Catherine Ocholla explores different subject matter as it relates to the so called, ‘human condition’. Utilising photographic references – both her own and sourced from the Internet – she draws inspiration from popular culture for much of her work. Some paintings are inspired by Facebook memes, others by movies (such as the ‘Barfly’ series of paintings). Her most recent body of work is deeply influenced by the global political landscape. Her interest in what she terms ‘the spectacle of war’ was evident in 2010 in her first solo exhibition, ‘Wisecracks’, where the focus was more on dictators and leaders who had been or could be responsible for atrocities committed around the world. The latest series of paintings is a continuation of that stream of consciousness except the focus is now on bombs and the leaders running around brandishing them, and us looking on as though this is normal. Hence reference is made to the 1964 movie Dr Strangelove and other popular cultural icons (both subtle and obvious) where we the viewers are in some ways complicit with this madness. The dropping of the MOAB (‘Mother of All Bombs’) earlier in 2017 certainly didn’t seem to shock or astound anyone, Ocholla notes, ‘These works are a reflection of reality mirroring the craziest kind of fiction, except not to the tune of Looney Tunes.’
Catherine Ocholla sees herself in many ways as an existentialist. Not believing in borders, she embraces the term ‘transcultural’, as her father is Kenyan and her mother, Russian. They met in the Soviet era while her father was studying in the former USSR. Now she identifies as a South African. She notes ‘I have always wondered why everyone gets so fussy about their borders and nationalities and cultures. So much is the same. Mostly, people just want to live peaceful (preferably successful) lives. I think people feel the need to preserve their identity, yet even before the advent of the Internet, I was already a citizen of the world.’ Her Russian grandparents were in World War II, while her Kenyan grandparents lived through the fall of colonialism, and the Kenyan ethnic group (Luo) they belong to is the same tribe as Obama. ‘The world is smaller than we think,’ she notes, ‘so while I was always different while growing up, my identity was mostly a concern for others, and as I have grown older I have felt more attune to viewing my body as a shell – I didn’t choose the body, or the name, or the countries that I’m ascribed to. I have always been more curious about human existence, and more concerned about the world in general.’
She completed a Computer Science degree at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in 2003, followed by an art degree at the Michaelis School of Art (also UCT), which she completed in 2007. Since graduating she has been a practicing artist in Cape Town and participated in numerous group exhibitions, with her first solo exhibition at blank projects in 2010. In 2017 she was selected as a Top 40 finalist for the Sanlam Portrait Award in South Africa. She lives and works in Cape Town.