Wielding metal and paper to her whims, Zai Divecha is an artist who works out of San Francisco’s Dog Patch neighbourhood. Her recent works include paper folded curtains for her studio space as well as large wall hangings that combine hand finished stainless steel and hot rolled mild steel with digital fabrication to create works that have ribbon like designs. She has also created mini versions of these designs in enamel pins.
With a penchant for art for as long as she can remember, Zai has been painting, creating houses of cardboard, knitting scarves and screen printing her own t-shirts when she was young. Her continuing interest in metal work was sparked at the metal shop in high school and she learnt the basics of welding, blacksmithing and machining there. This led her to designing and fabricating an upholstered steel rocking chair by the age of 15, which she still calls to this day as an empowering experience.
Zai defines her artistic style as geometric, modern, and androgynous. She plays with patterns, light and shadow. The aspect that drew Zai to particularly work with metal was being able to transform a harsh, industrial material into something beautiful, smooth, and elegant. But she has been falling in love with working with paper recently and she pleats sheets of white paper to create three dimensional, folded patterns. This medium provides her the chance to be more experimental and quick. It is also easier for her to iterate, not to mention paper work being easier than metal work for her body.
Her metal wall hangings are designed first in Illustrator, then prepared for laser cutting, cut out of sheet metal or wood and then treated by hand to the required finish. The process is slow and repetitive and she finally mounts the parts in a custom built frame. But paper gives her the chance to be more playful and spontaneous. She often starts the work in this case with scrap or printer paper. She measures out the grid, score the paper and then fold in to mountain and valley folds. The final shape is often a surprise and once the idea for the bigger piece is finalized, she repeats the process on scale with nice paper.
Her passion for art was discovered earlier on, but Zai took her time exploring many interests and callings. She was passionate about the cause of sexual health and did everything from teaching sex education workshops in local high schools, to working with HIV/AIDS prevention in East Africa, and after university, got a master's degree in public health. She even worked in the technology field for a few years where she discovered her interest in marketing, business and entrepreneurship. These interests gave her the idea to create a creative micro business of her own that combines the many things that she loves - working with her hands, hustling on social media, and creating something out of nothing.
Not having gotten formal education in art, Zai says has its pros and cons. “On the one hand, I often wish I had gotten more exposure to the art world.On the other hand, I like to believe that perhaps it freed me to take a different path -- to use social media to build my following, to treat my art like a business, to sell directly to customers rather than going through a gallery. I think there are benefits and trade-offs to both paths.”
For the artist, her commissioned works and her personal projects are two things that feed in to each other in a really beautiful way. She says, “I've had several clients who have pushed me to do something a little outside of my comfort zone, and it helped me expand my skill set and repertoire. For example, two years ago, I was only doing steel wall hangings in angular, geometric patterns. A client really wanted a flowing, curvy shape, and it forced me to learn new techniques for drawing and fabricating curves. It set me off in a whole new direction -- my next seven wall hangings featured exclusively curving shapes. On many occasions, the desires and constraints set by clients have helped me grow as an artist.” But her personal projects are what influence the kind of client projects she gets approached for. Sharing the photos of a recent personal work can often bring in queries from potential clients, giving her the chance to create more works that she is excited for.
The artist is currently working on designing a giant geometric privacy screen for her high school which will be her biggest piece to date, her first exterior installation and also provides her the opportunity to make a piece for the same institution that sparked her interest in metal work. She is also working on a pleated paper installation for her studio to keep things fresh and to try out some new ideas.
She hopes to further create large pieces that make people calm, excited or inspired. She hopes to spend at least part of each week in flow state – deeply engaged and focused. And as a bonus, she hopes to make enough money to fund her cycling habit which she says can be an expensive sport, if you let it.
You can see more of her works here
Text Fathima Abdul Kader