While many surfers take advantage of Orange County’s variety of famous surf spots, for 29-year-old Seal Beach artist Kate Sikorski hitting the waves is both work and play.
At the beginning of 2012 during her regular surf outings, Sikorski began what she calls the Burkini Surf series, in which she photographs Muslim women surfing in their burkinis and uses those images as the basis for large mixed-media art works.
After reading an article about a Muslim female surfer in Orange County, Sikorski decided to contact the woman and see if she’d like to go surfing. What started out as a search for a female surf buddy—“you don’t see that many other women out there surfing,” Sikorski says—became the source of inspiration for her latest art project.
“People are scared of things they don’t know or understand,” Sikorski said, “and right now it’s Islam.”
By portraying these women as she sees them—happy, non-threatening surfer girls—her art forces a reevaluation of the connotation of “otherness” that the head scarf often prompts in this country.
“These are southern California girls,” Sikorski said.
In talking with the Muslim surfer to whom she had reached out, Sikorski learned that while she had a burkini head scarf to wear while surfing, many Muslim women surfing in Southern California prefer to wear their traditional two-piece head scarf. Out of the water, they often don a skirt over their wet suit for modesty's sake.
It's a different story inside the water where “most of the women don’t care," Sikorski said. "Whatever, they’re surfing."
Sikorski began taking pictures of the woman surfing with a Go-Pro camera as she paddled beside her. Soon, other girls wanted to model as well. Sikorski, who said she relishes the opportunity to meet new people from different cultures and backgrounds, became intrigued by the opportunity she saw unfolding.
Her colorful art, full of rich pinks, yellows, purples, and blues, captures the feeling of a sunny afternoon along the coast. Though she wasn’t raised near the beach, growing up in Tustin, Kate took up surfing 10 years ago and has loved it ever since.
“Surfing is so much like art making," she said. "You have to be patient and practice and, sometimes, you have to be brave.”
Her latest piece features a canvas of scrap wood panels she collected from a pier being rebuilt in Seal Beach.
“I feel like the objects you use reference certain time periods, places, and themes,” Sikorski said. “You can talk about a lot of issues just by using a certain object without even doing much of anything. I mean, piers don’t get rebuilt all the time, so again it references the time and place."
Her art work uses found materials from chairs and tables to trash and patterned cloth. Each piece of material is specifically chosen for its connection to surf culture. The girls themselves are drawn and painted on.
The art captures the surfers' subtle smiles and sense of relaxed humility as they spend time in nature.
Sikorski, who has various pieces currently on display in Westminster, Santa Ana, and Long Beach, said she plans to complete the Burkini Surf Project by January of 2013.