing by, rain pelting down on a road, a park glowing orange with fallen leaves covering the paths. “If you look at the paintings of Sweden, some people might just see them as aesthetically pleasing but when I paint them, I am processing things. I finally opened up to what Sweden is to me and where I fit in.”

He pauses and shrugs. “And sometimes, I just love to paint.”

Irregular Circles

Ino’s exhibition is centered on the concept of irregular circles but “it is not about karma or destiny,” Ino explains. “It is irregular. It has a form and it has none. It is about concepts that keep coming back and have formed me into who I am.” How he decided on the exhibition title is an irregular circle in its own right since the concept first emerged from conversations Ino had with a friend about patterns and repetitions. “It was in the back of my mind until I painted Ska vi prata? and concepts in the painting started to repeat themselves. Things from the past came back and I started to understand them.”

Ska vi prata? (2024) by Ino Ati
Ska vi prata? (2024)

For Ino, the concept of irregular circles is “a futuristic way of looking at life. It’s as much about the present as it is about the past and the future. It is about standing in the present all while looking at either the future or the past.” He illustrates the concept with an anecdote about a visitor who came to the exhibition and who seemed to Ino as if he was himself from the future. “So, I asked him whether spending time creating art was worth the time and he said it was.” 

“I think about mortality a lot,” he explains his question, “and the lines that separate what we know and don’t know. Not because I am afraid of death but the little window of realization that one might have before crossing over and that it might be ‘Damn, I wasted my time doing this or that.’ But for as long as I keep painting, I feel like that won’t be the case. This isn’t a calling—I don’t take myself that seriously—it is simply a pacifier that happens to be sprinkled with devotion, self-actualization, and curiosity.”

Coming back to the concept of irregular circles, Ino says that “the things we look at, the things we interact with, occasionally are windows to the past or the future. And that’s how I view my paintings as well; they are windows into the past, the present, and the future. And you can look at the future and still see the past.”

In that sense painting is a superpower. And for Ino “that superpower is time travel among other things. It allows me to time travel, shapeshift and even vanish because, when I paint, I stop occupying the space I am occupying physically and go somewhere else and get to rest even if it is not always restful.”

Looking at painting from this perspective, it is more than a form of expression to Ino but a way of looking at and understanding the world as well as himself by breaking down what he engages with and building it back up. “And this, in turn, breaks me down and builds me back up. Not always back to the original state but as an irregular circle. And we don’t know what the original state was anyway.”

Where I Am Home

The location of Ino’s exhibition “is not the art center of Malmö,” Ino admits. “But it is where I am home—it is humble and unpretentious. And as a person who already struggles with identity and belonging, this exhibition has made me feel more connected with my community.” More than that, he contributes to uplifting culture in the area and to promoting cultural events in Bellevuegården. 

“At the same time, I’m not here to save the world. If that happens at the same time that I am doing what I do, great! But I’m under no illusion. The reason why I am having this exhibition is that I want to express myself—simple as that,” Ino tells me. “I came to this country from very far away and it is important to me to have a voice, and my voice is louder visually than it is verbally. This was my opportunity to raise my voice a little bit, to tell a story that I never imagined would be heard. And in the most selfish way—which I am not ashamed of—it has freed my mind up creatively to do other things. I now no longer care about showing people Africa or Sweden, to tell a story of where I am from and where I am but rather to now break it all down and make sure that people are uncomfortable. Art should be disturbing and evoke emotion.”

The paintings featured in the Irregular Circles exhibition center around themes of belonging, personal growth and success, and life and death. In his art, Ino takes abstract concepts and hard-to-grasp trains of thought and grounds them in settings of the everyday. At the same time, he portrays motifs of the mundane with an ease and attention to detail that uplifts them to the extraordinary. More than anything, Ino’s exhibition proves true a statement he made early on in our conversation: “Art always finds its little space.”

If your interest in Ino Ati’s art has been sparked, you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram, and visit his website.

Cover photo by Anna Kerstin.

Photos by Ino Ati.


Los comentarios se han desactivado.
bottom of page