New Expressions Of Black Femininity - Business Media MAGS

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New Expressions Of Black Femininity

For savvy collectors interested in fresh young talent, Zandile Tshabalala is one to watch. Layla Leiman chats to this rising star to find out more.

Zandile Tshabalala is young a Soweto born artist rapidly gaining recognition for her striking paintings. Working primarily in acrylic and enamel, Tshabalala’s paintings present bold and empowered portrayals of black femininity that reference and subvert the art canon, challenging cultural and art historical stereotypes about the black female body. With reference to historical paintings by the likes of Henri Rousseau and Édouard Manet in which black female bodies were used to signify primitive sexuality, Tshabalala’s portraits radically rewrite the power dynamics of the black female body. The figures in her paintings stare out at the viewer with startlingly white eyes that seem to follow the viewer like a panther stalking its prey. Blood red lips. Skin black as the night sky. In Tshabalala’s portraits, each a kind of self-portrait, the women are self-possessed and empowered, returning the viewer’s gave with their own languid look that is at once mysterious and unarming.

Did you grow up in a creative family? Please tell us a little bit about your background and how it has influenced where you are today. 

Growing up I was always creative and enjoyed drawing and colouring in. I was exposed to fine art when I was in high school and that really got me interested in pursuing painting as a career. I did not know of many painters, especially back home in Soweto. Initially my family was not supportive of this idea, but the urge in me really pushed me to rebel to follow my dreams. Today my family is very supportive as they are now also exposed to new possibilities and assist me however they can in my growth as an artist.

What have been some of the ideas or insights that have played a part in shaping your art?

I’d say art history, other painters and personal reflections and interests in what is currently happening in our society, especially in relation to women, play a big role in my work. Conceptually, I am interested in how women of colour are represented and the acts of relaxation, introspection
and dreaming.

There are elements of Artists like Henri Rousseau and Kerry James Marshall in your visual language and subject matter. Please tell us how you engage with art history aesthetically and conceptually in your painting?    

I’m interested in the placement and positioning of the black woman in painting, especially in historical paintings. I believe that some of these images that depict black women as servants and invisible maintain certain stereotypes and contribute to the reinforcement of ideas that the black woman is inferior. Yes, these narratives of servitude may be true and still are true even today, but for us as women there is much more to us than our given circumstances. I interrogate ideas and stereotypes associated to how the black woman is or should be. We dream, we rest, we reflect and that needs to be captured and shown in art as well. So I guess my work is more interested in those ‘behind the scene’ moments that each individual has and reflect my own ideas, perspective and desires.

What ideas and themes are you currently exploring in your work?

Representation, beauty, the state of rest, self-introspection and the imagined.

Please tell us about some of the moments in your work – neon nails, animal prints, flowers – and how you use these to challenge stereotypes and create an empowering portrayal of black femininity. 

I use these imageries and elements to enhance the narrative that I am speaking to in each painting. I think a lot about the associations, for instance with the animal prints I think about how some of the terms are used to describe women and with the foliage I think about what it means for me as a woman of colour to use these elements especially with the given burden of being pushed towards a certain political narrative. I believe the act in itself not only contributes to my storytelling and desire to create a sort of dreamscape but is also radical in itself as it goes against the expected.

What has been your experience putting your work out there for people to see and engage with? What do you hope people will take away from your art?

So far my audience has been receiving my work well and sharing some of their thoughts and experiences. I hope people take away from my paintings a new perspective and image of the black woman.

Where can people view and potentially buy your art?

I share most of my information on my Instagram so I’d say that is the best place to view my work and stay updated on upcoming shows and publications.

Zandile Tshabalala: Within silence I, 2020, Acrylic on canvas

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