28 January 2022

Beauty, loss and making art: rapper Omar Musa turns to printmaking and poetry

| Genevieve Jacobs
Omar Musa performing onstage

Queanbeyan’s own Omar Musa at the Q. Photo: File.

Omar Musa is more likely to be found carving woodblock prints these days than performing onstage. But the Queanbeyan poet, rapper and author, who has blazed a brilliant global trail with the written and spoken word, says the distance between two worlds is not so great after all.

“I’ve always conceived writing visually,” he says.

“Every book or poem begins with an image and then I reverse engineer and convert that image to words.

“Often, we try to break art practice into different genres – you’re only a writer, only a musician – but now I feel like I’m melting down some of those distinctions.”

Killernova, a book of Omar’s woodcuts and poetry, has just been released, and there’s a quote on the back cover from The Betoota Advocate, describing the book as “pretentious literary navel-gazing”, but acknowledging that Omar is pretty handy with a linoleum cutter.

The poet is delighted to be attending book launches again.

Omar Musa's 'Killernova' book

Killernova by Queanbeyan poet Omar Musa has just been released. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

His recent work brings together the beauty and strangeness of the natural world and the threats that surround us, from climate change to human inaction and deliberate environmental destruction.

“It’s been liberating and exciting because there are no expectations from me or anyone else,” says Omar of printmaking.

“There’s no weight of expectation to this, like there was with writing. I can be playful and joyful.”

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Words still tie much of his practice together, and are patterned across the works in the same way as he’s always melded hip-hop, poetry theatre and prose.

The work explores utopias and fantasies, and their dangerous edge, but also their capacity to show how the world might be if we stepped into action rather than avoiding responsibility for the planet’s fate.

A page in 'Killernova' book

Killernova combines poetry and Omar’s woodcut prints. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Omar says his prints and words are about “celebrating our beautiful vanishing world, the landscapes that are disappearing, corruption and climate change”.

COVID-19 prevented him from travelling this year, but he’s taken solace in growing succulents and chillies that remind him of Indonesian jungles and the environmental activists and punk groups on Borneo who inspired his printmaking.

Omar describes a collaborative printmaking process that ties in with a long history of wood carving on the islands, once one of the most heavily forested places on earth. The wood is cut, the posters are stamped by many feet and people dance while they’re making messages for the world.

“It brought me so much joy,” he Musa.

“If I want to expand and get romantic or spiritual, every tribe on the the island of Borneo, where my dad is from, could carve wood beautifully, whether for machete handles that took heads in war, carved spirits on the longhouses or – like my father – boats with dragon motifs and floral designs.

“There are hundreds or thousands of years of woodcarving embedded in the culture, and printmaking was a way to access and connect with that tradition.”

Open pages in 'Killernova' book

The leopard is a repeated image in Killernova. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The work wasn’t what Omar expected to be doing, but he says he has learned to trust his gut, enjoy making work and not to take himself too seriously.

He thinks the visual arts can uplift people and engender a sense of joy, even when the subject matter is deadly serious.

“I’m not even sure if I’m an artist, or just a dude who makes work and then moves onto the next thing,” he says.

“But I’m surprised and grateful to feel the spirit of generosity, love and gratitude in the air. In such difficult times, it would be so easy to become isolated existentially as well as physically, but I can feel the connection between us.

“The human condition will always need the arts, music and writing to grow wings.”

Killernova is published by Penguin Random House.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on Riotact.

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