by Adrian Wallace

Ishmil Waterman is a Toronto artist who creates from a space of pure desire for the unseen. He creates with feverish need to bring forth the forces of antiquity which permeate the ether, and present it to the contemporary zeitgeist so that it may assist in bringing forth the next age of humanity. Adhering to the energetic cultivation techniques of the ancients, he uses the gained force to draw divine inspiration so that he may share with the world not just as an artist, but as a vassal to the ancestral wisdom embedded in each and every one of us.

I had the pleasure of talking to Ishmil about his latest work, Rapture, and the inspiration behind the art. Brace yourself, it’s about to get profound.

Adrian: Let’s talk about your chosen title: Rapture. For those who may not be religious or have understandings about the Christian faith, explain why you chose this title and what it means. 

Ishmil: I’ll start by stating that I am not a Christian nor have I ever been a practicing Christianity. The Book of Revelations has always fascinated me and observing written prophecy become reality even more so. The Rapture is a story about “those who are set apart” from the masses and carried into eternal life by the most high. This interpretation of the events of the end times isn’t agreed on by all branches of Christianity, but is quite an inspiring story nonetheless. It’s interesting to note that the Rapture is also referenced in the Emerald Tablets. The idea of being called into eternal life excites my imagination. What would your senses experience? How would your consciousness grasp the experience? What would become of your body? Is there an eternal body? Or would eternity be lived as a formless being of mind? So in the series, I explore the process of being conceived into our eternal selves in comparison to what it is to be conceived into our worldly forms. Essentially observing the old adage “as above so below” referencing the fractal nature of our existence. 

Adrian: Apart from the religious-themed influence behind your piece, what other sources did you pull inspiration from to create it?

Ishmil: The source I pulled inspiration from sourced itself. I am a student of the occult. I love learning the art of navigating innerspace. To me, it is an amplified reality and the easiest way to connect with the most high. Many of the compositions in the series came to me after being in meditation and then observing the world around me with a sense of clarity. The compositions mimic nature and its geometry. A great deal of attention was focused on the expressions of the models, the range of joy, elation and fear; all of which are reflections of our inner space. It speaks toward what is inherently human, but also what we must let go of to ascend to our highest selves, and exist in an inner space of eternal unwavering, unconditional love. The kind of love that is unfathomable in our corporeal forms.

Adrian: In the public eye, nudity incorporated within art is often seen dancing between the lines of vice and virtue. How do you deal with any negative press and stay focused on your intent?

Ishmil: The public eye is such a fickle thing. Many people are told what is okay to like, think, feel, etc., and instructed on what to be offended by. What I do is not for them. The space I create from is one for individuals who are free of, or freeing themselves of the imposed societal conditioning. To those who are offended by nudity because they feel it is lewd or sexual, I ask of them to observe their gaze. Nudity is not sexual, sex is sexual. To feel fear of the flesh which we all have is to fear yourself. And to fear yourself is to oppose self-love. I use the word fear very intently because all emotions are rooted in either fear or love. Every space that fear occupies in your heart can be transmuted into love. That is my intent. To transmute fear into love, my own, and the viewers. Be it fear of life, death, love, or other people.

Adrian: Though the final product both reveals mild subject nudity and creatively conceals it at the same time, what was your process in getting them to trust you with that type of vulnerability? 

Ishmil: I set no intent to conceal anything because there is nothing to hide. Fig leaf culture is a sickness. Shame is a mental prison and the locks require many keys. When I did the casting call for the project I received hundreds of replies. There were individuals who were uncomfortable with participating because they didn’t feel comfortable with their bodies. Some found the idea of being on camera without a wig/weave/makeup to be abhorrent. And then there were those who wanted to face their insecurities and conquer them. There were those who simply trusted me due to years of friendship. And there were individuals who were 100% in once they understood the mission behind this project. I ended up photographing over 40 people for the series. On the day of the shoot, the love of my life Jazmine Mathews curated the vibes to make sure everyone was at ease. There was a waiting room where the models would gather. Jazmine would greet them, get them signed in, make sure they had tea, snacks good music, good conversation in the theme of self-love, and helped them conquer past versions of themselves. Each model would come into the studio space alone, and be greeted by myself and my creative partner Maida Ghide. They’d undress in a trailer, cover their body in ANU brand shea butter, and step out onto the set where Maida would give them a tutorial on how to jump safely. Once they began jumping on the trampoline any inhibitions they may have felt melted away and there was a clear sense of freedom enveloping them. The experience was cathartic for each model, LIBERATING! Think about it, when was the last time you jumped around naked in front of someone? For most people not since they were a toddler escaping a diaper changing. Each person left the studio space to the waiting room with the biggest smile on their face and nothing but words of joy and freedom.

Adrian: From a production standpoint, I’m sure many fellow photographers are curious; how did you go about directing and positioning your subjects to get the shot you needed? Was this a solo process or did you work with extra hands? 

Ishmil: The process of direction was simple. I asked the models to jump and fall on the trampoline facing in different directions and asked for a few varied expressions, but the best ones were the ones I didn’t ask for. The only other person on set with me was Maida Ghide. She was watching the captured images on the screen and letting me and the model know what was working, and what wasn’t. After a model wrapped, Maida would sanitize the trampoline for the next model. It was extremely grand and minimalist production. After the shoot, I spent some months photographing clouds, and then approached my dear friend Veno Joachim to composite them into larger scenes. From that point, I spent about 6-7 months in post-production, color grading, compositing, retouching, etc.

Adrian: What advice might you give to artists/photographers who are hesitant to shoot risque content? Was it ever a challenging hump to get over yourself? 

Ishmil: You know, coming from a background of fashion, risque lost its risk for me a long time ago. There’s nothing to be afraid of when capturing the human body, everyone has one. I think the challenge I had to overcome wasn’t related to the nudity, but believing in my vision enough to execute it. I’ve spent a decade capturing other people’s visions for commerce. And never really pushed my limits in my own artistic ability. It took so much purging, so much letting go to bring myself to the point where I was really ready to believe in myself as an artist, and not just as a photographer.

Adrian: This art project is exhibiting as your premier art show. Explain the process you took to plan your event, and why this specific project was special enough to be featured as your first art event?

Ishmil: The process of planning this event was really a lot of conversations with friends who believed in the project and essentially hive minding the process required to execute a successful exhibit. I spent a lot of time searching for big brand sponsors and venue sponsors. But that approach failed countless times. I personally think the project is too empowering for the conservative world of corporate sponsors. After realizing sponsorship wasn’t going to come in the ways I had planned, I started gathering production funds from friends and family and saving from commercial jobs. Accepting guidance from all of them every step of the way. The reason Rapture is my debut project is simply that it’s my first complete exploration into creating work that I feel is really important to humanity. Every artist wants to save or change the world. This is step one for me.

Adrian: Most if not all renowned renaissance art captures caucasian art subjects, what is the narrative that you’re trying to paint or reestablish using black subjects within this medium?

Ishmil: This question is positioned as if we aren’t presently in a renaissance. The black power movement has moved to the arts because art alters perception. And perception governs humanity. I spent a summer in Rome, I would stare at the beautiful paintings on the ceilings of the cathedrals and think to myself; “Wow, this is beautiful, but it doesn’t touch me because it looks nothing like me.” There was a disconnect. I wanted to know what the Italians were feeling when they looked at those scenes. They would literally look up, and see their place in the heavens. Can you imagine what effect that has on the Italian children who see themselves in that artwork every Sunday? Growing up I never saw any artwork that made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. Literature and lectures sure, but visual arts seemed to ignore the black body in conversations about God and divinity. I step into spaces of worship everywhere I travel, and I always see other black people occupying the space, and the artwork designed to depict divinity never resembles them. In other words, I saw a problem, I identified a method of conditioning that has long separated black people globally from their own divinity. I want to fix that. This project may be a drop of water in the desert, but I promise the rain will come.

Adrian: How would you describe your artistic style embodying human form? What are its characteristics and features? Which ice cream flavour best reflects Rapture and why?

Ishmil: My artistic form embodying human form is a black man who looks exactly like me. I think my artistic form is better described in subtle senses than the physical body. My art is empathy and clairvoyance manifested into physical and inner space. My art is love for my people and humanity. My art is a sledgehammer swinging at the walls society has created to separate us, label us and identify us. Before names, race, sexual orientation, gender, or any of the other pronouns used to separate us, and uphold the facade of identity, we are beings of creation. That is how we reflect the divine. That is how we exist in God’s image. Not by means of this temporary form, but by our power to create. And as for what ice cream flavor best reflects Rapture. Rapture is completely plant-based in all of its energy, so it’s definitely a sorbet. I feel clementine and mango.

Adrian: What other projects do you have in the pipeline? Anything you want to tease your fans or lovers of such art with?

Ishmil: I have a few things in the pipeline actually. I have a graphic novel on the way in collaboration with Maida Ghide (founder and designer of Anna Fora). And I’m also exploring fusing photography and sculpture with storytelling. I have begun writing music for an upcoming music act. But I don’t like giving away too much of what hasn’t been finished.

Waterman looks to continue painting new life in visual arts. His first art show took place on November 2nd, 2019th at the and was nothing less than a success. Check out more of Ishmil’s work on his website.