Putting the pieces together

Artist Jenik Munafo Khelalfa’s work is on exhibit at the Playhouse.


Most Vineyarders know of Jenik Munafo Khelalfa as co-owner and baker for the Little House Cafe. However, the Vineyard native also has a history on the Island as an artist; she previously showed her work at the Artisans Festival, and had a show at the Field Gallery. While her current job and the raising of two children took her away from her former pursuit, a display of her artwork at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse is a good indication of Khelalfa’s talent as an artist.

The six images on display were created in the artist’s previous life, prior to the opening of Little House. Khelalfa notes that they represent the last of her inventory. Utilizing a mixed-media process, each painting has a number of little rectangular or circular sections cut away from the wood surface, covered in fabric, and then reinserted to create a sort of jigsaw or collage effect.

Each of the six pieces on display focuses on a different subject — from nature to circus animals to religious imagery. The unifying factor is a dreamlike quality and a slightly abstract approach. The colors are muted, angles are sometimes slightly askew, and patterned sections often serve as backdrops.

Khelalfa explains that she never really knows what the final image will be. “I start with a framed piece of wood,” she says. “I cut out shapes from the wood, and cover them in pieces in fabric, then put them back into the surface. Then those act as inspiration for the pieces. They serve as a guide to where the painting is going.

“I randomly pick shapes and colors that I like,” she adds. “The reason I started using this process is that every time I didn’t have the fabric piece in the painting, I would just keep painting over an image. I could never commit to anything. The fabric pieces anchored me. They give me a point of departure to commit to.”

Khelalfa, who studied ceramics and painting at Bennington College, says that she has always liked fabric, and once experimented with textile art. “I like using fabric. I think I’ve always enjoyed other people’s designs. It feels like a collaboration in a way.”

Also featured in the Playhouse show are two paintings by Cindy Kane, including one very large-scale piece titled “Nelly’s Toys.” The painting is part of a series that Kane created featuring mementos from her daughter’s childhood. Dozens of toys float across the canvas, creating a sort of fantasy landscape. Kane’s work complements that of the featured artist, whose painting “Animal Circus” also hints at childhood wonder and the magical side of life.


“Relics and Treasures,” spotlighting the work of Jenik Munafo Khelalfa and Cindy Kane, will hang at the Playhouse Art Space through May 2.