Photographed by Margaret Maguire

Interviewed by Yosan Alemu

Sonia Kahn is a first year in Columbia College, intending to pursue a joint major in visual arts and art history. You can follow her (and her work!) on instagram, and on her website.

Your first semester is wrapping up. What have you liked so far about the Columbia/NYC art scene? How is it different to that of England?

The creative people that I was surrounded by in England were mainly musicians, due to the the group of people I fell into. A lot of the work and the projects I was involved with were focused on music, where visual art was assisting the music, not necessarily the main focus. Coming here, I really wanted to focus on the visual art itself. My first semester has been really awesome. I got into a basic drawing class, and my professor is great, gives wonderful advice, and is a practicing artist herself. Also, the art scene on campus is extremely diverse — in a good way — and there’s always loads of things, events, exhibits to see and to be a part of, like Postcrypt and Ratrock!

With your work, I know that you express yourself through various different mediums: image manipulation, film, animation, projection, etc. How did you find these avenues?

In terms of avenues, or how I decide to use these mediums, I usually start off with a concept, an image, or literally any kind of thought. And from that I'll brainstorm; I was always taught that brainstorming is really good for when you’re in the beginning stages of creating a piece, especially when dealing with abstract ideas. With the brainstorming, I then begin working through massive ideas that lead me to begin working on themes, or the bigger picture of my work (what do I want to convey, how can I convey it).

When looking at themes, I think again very conceptually, and from that I pick a medium to work in. I also go through a bit of experimentation along the process, notably in how I decide to use certain mediums. Most of the time, I begin with collage as the first entry because it gives me the most visual keys as to what I can continue to create moving forward. Collage is a great way to physically see what you’re working with. From that, I'll try to change mediums , like using print or projection, or quite literally any kind of medium I think best fits the central project of my work.

I would also say that I experiment with different mediums by way of my high school, and the education I received there. I was really lucky because at my school back in England, not many people took art classes, so I had a lot of attention and careful guidance from my teachers. Our curriculum was very open-ended, so I was practically given free reign create any type of artistic work.

"Magic Puzzle", Cyanotype, 2018.

"Magic Puzzle", Cyanotype, 2018.

What themes or concepts do you find yourself working with a lot?

I always end up doing work that is related to the female experience. It comes up in one way or another, and I don’t ever want to escape something that is integral to my identity. I'm working as a female creator, and this is something that I will continuously grapple with (in terms of creation, work, vision). I’m also always interested in the uncanny: the weird things that we never fully accept (or want to accept), and acknowledge. For instance, mixing old and new, familiar and unfamiliar. All the strange things of the everyday experience that seem minute but can really have substantial effect or responses in my work.

Are there any life experiences that shape the way you think about art and your work?

I had this really influential teacher up until I was 17 or 18 at my high school. She was basically my mentor and introduced me to all of these crazy artists that I found myself in. Artists that worked outside of the conventional framework of what is accepted as ‘art,’ artists that weren’t afraid to produce work that meant something to them, and not solely for an audience. She also taught me so much in terms of using analog photographic processing — a medium that I now love working in. Looking back at all that she has taught, I can see how my everyday work is inspired by her passion and guidance.

When people see your work, what do you want them to feel? How do you want them to engage?

I like to have fun with my pieces and I like for my pieces to have bits of humor in them. If I can make someone laugh or feel intrigued, I feel as if they’re really engaging with the work. I also really enjoy when people figure out my work, like a puzzle, because it’s fun for the both of us. It’s aesthetically and conceptually interesting.

Describe yourself in three words, then describe your work in three words.

Perfectionist (that’s a double-edged sword), busy, and passionate. And then for my work: analog, digital, and experimental.

If you could consume one medium of art for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Film. Definitely film.

Do you find freedom in making art, in creating experiences for others, and for yourself?

Yes, I absolutely think so. It’s also helped me to to find freedom within myself, and in terms of how I can express myself - feelings, thoughts, etc. - through my work, which I never really had until I started making art. Not to be cliche, but as I started creating for myself, that's when I began to actually understand myself.