We spoke with the South African digital artist about drawing inspiration from the women in her life and creating art for them to recognize their own beauty.
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 South African digital artist Naledi Modupi. The artist's creative journey began at home, as her adoration for her own mother inspired her to begin designing outfits for her at age six. Modupi's maternal inspiration led to the artist's fascination with the female face. The multidisciplinary artist uses semi-abstract techniques, vibrant colors, and vivid shapes to restructure faces, as "faces are able to tell a person’s story and experiences", says the artist. Modupi's creations are intricate and tastefully depict the abundant ways in which Black beauty can manifest. Using her art to encourage confidence and joy in those who see themselves within it, Modupi's series of artwork gave space for the many sides to Black women that the world often attempts to diminish.
We spoke with the artist about understanding the spaces that Black women are creating for themselves, and the intentional growth that the pandemic brought.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.
My earliest memory of my art coming to fruition was when I’d draw outfits for my mom. I love the kind of woman my mom is; the way she carries herself, her character, strength, and softness. But, as a young girl, I was obsessed with her style. I'd draw outfits for her, in my attempt to have input on who she was or how she looked. I'm sure they weren't all that good, but I vividly remember my love for drawing clothes, around the ages of six or seven.
Creating art has always been part of my growth as a kid. I was an awkward, shy kid and found it hard to express myself through speech. It used to and still frustrates me so much. I allowed art to become my way of life, connecting with friends, family, and myself. My approach to exploring and portraying different techniques and styles in my later years has also allowed me to find ways to use my art as a way of helping people connect with each other.
My journey has been a very organic one, influenced by the people around me and their experiences have fed into the curious being I’ve always been. To a certain point, I think my art has changed to become a very personal reflection of being blessed by these people and experiences, and never doubting or letting go of this gift. Acknowledging and being intentional about these influences has taken me to where I am with my craft today.
What are the central themes in your work?
My work is heavily inspired by the beauty and characteristics associated with women. Through it, I celebrate the unique and empowering stories of the women around me. I aim to inspire confidence and awaken hope in those who are able to find their reflections in my pieces, just as I see myself in my work.
The central themes in my work explore my love for faces, particularly the female face. I believe that faces are able to tell a person’s story and experiences. The women I grew up around inspired my fascination and love for portraying and uncovering these stories.
I've always been surrounded and intrigued by women from different walks of life -- I still don't fully understand it. In that sense, my art is a project or study of who connects to which pieces and why. Almost an attempt to understand why women hold the positions they hold in society. But, mostly to get women to see themselves the way I see them -- bold, beautiful, and exceptional!
How did you decide on 'Digital art' being your medium of choice?
Painting with acrylic on canvas has always been a personal favorite, but it has felt a bit restricting and expensive, and I’d still be unable to communicate exactly what I wanted. Even though I still enjoy painting outside of digital art, I find that Digital Art allows a creative space open to anyone. It allows for exploring different techniques and styles of art. It allows for more mistakes therefore more learning. I feel like the digital world is huge and makes art capable of reaching and being accessible to many more people -- whether you’re a creator, collector, or simply someone who appreciates art.
My journey and presence in the digital world have uncovered a never-ending artistic journey of discovery for me. I’m constantly revealing parts of my creativity and expression through the different digital software and digital spaces – hence my attachment and consistency in the medium.
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
The pandemic gave me TIME! Time to find and focus on things and interests that matter to me. Before the pandemic, I think I wasn’t too clear on what or how I wanted to express these interests, beliefs, and values. During this period, I discovered the world of digital art. I spent this time learning, exploring, and sharing my work.
And for the first time in a long time, I could hear and see myself in my work. It gave me time to find my voice artistically.
Can you describe your artistic relationship with 'Afrofuturism'?
I believe ‘Afrofuturism’ is meant to bring a specific kind of people within the African culture together, to be able to connect with each other, regardless of time, age or generation. I want my art to live in different periods of time, and still be able to resonate and communicate topics around Black liberation, culture, and experiences – and that sits within Afrofuturism.
Can you talk about your use of colors and jewelry in your art?
Color, abstract forms, shapes, patterns, and faces are what I love, truly. My relationship with colors and shapes forms the backbone of my work. The shapes and patterns usually suggest the idea of jewelry – the added character and identity to the face. I use these elements to create beauty!
For me, colors and jewelry are a vehicle to express or suggest a mood, personality, feelings, or even time and age -- but mostly joy and confidence.