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Congratulations on your solo exhibition at ADA / contemporary art gallery. Have you been able to visit the show yet?


Thank you! Sadly no, I’m not able to travel there physically due to COVID. But it's very exciting nonetheless.

Can you give us an insight into your upbringing in Soweto?


I’m the first born from my mother. I basically grew up in a household with just my mother, my grandmother and my younger brother. Growing up I always had the freedom to express my creativity. At one point I was interested in fashion, but that changed once I was introduced to fine art. 


How did you develop your style in painting, and who are you influenced by?


My style has been through so much trial and error! I always knew what I wanted to say but perhaps didn’t know how best to say it. My style came into its own when I stopped concerning myself with other people’s opinions and focused on what I like.


My style at the beginning was a combination of so many things. I’m inspired by artists like Kerry James Marshall, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Henri Rousseau. Truly it was a combination of work from my faves and I really had to ask myself what is it about their works I’m attracted to. Is it the way things are communicated? Is it the use of palettes? The use of scale? What is it? I think through questioning this thought process my work was birthed.


During this time I started questioning myself. What is it I wanted to speak about? What is relatable to my experience? Even when referencing or taking notes from other artists, you still must relate it to yourself and incorporate your personality within it.


Majority of your work lead with a strong Black figure. Black women are presented lounging, relaxed and looking fabulous, red lipstick and nails, mostly bald and as beautiful and sensual beings. Why have you chosen to centre Black women, Blackness and Black figures in this way?


Thinking about the first portrait I created, it was from of a need. I felt like I needed an affirmation, a reminder of who I am and who I would like to be. I created an image, one that I could look up to and gather my strength from.


Over time I have felt the need to create an image, rather than Google an image as there were not a lot of images that affirmed us Black women and depicted us in an empowering manner, or moving a way from the narrative of the Black woman being a servant or falling under these different stereotypes. I wanted to see an image of Black women just living, being confident, being fabulous and being beautiful in her own space. The more I looked for such images the more I realised there was a lack.


In terms of the skin tone, this kind of depiction of Blackness for me, I like it because of its confrontational manner. You don’t need to question if this is a Black woman or not – clearly you can see! I adore that stance a lot and it goes back to being assertive and affirming ourselves in a way.


What are your current thoughts on the resurgence of figurative painting and the new wave of visual artists who are gravitating to towards portraiture and figurative painting?


There are a lot of black artists speaking about representation through their works. Even Kerry James Marshall referenced in one of his lectures, “if you are a black artist and you don’t know what to speak about – speak about representation". There are never enough images of black representation. We will always need different perspectives and experiences. For example, even if we [you and I] are speaking about the same thing we are never looking at it through the exact same perspective.


For me, I’m always very happy to see more and more artists bring to mind different perspectives and different ways to think about the representation of Blackness. I’m grateful to be a part of such a movement.


What else do you have lined up in the pipeline for 2021?


I’d like to finish school firstly! This is my last year of my Fine Art degree at University of the Witwatersrand. Other than that, I would like to continue to evolve as an artist.

Scrolling (2021)
Zandile Tshabalala, Two Reclining Women,
Zandile Tschabalala, Enter Paradise I, 2

"I created an image, one that I could look up to and gather my strength from"

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