"Finally, we as Africans have taken control of our narrative, and how evidence of us and our culture will be remembered in the future."
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 fine artist, Zama Magubane. The Johannesburg-based 22-year-old is currently obtaining her honors at Wits University and making great strides in mastering her craft for her post-University career adventures. Magubane is a testament to how important good mental health is, and how the love and respect we can pour into ourselves is often the perfect remedy. Magubane's work, however, speaks for itself, and her dedication to fine artistry has helped her find success. Her already award-winning art focuses largely on empowering Black men, and the power that comes within embracing one's Divine Femininity -- which is also the name of her podcast, available on all platforms soon.
We spoke with Magubane about staying grounded in this digital world and the importance of trusting where you come from.
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.
I'm in my 4th year of University right now, studying fine art, and I've been practicing for about a year. I started to recognize my talent in my mid-teens, but it took me a while to come around and give myself a chance -- my relationship with fine art has been rocky. I spent years painting like other artists in an attempt to find myself or inspiration that would help me identify my own niche. I hid my work for years and coming out as an artist was a challenge for me. Art is so subjective, and it requires the creator to trust and be confident in it. I had my first show in 2021, and my intention with the opportunity was to test my potential. Slowly beginning to conquer my anxiety, I started working part-time as a graphic designer in Braamfontein. I started to appreciate the idea of my art being engaged with, but the limited resources for young artists in SA were an obstacle. So, I started hosting my own events to exhibit my own work and provide a platform for those around me who shared my struggles. I have my own studio now in Joburg, and a podcast launching this year.
What are the central themes in your work?
My work is inspired by the people around me and the way of life I have chosen for myself. I look into Divine Femininity - the result of our intuition, the information we choose to live by, and our spiritual identity. I believe my purpose is to speak for the Black man and his story -- telling it through my art. Finally, we as Africans have taken control of our narrative, and how evidence of us and our culture will be remembered in the future. Reclamation is a big theme in my work, I focus on our spiritual and physical relationships with society. Even in this very digital world, we have the capacity to be grounded. I believe that above all else, we as Africans need to trust ourselves, our traditions, and our culture.
My current collection is based on the relationship we have with our ancestors through our hair. In IsiZulu culture, hair is "living". Its ability to restore itself is representational of healing and restoration -- it's seen as a physical manifestation of our spirit. We believe that hair is the highest point of the soul because it's the highest part of the body. In the older generations, hair was used as a bonding tool among communities where adults would teach children, and the children would be expected to practice the art skill with each other. Hair connects us to both our spiritual and physical forms. It connects us to our people and our ancestors.
What is your medium of choice and how did you decide on it?
My medium of choice is Acrylic and oil on canvas -- I also use ink, on occasion. Sculpting interests me too, but I'm prioritizing improving on and mastering my painting skills. I chose the medium because of who I can be when I express myself in paint and pen. It's freeing. Besides being faster, I'm less insecure and can trust myself to depict what I have imagined or dreamt of. I have a trusting relationship between me and this medium, following my intuition is all I do. I've been exposed to others, but, for me, canvas and I have a communication style and relationship that I can’t seem to find in other mediums.
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
The pandemic was a scary experience -- it was threatening to my career and as an all-around creative. My mental health suffered a lot, and my anxiety stopped me from being productive. People having to cut down on expenses meant less support for art. Financially, the pandemic was scary and was a wake-up call to me to take my work to the world in order to avoid limitations and scary situations like these. It still shocks me even today that I got here.
Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afrofuturism’?
Afrofuturism is a way for the Black man to speak to what it means to be free, in our own light. It's us to be finding ways to explore our beliefs and culture in these ever-changing, very fast, and digital times. I trust that this is what my work embodies, I intend on using past references and historical context to bring us to the things we face today, things we love today and those we hold to sentiment. My work is a conversation starter about Black history, Black stories, and the direction in which we are growing as a larger Black community. "How can we do better? How can we learn? Teach? How can we unlearn? Is it still good for us to continue some practices? What representation do we want to be placed in position for us? How do we now get to represent ourselves in our own voice?" These are questions we unfold in the process of becoming.
Can you talk about your use of colors and accessories in your art?
My art is very simple in that I focus on the subject matter. I have avoided backgrounds because I feel they sometimes limit my reach to people. I think the subject matter on its own allows the viewer to imagine context and by doing so, interpret the work in their own way. I focus on primary and mineral colors. I'm drawn to warmer colors, cause I believe my work has developed warm energy to it. The line work I do is very expressive, the intention is to express frustration and tension in imagery, that is what I feel most of the time. I use pen, ink, and markers to achieve this technique. I don't use images as references, in most cases I imagine or dream or attempt to remember sceneries, then I illustrate them. Sometimes, I'm not sure where the work draws from, something inside that desires to consistently create these images of people living differently. I plan on exploring spray painting and its techniques. I'm really excited about where I'm heading.