Home is Belonging: A Glimpse at Lokho Kotile’s Visual Works | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Home is Belonging: A Glimpse at Lokho Kotile’s Visual Works

By Ngan Huynh on July 23, 2022
Lokho Kotile's Studio

The magnetism of belongings.

Home isn't just a place where your physical body rests. Home is where your soul comes back and stays. Home is where your mind can drift to and float away with no boundary. Home can be a chamber of solitude, or it can be an intertwine net of beings. Everyone's home is different. Home can be more than one place.

As humans, we travel, explore, and meet new people. From these experiences, we’re able to establish connections. Sometimes these connections can run deep enough to become our new home. As a young artist who left home a long time ago and had established new homes from the locations I've traveled to, I crave to belong. Perhaps because of these multi-cultural similarities, I was pulled into the works of Lokho Kotile, an artist who emphasizes the concept of home and belonging, without notice. 

Lokho Kotile is an Oromo visual artist based in Minnesota. Lokho is a current candidate in MCAD's Master of Fine Arts program. She specializes in photography, film, installation, as well as writing and poetry. Before coming to visual art, Lokho received a Bachelor of Arts in English. As stated on her website:

Her work involves the essence of storytelling. In her work, Lokho is able to express herself while bringing to light her vision of how she sees the world, through photography, poetry, video, and installation. She is especially interested in the theme of home and belonging. With each project, she tries to create feelings of reflection. She wants her work to invoke questions within ourselves to ponder on, creating an intuitive state of mind.

From the moment I was introduced to Lokho's website, I was drawn to her mesmerizing, nostalgic fragments of images and words of memories. Lucky enough, I was able to meet and have a conversation with Kotile to talk about her works.

The form of words is also a form of visual, just not as colorful and subjective.

Lokho Kotile in her studio

Lokho introduces herself as an Oromo visual artist based in Minnesota. She also shares that it can be hard to identify oneself, as it can be vulnerable to having any sort of label. But it’s okay because eventually, this nature of where she came from will show in her works. Her art is an outlet for her to express herself, like an identity. Not only that, her works mostly surround the concept of home and belonging, which makes it extra important to emphasize her origins and background.

I noticed that Lokho's video works typically involve writings that go with them, mostly poems. I found this very interesting and brought this point up to her.

Do these writings come first or do the visuals come first? 

"It's an interesting question, I guess writing actually comes first. Because writings, or words, are a form of idea. After I have a grasp of your idea, it can then be translated into other mediums, like films, or photos."

Your stories, performed through both visual images and words, go hand in hand with each other very well. Personally, I would say they are aesthetically pleasing, a very harmonious combination. How do you match the visuals to the words?

"It's like mixing and matching different combinations with purposes. I try to tie the feelings of the words together with the images. For example, if the poems or the writings have a certain stillness to them, then I will pair them with images that have that same stillness, like sitting in one place or reflecting on one's insideness. Movement to movement, stillness to stillness. If the images can evoke the emotion the words bring, then the words can bounce off of each other into another form of visual."

The roots of stories are in everyone.

It's true that our stories and experiences run deep in the works we made. That's how we make those works uniquely ours instead of an aimless recreation. Just a glimpse at Lokho's works, and you can tell there are so many layers of storytelling there. She kindly walked me through the process of how she made some of her favorite works and what they mean to her as an artist.

Warri Keessan Ess? / Where is Your Home?

Where Is Your Home Title

Warri Keessan Ess? / Where is Your Home?, Soomaal House of Art, 2022

“The project that I enjoy working on the most has to be my recent exhibition at the Soomaal House of Art called Warri Keessan Ess? / Where is Your Home?. This whole project is like a rebirth for me. It features photos, film, installation, and poetry inspired by what home means as a second-generation immigrant. Before I came to the MFA program at MCAD, I called myself a photographer. Now, I realized I'm an artist that goes beyond just the surface image. I work with not just images, but also films, installations, and writings. I started this project back in August 2021 and finished it in January 2022. This project is a direct result of my third visit to Kenya. Not only that, it is a gift to my mom and my grandmother.”

Warri Keessan Ess? / Where is Your Home?, 2022

Looking back, Lokho sometimes finds herself caught between two worlds, not knowing which side to claim. “I was born and grew up in the States, but my family's lives were in Kenya. I struggled for a while to find my identity. I’m not fluent in my language and I wish I was because I want to communicate with my family in Kenya.”

Lokho has been back to Kenya three times to visit her extended family. During the first two times, she felt a sort of disconnection from the people and the places. But by the third time, she was able to establish a connection that goes deeper than just languages, she was able to make memories that support who she is. 

Her exhibition at the Soomaal House of Art was all about being immersive in the experience. Her installation was a form of art itself, featuring a living room inspired by her grandmother's house in Kenya with an old TV displaying her film, and photos that are framed with different tones of colors and materials. To Kotile, frames are like encapsulated memories that elevate the experiences of the viewers.

Where Is Your Home Exhibition Room View

Warri Keessan Ess? / Where is Your Home?, Soomaal House of Art, 2022

To make the living room setup authentic, she also includes embroidery works from her mom as part of the installation. These embroidery works were made in Kenya before her mom got married, they carry the essence of memories. Aside from that, Kotile gathered thrift store items to finish the installation, because she believes thrifted items have more characteristics: they are a part of every home, and they have memories.

In her clip, even though the image of her family is not visually present, their audio can still be heard, establishing a sort of nostalgic feeling.

Stillness: Super 8mm Film

“This is the project that I did not enjoy the process so much, but the end result is very satisfying to watch. I had a chance to work with Super 8mm Film, and it was my first time trying it out. I didn't like using it at all and it was such an unpleasant process. I didn't even want to look at the film after I was done recording. About one month later, my mentor from the MFA program encouraged me to take a look at the films again with fresh eyes. I really didn't want to, but I did, and I fell in love with it. So, I kept on working with this segment of records afterward. Another plus thing about Super 8mm Film is that they need add-ons sound, so I got to make them myself! It was such an interesting process to manually make everything.”

8843 Photography Exchange, Encapsulated Memories

8843 Exhibition

8843 Photography Exchange, Encapsulated Memories, 2022.

8843 is an exhibition that showcases two students from Focus School of Photography in Greece alongside four students from the MCAD MFA program. It is a collaboration between Greece student photographers and MFA students. As stated on the MCAD MFA website: 

“The collection features an assortment of film photos of last summer and fall, documenting the changes of life. This series of photos explores growing pains—the idea of growing up and leaving behind. Our memories are forced to change over time. Some of these photographs are hidden within my memories and shown in a different light. There is a sense of intimacy within these photos, they show my closest family and friends. Each photo has a story and a place. We are all transported within our memories.”

8843 Exhibition

8843 Photography Exchange, Encapsulated Memories, 2022

In the collection, there is one image capturing a set of watercolors, some loose artworks, and a dancing ray of sunlight. I was mesmerized by the image and realized that the hues of watercolor run free like the softness of summer itself.

The presence in the hereafter.

Lokho's Studio

Lokho's Studio at the MFA Building, 2022.

We were able to discover Lokho’s stories and memories through her fragments of images and letters. Her past becomes who she is in the presence. Lokho is graduating from MCAD in Spring 2023, so I was curious about what she has in store for the next couple of months.

What are some of your highlights while studying at MCAD for the MFA program?

“It was the best decision I did for myself. It geared me toward my passion. The program is very individualized for each student and your assigned mentor really values the freedom of studio time.  You have the flexibility to take electives at the main MCAD Campus. You are also offered lots of showcasing options and connections. They really want you to make your work during your time here. Another great thing about the program is being able to get hands-on critiques from exhibitions. It's a community.”

What are your goals for this academic school year, as you are graduating in 2023?

“Oh, so many things! I want to focus on my Thesis, which will be a short film. I'm spending July to study writing the scripts for the film. Then, I will look for actors and locations. I want to utilize MCAD resources to the fullest before I graduate. I want to give this project my best! I also want to join more group exhibitions like 8843, make another book, and join an artist's residency program. Lots of plans!”

If you were a combination of animal and object, what kind of creature would you describe yourself as?

“For animals, I would want to be a cat for their independence, a bird for their freedom in the sky, or a giraffe for their long, majestic neck to overlook everything. As for objects, I want to be a window, I want to see right through things and be able to admire the world from the tinted glass.”

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