Lifestyle Travel 15 Aug 2016 A cultural vagabond

A cultural vagabond

Published Aug 15, 2016, 12:00 am IST
Updated Aug 15, 2016, 12:31 am IST
Joey Foster Ellis, a renowned artist from America has been travelling the world, learning different cultures.
Works by Joey Ellis
 Works by Joey Ellis

Stop-motion animator /sculptor/ contemporary art conservator /professional foreigner — that is how Joey Foster Ellis describes himself on his official website.

However, once you get to interact with him, you find out that this is only a small part of what he actually does. The 31-year-old, who grew up in a city called Auburn in Upstate New York, is currently in India to work on an interesting stop-motion animation project.


DC managed to get in touch with Joey, who is currently in Chennai. He spoke to us at length on various topics ranging from his career to his opinion on the Indian art scene, his efforts to raise environmental awareness, and more.

“I have many names such as Joey, Zhou-Yi, or Yousef, and within each one lies an identity that I developed in that culture. I see my story as how a young man raised in Upstate New York can be influenced by, and influence, a culture other than his own,” starts Joey on a thoughtful note. Having plied his trade in many countries, predominantly in Asia, he knows what it means to be an alien. “At first, let me explain what the job of a foreigner actually is — to me, as an American living abroad since 2005, I constantly question the acts of the cultural misunderstanding we so readily commit; whether they are the preconceived gaps between East and West or the by-product of learning about your own culture by participating within another. That dialogue, and the transitional pull, provides new insight into our own history.”


Prod him on the inspiration behind his work, and Joey shares an interesting tale on how it all began. “I enrolled in a progressive boarding school in Vermont at the age of 15 to become a chef, but spent most of my days in the ceramics studio. So I ended up making what you eat off of, rather than what you eat — I became a potter!” he says, adding, “I then attended the central academy of fine arts in China and became the first American to graduate from the university. I became fluent in Chinese and wrote my thesis in Mandarin. After spending years in China, I left it all to go study at the University College London’s campus in Doha, Qatar. I later studied conservation science, a complete opposite to my art


One of Joey’s most recognised works is his underwater sculpture designed to create environmental awareness. “The ocean is cool, and that's just that. This is the reason I decided to make it my canvas for sculpture and try to protect it for our next generation of moon explorers and dinosaur addicts. I have been doing environmental stuff for a long time. Greenpeace and the United Nations have been some of my most avid supporters, and I couldn’t thank them enough.

In the past, I made 100 life-sized ice children in a piece about climate change . Later, I went on to make a ten-metre-long Great Climate Wall using 6,000 photos sent in from around the world for the Tianjin Climate Change talks. If I can help the environment through art, then I do it,” he opines.


Joey is excited about his current India-Nepal project, a stop-motion animation music video. “This will be both India and Nepal’s first full feature stop-motion music video created with homegrown talent in collaboration with an American animator. Pretty Child, the new electronic song by the Mumbai/Marseille-based Gujarati artist Kagalwala, is about raising your children against the conditioning of society. The lyrics is about a conversation between father and child — about a certain commitment to a rejection of nostalgia and submission to an aspiration of living life fully,” he says. Sharing with us the details of the project, he reveals, “The materials I work with such as play doh, finger paint, toys and kinetic sand directly relate to the ideas that this song puts forth about striving for individuality and authenticity within childhood. It consists of over nine thousand photographs storyboarded into an anecdote about bringing the essence of a Darwinian Peter Pan ideology into our modern adult lives.” The crowd-funded project is expected to be ready by the end of October.


When asked his opinion about the art scene in India, Joey heaps praise on the talent in our country. “Many years ago, I actually tried to move to India by applying to be a studio assistant for contemporary artist Subodh Gupta. I loved his use of objects, similar to my own and thought if I could get the job then I’d give up anything and move. But, I didn’t get it! I love fashion writer Varun Rana, who works for Harpers Bazaar India. If I had to pick an artist’s work from the art scene I would pick the photographer Aparna Jayakumar — her work captures the world in the most beautiful and real ways. I am also obsessed with Rajasthani Mewar paintings,” he says.


On a concluding note, Joey hopes that he will stay for a longer duration in India this time. “I haven’t lived in a place in 11 years where one of the official languages is English. In India it is, and I feel I can interact with people on a much more intimate level and therefore the country draws me in quicker. My stays here always get better as I expand my network of friends. I’ve been here 10 times within a five-year period. Each time, the stay is longer than the previous one. Slowly it is becoming my home,” he says and signs off.