Muzae Sesay: Embracing Boundless Creativity

The Artistic Journey: Embracing Creativity and Community


In the realm of artistry, the path to success is as diverse as the individuals who embark upon it. Breaking away from conventional notions, artists often defy expectations, leading intriguing lives that challenge societal norms. While some may view pursuing a career in the arts as fruitless or financially unstable, the stories of accomplished artists reveal unexpected pasts, delving into “pre-art” careers that defy predictions about their futures. One such artist is Mike Shine, whose journey from advertising to freewheelin’ painting showcases the transformation that can occur when artistic passion takes center stage. Another example is Pat Perry, whose paintings have outgrown the associations with his nomadic lifestyle. These accounts of artists deviating from conventional paths lead us to explore the artistic journey of Muzae Sesay, a self-taught painter whose unique perspective and technique have propelled him to the forefront of Oakland’s vibrant art scene.

A Young Artist’s Journey

Muzae Sesay, born in Long Beach, California, spent his formative years in Anaheim before eventually settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was the allure of the Bay Area that drew him in, initially visiting a friend in Berkeley and discovering a sense of freedom and self-expression unparalleled in his previous surroundings. In Orange County, Sesay felt like an outsider, a token black artist amidst a lack of shared interests. The vibrant artistic community he encountered in the Bay Area inspired him, ultimately prompting him to make the move. His decision to relocate took place during a time when people could embark on such adventures simply for the joy of exploration.

The Spark of Creativity

Sesay’s artistic journey traces back to his early childhood, where the support and encouragement of his mother and aunt sparked his passion for creating art. Even at the tender age of four or five, Sesay would proudly present his drawings to his family, who celebrated each creation as a masterpiece. This early validation instilled in him a sense of self-worth and satisfaction, nurturing his creativity and laying the foundation for a lifelong dedication to art.

The Evolution of Creativity

Throughout his life, Sesay’s artistic interests took on various forms. As a child, he found joy in dismantling discarded electronics and transforming them into imaginative toys. With limited financial resources, necessity became the mother of invention, igniting his creativity and resourcefulness. Lego sets also captivated his imagination, although he seldom adhered to the provided instructions. Instead, Sesay reveled in the freedom to create unconventional structures, honing his ability to think beyond the limitations imposed by conventional designs.

As he approached high school, Sesay’s aspirations shifted, at different times longing to become an architect, a car designer, or a fashion designer. His desire to explore diverse creative fields left him ambivalent about focusing on one particular area. Drawing and painting became his refuge, providing an outlet where he could unleash his imagination without constraint.

Sesay’s artistic style evolved over time, adapting to his changing interests and influences. Initially drawn to architectural subjects, he spent countless hours capturing structures with meticulous attention to detail. However, during his high school and early college years, his artistic focus shifted toward exploring the human figure. Portraits became a central theme, showcasing black-and-white, hard-edge, geometric contrasts. This transition marked a departure from the structural elements that had initially captivated him.

The Decision to Pursue Art

Choosing art over a more design-oriented career path was a conscious decision for Sesay. While he acknowledges his appreciation for design and occasionally dabbles in it, he derived immense satisfaction from treating art as a personal endeavor, free from commercial constraints. Rejecting the notion of equating art with financial stability, Sesay sought to preserve the purity of his creative process and the emotional fulfillment it brought him. A high school math teacher’s misguided comment about him not excelling at math reinforced his inclination towards envisioning fantastical worlds rather than confining himself to practical solutions. This liberated him to explore the infinite possibilities of the imagination, unconstrained by the limitations of reality.

The Significance of Home and Community

Central to Sesay’s artistic expression is the exploration of the concept of “home” and its connection to human interactions. In his work, he delves into interpersonal relationships, whether intimate encounters or broader community dynamics. For Sesay, the home serves as a canvas that reveals the deepest social aspects of individuals. By examining the spaces we create, Sesay unveils the stories and personalities of those who inhabit them. His artwork invites viewers to immerse themselves in these spaces, injecting their unique perspectives and experiencing them as temporary inhabitants.

Sesay perceives “home” as more than a mere physical structure. He views it as the space where life unfolds, embodying a sense of sanctuary and personal identity. In this light, “home” and “community” become interconnected, illuminating the places where human experiences thrive and defining the essence of a vibrant community. By exploring these themes, Sesay uncovers the complex tapestry of human interactions that shape our lives.

The Influence of Sociology

While Sesay did not pursue formal art education, his studies in sociology at SF State University exerted a profound influence on his artistic practice. The academic exploration of social dynamics offered him a fresh perspective on the concepts he had already contemplated. Sociology not only informed his artistic approach but also shaped his worldview and informed his navigation of the world. Through his studies, Sesay gained a deeper understanding of the disparities between communities and the profound impact individuals have on community development.

Parallels between sociology and visual art abound. Both fields embrace abstraction and theory, rejecting rigid frameworks and inviting critique. They challenge traditional ways of thinking, propelling humanity toward post-modernity. Indeed, even a child can contest established theories in either sphere. For Sesay, sociology’s exploration of social themes merges seamlessly with his artistic expression, forming a cohesive tapestry of thought. His work delves into the human experience, transcending cultural boundaries and inviting empathy and understanding.

Breaking Stereotypes: Blackness and Artistic Freedom

As a Black American artist, Sesay challenges preconceived notions surrounding artistic style and identity. He refuses to confine his work within arbitrary expectations or allow his Blackness to define the possibilities of his creative expression. Instead, he aims to demonstrate that Black artists possess the freedom to explore any artistic style or concept without limitations. Breaking away from conventional molds, Sesay aspires to inspire other Black creatives to embrace their artistic visions fully, dismantling stereotypes and expanding the boundaries of the Black artistic experience.

While some may expect Sesay to create work that aligns closely with his racial identity or reflects the prevailing political climate, he remains steadfast in forging his unique path. External expectations hold little sway over his artistic choices, for he remains dedicated to embracing and discussing subjects that resonate with him personally. Sesay’s devotion to his community plays a significant role in his work, exemplified through his involvement with the Blackmail Collective—a group aimed at redefining black identity. His art challenges expectations, encouraging dialogue, and promoting a broader understanding of black artistry beyond predefined narratives.

The Bay Area’s Quest for Enlightenment

Reflecting on San Francisco’s history, it becomes apparent that the pursuit of enlightenment has long been a defining characteristic of the region. Connected with spirituality, the Bay Area encompasses a constant quest for personal growth and self-improvement—an endeavor that transcends egoism and selfish pursuits. Art, as an act of creation, embodies both the most ego-driven and least ego-driven aspects of human expression. Artists create for themselves while simultaneously aspiring to enhance the lives of their audiences.

Within the Oakland community, of which Sesay is an integral part, creativity thrives as an integral part of daily life. People from diverse backgrounds engage in various artistic endeavors, ranging from visual arts and writing to photography, filmography, music, and fashion design. Passion and creative pursuits flourish outside the realm of capitalism, with individuals supporting and inspiring one another. This unique artistic landscape in Oakland fosters an environment where people explore their creative instincts, blending their artistic endeavors with activism and community building. The absence of an insatiable global thirst for recognition allows creatives to revel in the act of creation itself, prioritizing self-expression and mental well-being.

As Sesay muses about the future, he envisions a world where everyone embraces creative expression as an outlet for personal growth and emotional well-being. Such a world would be a testament to the human spirit, where making art becomes an accessible and pervasive experience. In this envisioned future, barriers crumble, and the freedom to create becomes a fundamental right for all.


Muzae Sesay’s artistic journey exemplifies the transformative power of embracing one’s creativity while forging connections within a supportive community. His path, traversing different art forms and influenced by studies in sociology, offers a unique perspective on the intersection of art and society. Sesay’s refusal to be confined by expectations, coupled with his commitment to redefining black artistry, challenges ingrained stereotypes and expands the horizons of artistic possibility. Through his explorations of home and community, Sesay sheds light on the intricacies of human interactions and invites viewers to inhabit his thought-provoking spaces.

Sesay’s story ultimately highlights the importance of artistic freedom, fostering an environment where creativity can flourish and empower individuals. It is a testament to the artistic spirit that thrives in communities like Oakland, where passion transcends the constraints of capitalism and individuals navigate the world with a blend of creativity and activism. As we look to the future, Sesay’s vision of a world where artistic expression is cherished by all serves as a poignant reminder of the profound impact art can have on personal and collective well-being.


1. Can you elaborate on Muzae Sesay’s journey as an artist?

Muzae Sesay embarked on his artistic journey as a self-taught painter, propelled by a lifelong passion for creating art. His unique perspective and technique have propelled him to the forefront of Oakland’s art scene, challenging conventions and showcasing the limitless possibilities of artistic expression.

2. How did sociology influence Muzae Sesay’s art practice?

Studying sociology provided Sesay with a fresh lens through which to view the concepts that had always intrigued him. His exploration of social dynamics informed not only his artistic approach but also shaped his worldview and understanding of the impact of individuals on community development.

3. How does Muzae Sesay challenge stereotypes in his artwork?

As a Black American man, Sesay refuses to succumb to external expectations of what his artwork should represent. By creating art that defies conventional stereotypes and expectations, he seeks to empower other Black artists to embrace their unique visions and expand the boundaries of the Black artistic experience.

4. Can you explain the significance of home and community in Sesay’s work?

Sesay’s artwork delves into the spaces we inhabit, exploring the connections between home and community. His paintings capture the subtle nuances of social interactions and invite viewers to engage with the spaces he portrays, fostering an empathetic understanding of the human experience.

5. What role does the Oakland community play in Sesay’s artistic journey?

The Oakland community serves as a vibrant and supportive backdrop for Sesay’s artistic endeavors. The community’s emphasis on creativity, activism, and personal expression without the confines of capitalism fuels his artistic growth and nurtures the exploration of diverse art forms.