Old Boxes New Lives / by Nip Rogers

When I was little boy, my family and I would visit our grandfather's house. It was a huge house with so many areas to explore, especially the attic. One day my sister and I were scavenging our grandfather's attic and we stumbled upon these intricate little boxes with slide covers and carved handles. We asked our parents if we could take some home and they said yes. We stuck them with glue against the walls that were inside our closets and those boxes became our secret treasure compartments where we'd collect and hide our findings, like comic book clippings and little mice figures that my sister made out of cloth material. 


Then I grew up and boxes just stayed with me. Now I go to antique shops and buy old cigar boxes. I try to look for the old wooden ones that are dark and deeply stained so when I carve into the wood, the lighter colored or the unstained wood shows through and creates a good contrast to the carved images. Like the Upendo Box above. Do you see that guy enjoying the smell of his coffee?


If the brand stickers are still on the cigar boxes when I buy them I try to keep those, and any other characteristics it already has because I think they add to the graphic element of the boxes. Then I incorporate them into the artwork I make on the boxes by allowing the stickers to be a part of the imagery. The interesting thing about the box above is that it has a portrait of Joe on it, an antique dealer who - amongst many antiques - sells great boxes like these, who is also the owner of that box. Visual pun?


I like to leave the inside of the boxes clean, unpainted and uncarved because that part exclusively belongs to the new owner to store his or her memories into. In the above case, the new owner of that old box is a fellow artist, Sara Mazdzer. All proceeds were used to fund the noble cause of my trip to Malaysia (just being funny). Thanks, Sara, for your support. And due to your artistic inclinations, I trust that you have repurposed it to its fullest potential.


This above and the next two boxes below, I had made right before traveling. I was thinking of all the cultures I'd be introduced to. How the stories of the cultures I was about to meet had sounded so whole, so saturated and complete, almost as though there was no room for novelty. And that kind of scared me. And like most fears, this one was exaggerated too, because what I found instead was stubborn beauty and common grounds for coexistence. Which got me thinking about the meaning of culture. How does a notion earn the right to be titled a 'culture'?


I think that when there are enough individuals, with all that makes them different and unique from one another, come together to shape their lives around certain activities and then keep defining their lives and these activities to a point of common grounds, that becomes a culture. Not just ethnic based ones but also ones that are purely born out of human interest and passion, like the Skateboarding culture or fashion or Rastafarians - I saw Malaysian Rastafarians, jamming to reggae music, and Seychelles has many of them too. Eye opening. Pura Vida.


Sometimes I make art because it helps me deal with my fears and vulnerabilities. This is my way of investigating something that scares me or that will add some new content into my mind and stretch me in ways I am unfamiliar with. Sometimes I carve and paste those thoughts on old cigar boxes, then take a few steps back to look at them and all of a sudden they make sense.