Keroshin Govender has always had art running through his blood.
Inspired by his South African- Indian roots, his paintings make commentary on his culture, his travels, and exciting journey though life so far.
"So both Indian and South African traditional cultures have a lot of vibrant colours. The colours, especially, are the things that haves influenced me until now. And the themes of people, lights, and in some cases, fire, have influenced the subjects that I’ve been painting,” the artist says.
Govender was born and raised in Durban, South Africa, a city known for its large Indian diaspora. In 2002, he moved to Sydney to study digital art at UNSW Art & Design (previously known as COFA) in Randwick, but he made the permanent move to our sunburnt shores in 2009.
Though he’s been working as a painter in Australia for the past 13 years, Govender’s very “insular” and “closed off” South African-Indian childhood still plays a big part in how he approaches both life and art.
“It’s good and bad. It’s good before you still have the temples, the traditional clothes, the traditional food. But at the same time, there’s a lot of mistrust of certain families. Like a lot of people in my family have never had a black or white person come over for dinner, for example. It’s just a very unusual thing,” he reveals.
But in spite of coming from a conservative family, Govender found his parents to be very accepting and encouraging of his “less-conventional” career choice – an artist.
He says their support comes off the back of his father’s and grandfather’s broken dreams. Both men, he says, had great aptitude and passion for art, but their limited circumstance forced them to pursue alternative routes in life.
His work reflects all of this - the struggle and blessing of being caught between multiple cultures, and the yearning to explore cultures outside of his own.
“When I was growing up, it was more interesting to me to find out more about Zulu culture and Afrikaans culture. Because being an Indian in Durban, in particular, you’re only really taught about Indian culture even though you’re in South Africa,” Govender says.
“So for me, learning about different cultures and bringing that into my work - whether it’s different colours, whether it’s patterns, whether it’s topics - that’s very important to me.”
But what makes Govender’s work unique to other immigrants dealing with similar issues is how his art brings together seemingly incongruous images to form one unified image.
“That’s where the digital comes in,” he says.
Govender, unlike most digital artists, only uses digital tools to plan his work, not create it. Ordinarily, most artists will use traditional art mediums such as sketching and drawing to plan before producing final pieces using digital mediums, but Govender does the opposite.
So when it came to working on SBS VR’s Tomorrow's Diwali, he had to take a very different approach.
Govender was chosen to work on the project due to his firsthand knowledge and experience with Diwali and visual art. But those qualities soon had little credence in the world of 3D digital painting.
“It was much more like sculpture more than it was painting. Because you have to worry about how things look from various angles,” he explains.
“In the real world, you have more control over the pressure that you apply on the brush. The way that you might tilt a brush might have a certain effect. Like, with oil paints you’re going to splatter a bit of paint if you twist the brush. So things like that you can’t really do in a digital space yet.”
But, of course, there are perks to painting within a virtual dimension.
“You can undo things quite easily and you make brighter colours with certain effects that, when used in a certain way, can really enhance the painting which you can’t really do in the real world,” he explains.
The project also affected Govender’s usual pace of working. His art in Tomorrow’s Diwali is more stylised that he is used to, a technique he rehearsed in order to “save time”.
“It did take a bit of effort to let go,” he says. “Usually I’m always fine-tuning and adjusting my work. Even when it’s all final and complete I’m still going back a month later and adding in a stroke here and there.”
But challenges aside, the finished product exceeds Govender’s own lofty expectations. He hopes Tomorrow’s Diwali engages a part of Australia that may not have been too familiar with the festival.
“Hopefully projects like Tomorrow's Diwali will bring more awareness to it,” he says. “Because it’s not really a religious ceremony. Some of us don’t celebrate it that way. It’s more like a community festival. It’s something that anybody can be involved in."