Arts + Culture

Tony Gum on Being an ‘Artist in Learning’ and Staying Grounded

We speak with OkayAfrica's 100 Women honoree and South African artist Tony Gum on her journey as an "artist in learning" and more.

This feature is in conjunction with our inaugural list—“OkayAfrica’s 100 Women”—where we take a look at the women making an impact on the African continent and in the diaspora.


Check out the biggest names in culture to young up-and-comers in "OkayAfrica's 100 Women" list here.

Cape Town’s Tony Gum is the art world’s official “It” girl and she’s riding the wave with gorgeous portraiture fans are going gaga for. At 21, Gum is making art that is consumable for many regardless of age, race and class.

She is renowned for capturing the innocence and magic of everyday life as seen on her Instagram page with 34,000 followers and counting. From her Black Coca Cola series, to showing at international art shows, Gum is making her mark in the world. She showcased her work at Art Basel, in which Perez Art Museum Miami named Gum as one of its Top 20 picks, and received a Pulse New York Art Prize Jury Award nomination in 2016.

She’s also featured in FNB Johannesburg Art Fair, in which she was the poster girl, and participated in the Cape Town Art Fair in 2016. Add to that media coverage in Vogue, Elle, Artsy and OkayAfrica, Gum is an example of how young people can make a difference from where they are and still make their mark globally. Below, she speaks to OkayAfrica about community, what it means to be an “artist in learning” and gratitude.

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Josephine Opar for OkayAfrica: Who are some women in your life that you hold dear, and how have they impacted you?

Tony Gum: Since I'm the only girl amongst my siblings, I used to move towards my mother and late-grandmother for matured feminine influence. As my female cousins and I grew older, my attention retracted towards them because I could relate to their femininity a lot better.

How do you stay grounded in the midst of your growing success?

I don't mind being a social butterfly but in order keep my mind [at peace], I say little prayer and keep my circles small.

What challenges do you face as you continue to approach being an "artist in learning?"

I'm challenged externally to evolve from my previous narratives and improve. I'm challenged internally to not be so hard on myself, to be content and to find a way to finally accept the finished product.

What song or album would you consider to be the soundtrack to your life now, and why?

Oh! This is a tough one, but I'm going to opt for the "A Donny Hathaway Collection" album. It's a perfect combination of beautiful instrumentals, powerful lyrics, sensual grooves and soul fulfilling tunes. And everyday after varsity, it never ceases to revitalize me.

What are you thankful for?

I'm grateful for life, my family, love and my ability to think and move how I feel. I'm thankful for everything.

Photo by Meztli Yoalli Rodríguez

Dying Lagoons Reveal Mexico’s Environmental Racism

In the heart of a traditionally Black and Indigenous use area in Southwest Mexico, decades of environmental destruction now threatens the existence of these communities.

On an early morning in September 2017, in a little fishing village in the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, called Zapotalito, thousands of dead fish floated on the surface of the Chacahua-Pastoría lagoons. A 7.1-magnitude earthquake, which rattled Mexico City on September 19, was felt as far down as Zapotalito, and the very next morning, its Black, Indigenous and poor Mestizo residents, who depend on the area's handful of lagoons for food and commerce, woke up to an awful smell and that terrible scene of floating fish.

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