What is your background?
I was born in the United States in New York and have since lived in many different places in the United States, from Alabama to Kansas. As a child, I began to embark on a journey that I did not understand yet. My mother is a journalist, which always gave me an innate appreciation for curiosity and striving to learn those things I did not know. I learned that there are not always easy answers and sometimes asking those questions can lead to even more questions. Sometimes they can lead to discomfort and awkwardness, but the importance is in asking the questions.
When I was young I did not understand America’s race issue. I did not understand America’s patriarchal system, but as I grew I did begin to notice the divide. I began my existence in New York. A place where it was hush, hush to ever acknowledge that anyone was racist, but the white community, all of whom were immigrants would quietly speak ill of those that were of a different color. I then moved to Kansas, a place that was dominated by religion and in that, divides were created by not only race, but class, and religious beliefs. I was beginning to learn that America, though it is the “land of the great”, was also inflicted by deep societal trauma’s that left many, including me, angry.
My senior year of high school I moved to Alabama. Here is where the true recognition of the divide became apparent to me. Black and White classmates mixed in social settings, but were often separated by where they lived, as well as by their skin color. I often heard things that I would not want to repeat that a white classmate would say about a black classmate. At this time, I did not understand why.
As I grew to become an artist I began to realize that my love was painting and that my love was to paint those around me. Having lived in so many different types of places I realized that I did not want to seclude myself in any particular community, but I wanted to see the world. I wanted to learn about other cultures. My work became about culture. It became about community and intersectionality. I began to see the differences and the similarities and I wanted to explore this. I also became interested in analyzing photography, but to create paintings, videos, and other art pieces.
What does your work aim to say?
Okay, so one of the first things your work is reminding me of is a quote I came across some years ago written by a fin de siècle black woman: “We are not a coming people. We are here.” – Mashadi Matabane
We Are Not a Coming People, We Are Here began organically: Two families, both with an interest in genealogy and history, started to look for something, not knowing exactly what that was, but looking for something. My mother, Jacqueline Kochak, a journalist and writer, a woman with a love and obsession for knowledge and truth through the exploration of history, set out on a search for her own family history not knowing what the result would be. Along the way, she began to speak with Paula Whatley. Paula, a woman who lived only one hour away from my mother, was on the same search. They were two Southern women who found each other. Their common connection was an ancestor, an ancestor who happened to be a slave master. This knowledge was extraordinarily hard for my mother to accept at first. She always thought she was from a poor farming family. Paula, on the other hand, knew of her family history and wanted to open a dialogue.
My interest deepened as I learned of the similarities between the four women involved, Paula and my mother, Paula’s daughter and me. My mother and Paula are only a couple of years apart in age, one a journalist and the other, a documentary filmmaker and professor. I found out that Mashadi, Paula’s daughter, was a writer and academic, and I am a contemporary artist. We are two sides of one coin, exemplars of a narrative that has been buried by controversy and a shame in American history that has yet to be fully acknowledged. The brutality of that time and the unacknowledged history is at the forefront of our continued conversation. The exploitation and the abuse of that period, continued through the 20th century has resulted in an anger and division that must be confronted.
I proposed that the two families begin to get to know each other through starting a conversation, and in the process we could become a family, a family that has never been acknowledged. I proposed a project using our family archives, and to make re-imagined images for our family. These first take the form of collages and montages of our two families’ images that are put into a manipulated book by the confederate woman, Mary Chestnut’s diary. I am overlaying her writing with all 4 of our contemporary writings and that of the enslaved woman, Harriet Jacob’s memoir. The book is renamed, My Family’s Anti- Autobiography. From the collages I create large-scale paintings to synthesize these moments and write them into present history.
Paula and her daughter respond to everything I create. We have a continued Skype conversation. I am collecting data, a new archive. In doing this, we rotate agency. We are history making—chatting and acknowledging, collaborating and negotiating. Through a newfound unity, we are transcending a patriarchal society; shame is revised into a new beginning.
Initial response to artistic statement by Paula Whatley Matabane
I love Natalya’s vision. She is searching for a deeper identity that unites four individuals in the face of hundreds of years of exploitative systems and actions that were designed to eternally divide and obscure the relationship between us. This is a bold act of an artist unafraid of naysayers on both sides of each family — naysayers who prefer that the divisions created by exploitation and abuse remain the status quo through all generations unless resolved through explicitly political or religious means or just hushed up as shameful for both sides.
Natalya’s work defies the exploitation and abuse as well as the naysayers. But art shakes us up, shakes up calcified beliefs and pain. That is what I see this vision bringing forward. It merges divided families created through the abuse and exploitation of slavery and associated shame. These family ties were created through force and abuse, then denigrated and hidden, creating shame within families on both sides publicly and privately for generations to come.
How does your work comment on current social and political influences?
My work is entirely about what is happening right now in our culture, politically and socially. The project I am currently working on is about the exploitation of a people. It is also about the exploitation of labor. These are issues that have plagued not only the United States for hundred's of years, but also the world. I do believe my work is about intersectionality. It crosses the borders of just one country. These issues currently take form all over the world, for example in the Palestinian conflict. I just returned from China where I was preparing for a new project about labor as a global issue. I am also beginning to do research on a future project about Ukraine/ Russia. I won't get into the details of each project, but I tackle each project by looking at the past, researching the then and now to ask questions and ultimately to create a dialogue to pave the way for change in our future.
Miami - Florida - USA