Step into the alternative virtual reality of Naarm-based artist, Jonty Knight




“That feeling of being ‘othered’ by society has allowed me to establish an alternative way of viewing the world.”

We know that Melbourne has a wildly talented community of next-gen creatives (we’ve met a few on FJ before). For its latest project, the adidas Forum Newsroom, adidas wanted to tap into this talent. The brand recently brought together dozens of these local creators and set them a task, asking each to work on a creative project exploring one of five themes – identity, technology, culture, future world or life control.

Each participant was given creative autonomy over their project and a budget to enable their vision to come to life. They could work with whoever they wanted, however they wanted, creating whatever they wanted – some made baseball cards, others zines, others music videos. The project is inspired by the re-release of the iconic ’80s basketball sneaker and marks a new chapter for the brand, one that stays open to what’s next.

Looking for more thought-provoking reads? Try our Life section.

Over the next week, Fashion Journal will play host to the creative outputs of eight of these makers, like South African-born multidisciplinary artist Jonty Knight. Using various digital mediums, they are creating their own digital universe inspired by the intersection of art, fashion and the surreal. For their adidas Forum Newsroom project, Jonty explores the feeling of ‘otherness’.

In a society that’s constantly searching for the right boxes to push us into, Gen Z is finding solace in breaking binaries. We’re a generation that celebrates the spaces in between – between artist and activist, student and teacher, male and female.

For multidisciplinary artist Jonty Knight, creative inspiration lies precisely in those spaces in between (or outside them all together, in what they call ‘the otherness’). They describe their life as “one big performance art piece”, and a glimpse at their Instagram shows why. Through their creative work, Jonty has begun to build their own expansive digital universe – in the span of three Instagram photos, they morph from a mermaid to an ‘alien punk princess’, sitting alongside fairies, fashionable extraterrestrials and hot queer creatives.

For their adidas Forum Newsroom project, Jonty has expanded their digital world once more, creating an ‘alternative basketball reality’. Their work has had Melbourne’s art scene enraptured since Jonty moved here from South Africa in 2018, so I sought to find out more about their world (and how I can start living in it, please).

Hi Jonty! Tell us about yourself. How did you get your start as a creative?

Howzit my shnoeks! I’m Jonty Knight, your local alien enby. I was born and raised in Cape Town but made my move over to Naarm in 2018. I’d say performance was one of my first creative outlets; I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. From the youngest of ages, I was putting on shoes for my family and friends – this progressed to me taking my acting more seriously throughout school and doing as many productions as I could.

For me, nothing quite matches the adrenaline of being on a stage and performing in front of an audience. I found so much joy and excitement in playing other characters and indulging in something that was far removed from my own life experiences. As a result, the multi-faceted art of performance has become a fundamental factor in my creative work. It’s something that has morphed into so many aspects of my life – like the way that I dress when I go out, the way I walk down a runway, the way I think, the way I deal with my anxiety and the way I create.

I’m always playing a character, whether people realise it or not. I like to think of my life as one big performance art piece. It helps me find enjoyment in everything I do and reminds me not to take life too seriously. I want to give people a show, in any way that manifests. It might be my Leo Rising in Mercury, but I love to entertain.

Fast forward to 2018. I was new to Naarm and still finding my feet. I was working 30 hours a week while studying full-time, so I didn’t have much time to create. This is where my love for editing became so significant and important to me. I would take advantage of my long commute to work or university as free time to manipulate pictures that I had taken, to create these digital characters of myself.

It opened up a new world for me, a means of digital performance art that I hadn’t explored before. My love of Photoshop and digital manipulation formed as a result, and it was a quick fix to my creative stagnance. My creative focus now is definitely on filmmaking and video art. Film is such a powerful medium that can incorporate a multitude of other creative practices, and that’s so cool to me. I’m excited to see where it takes me!

Your work is heavily influenced by your experience with gender fluidity and sexuality. What has this journey been like for you?

I’m extremely privileged, so my journey has been relatively easy. I come from a loving and supportive family, I have incredible friends and I’m surrounded by a beautiful and uplifting community. The outlier has been my own mind and the tricks it’s played on me. I naturally exaggerate situations in my head and automatically jump to the worst-case scenario, especially with people I care about. This was really destructive for me when I wasn’t confident in who I was.

Through doing my own research and witnessing other people’s experiences with sexuality and gender, I came to find beauty and pride within myself. For a long time, I felt shame around my identity, but being able to interact with people who related to my experiences helped me build an unbreakable pride in my identity.

I think the most important thing for any queer kid to remember is that their power is in their resilience. It’s undeniable that people are going to disagree with the choices you make, and it will always seem daunting to turn around and live your authentic life. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is a big and beautiful community waiting to celebrate you.

You’re originally from Cape Town, South Africa. How does the creative scene differ in Melbourne?

This is a good question. I naturally love to observe and compare, so I have thought about this a lot. I think the biggest difference is the amount of ambition people have. I don’t know if it’s a result of Cape Town being a smaller city that’s more isolated from the First World, but I find generally South African people are a lot more driven and ambitious.

I feel there’s a level of complacency in Australia and a natural inclination to stick with what’s most comfortable. I feel often that people who live here take the many resources accessible to us for granted. There’s this sense of entitlement rather than an acknowledgment of privilege and I feel this is what’s stopping so much of Australia from growing.

It seems to fall on the backs of marginalised communities to facilitate and encourage discussion around change, but the reluctance of the patriarchal, heteronormative and conservative minds that plague this land prevent action from being taken. With that being said, there are incredible pockets of community in Naarm that are overflowing with creative talent that the rest of the world should really pay more attention to.

Can you tell us about the artistic process in creating your adidas Forum Newsroom piece, ‘The Other’?

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A post shared by Jonty Knight (@jontyknight)

Originally, I set out to create one main project but from the moment I arrived in the adidas Forum Newsroom, I was inspired by the physical space. I spontaneously added another shoot in theme with my initial idea. That feeling of being ‘othered’ by society has allowed me to establish an alternative way of viewing the world. Before I begin a project, I always think about how I see the work coming to life in my alternative creative universe.

I never compare my work to pieces I’ve seen before; I hold it to a standard of how I envision it coming to life in my own world. Spontaneity and freedom are also a vital part of my process – nothing must be set in stone. Luckily, I got to shoot my first work in the adidas Forum Newsroom space before the lockdown. I had to work on my main project from home and as a result, my concept changed a lot. It didn’t feel as rewarding because it lacked the energy of the physical space of the adidas Forum Newsroom. Working in that space with other creatives was so inspiring.

What was the concept behind this project?

Through the rise of the digital age came the creation of an expansive digital universe, which challenges societal conventions and the idea of what makes us fundamentally human. There is this sense of freedom, where one can exist beyond outdated expectations and reinvent oneself.

In essence, I created a universe for The Other. My concept was to create work for adidas which takes place within the expansive ‘other’ universe. It’s queer, playful and incorporates both people I love and other local Naarm talent.

In your opinion, what is the future of this generation’s creative world?

It is both daunting and exciting. Daunting because we’re on the precipice of great change but exciting because we’re the ones leading that change. I feel we’re quick learners with a strong understanding of the importance of inclusion and community. Hopefully, this is a future where everyone feels empowered and supported to contribute.

When do you feel most empowered?

I definitely feel the most empowered when I’m around my community. There’s this celebration of freedom, life and each other that’s unmatched. It makes me feel hopeful about the future. I also feel empowered when engaged in deep discussion, where there is this symbiosis of listening and speaking, learning and unlearning.

I feel empowered through the exchange of knowledge and perspective between people of different upbringings than my own. For me, these conversations hold the key to starting fundamental change. Lastly, I feel empowered through the sense of purpose that art provides me.

What’s next for you?

I recently quit my retail job to pursue my creative career and I’m looking forward to seeing where the hustle takes me. I hope I can continue to create works of importance (while sustaining myself financially). I also hope that we will be able to travel again soon so I can visit my family and rekindle my relationship with the world.

I’m also so proud to be a part of an artist collective that runs Gallery 17. We believe in art that challenges conventional ideologies and presents new ideas through a multitude of mediums. We aim to facilitate space for unencumbered expression as we explore the ways in which creative form can inspire change.

Shop the reimagined Forum shoes here.

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