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Spotlight: Sinenhlanhla '99perspective' Chauke Creates Scenic Illustrations of Black People In Safe Spaces

The South African illustrator is offering feel-good moments during lockdown with his 21-day portrait series.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists and more who are producing vibrant, original work. In our latest piece, we spotlight Sinenhlanhla "99perspective" Chauke, a South African illustrator and designer, who has worked with brands like Puma and Shekinah Donnell, to name a few. He's currently creating vibrant portraits of young South Africans to boost spirits during lockdown, as part of a 21-day challenge. Read more about the series, as well as the inspirations behind his distinctive illustration style below. Be sure to keep up with the artist on Instagram and Twitter.

Can you tell us more about your background and when you first started painting?

I am a 21-year-old Illustrator and graphic designer, originally from Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. I moved to Cape Town to study Visual Communication and Multimedia at a Friends of Design Academy of Digital Arts. While I was still a student, I felt that it was time for me to express my perspective through content curation as well as my style and aesthetics—through all forms of illustration, whether in commercial or editorial work. Hence the name '99 Perspective.'

What are the central themes in your work?

The central themes of my work often involve characters in safe spaces, interior environments and more. I often refer to my illustrations as scenes because they feel like a moment or screenshot taken from a film. The core theme that I always stick to is portraying black men and women in spaces that are true to them. I'm also inspired by interior design and architecture. I try to bring that same aesthetic into my portraits and other commercial illustrative work.


Illustration by Sinenhlanhla "99perspective" Chauke

How did you came to pursue a creative path?

I remember in high school sitting in my Physical Science class and completely breaking down and walking out because I was extremely unhappy and depressed because I was doing something I thought was expected of me as a black child, and something that would make sure I secured a stable career as a Psychologist, Doctor, Lawyer, etc. So I changed subjects into fine art and walked away with a distinction. It proved to me that I was born a creative and that creativity was in my blood.

What's the idea behind the 21-day portrait challenge?

The 21-day challenge came to me as I was traveling on a hot sunny day from Joburg to Nelspruit before South Africa's lockdown. I was thinking of a way I could increase visibility for my work and garner attention for my brand while simultaneously making people excited and positive during this pandemic of COVID-19. The 21-day challenge was developed and over 200 people entered and it helped me grab people's attention since a lot of people are at home. This challenge has also helped my development and helped me improve my workflow overall. I've started to become more confident in my work and happier, as it has made me smile from ear to ear whenever somebody receives their portrait and it genuinely makes their day so much better.

What's next on your journey as an artist?

The Journey has only just begun to be quite honest. Through using social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram, I have managed to build a following and have eyes on my brand. It's super important for me to always upload quality work and take time to perfect all the work that I do so that [it can be a] testament to my core values.

Interview
Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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As the first Tanzanian film to be chosen for TIFF, Shiviji's film is sure to get the African country a seat at the table.