Q&A with 2019 Award Finalist: LARISSA MWANYAMA

After careful consideration of several hundred entries by artists from across South Africa, the judges have shortlisted 10 artists working in a number of mediums including painting, photography, digital art and printmaking.

The work of the shortlisted artists will go on show in a special exhibition at StateoftheART’s Cape Town gallery from 27 August – 14 September 2019 and the winner announced at the Award Ceremony on 05 September. The winner will be awarded a R20 000 cash prize and a solo exhibition with the gallery in 2020.

We asked the Ten Gallery Award Finalists some questions to help you get to know them before the Finalists Exhibition.


Artist Statement

As a South African with a Malawian heritage, the term culture has always been a concept of interest to me. Constantly placing my heritage and my nationalism in conflict, the construct of culture has always been the foundation for my existential identity crisis. This work investigates the concept of culture, and acknowledges that it is socially constructed, and therefore can be deconstructed.

It attempts to create a conversation that centres around the intersectionality of contemporary digital culture and culture in theory. It does this by looking at social movements and trending threads as systems that present themselves as culture. Specifically the #BlackGirlMagic movement; it draws vaguely from aspects of various African cultures and creates a homogenous experience of the black womxn. Whilst the movement is necessary and important, the critique here is that it is inaccessible to those who fall outside the digital space and inaccurate for those that do.

Whilst the work takes on a contemporary perspective, it also looks at the colonial construction of African cultures and its people. It acknowledges the concepts of African-ness and Blackness as being complex, furthermore that the concept of the Black womxn is even more so.


Tell us about yourself. Where are your from, and where do you currently live?

I am from the very small town of Pietermaritzburg. I was born and raised there, which I guess by default denotes me as South African. However my parents and most of my family are from Malawi, something I identify with strongly, so I would say I’m from Malawi. I have been living in Cape Town for the last five years and plan to stay here a lot longer.

Art school (and if so where) or self-taught?

I graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art last year, 2018, I majored in printmaking. The institution taught me a lot of technical things and a way to look at things conceptually.

How did you learn about the Award and what made you want to enter?

I saw it on Instagram a few times, and didn’t think much of it at first. I always feel quite anxious about art competitions in general, but one day I just felt drawn to it. The theme for this year really sold it for me, because I think it’s completely relevant and exciting.

Black Girl Magic

What do you think of the StateoftheART Gallery Award as a platform for emerging artists in South Africa?

Considering the context of the gallery being a commercial one, I think it’s quite an effective way to create a narrative that appeals to various people from various communities. I think, for the most part, people who enter these competitions are looking for a stage, a home, and a family – a place where they can express in all the colours and forms possible.

Tell us about where you make your work.

I work digitally, so I’m always on my MacBook.

What is your key inspiration as an artist? 

I feel my inspiration comes from the interactions I have with people every day. I’m quite interested in how ideas and theories manifest in groups and societies. I like the performance of the moment, and the many costume changes one has, including myself, when stepping on the stage of life. I’m also very drawn to textures and prints, on a material level.

Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?

I tend to have long periods of note-taking, written records, and daily doodles. Then I give myself a rest from the tangible and embrace smells, colours and sounds. I tend to take a while before I make a work - I always wished I could be an art-making machine. However, I take my time and wait for that glorious lightbulb moment. Then, when I feel ready I put on some tunes, fill my tummy with snacks and get into the zone.

Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?

I think brown artists in general are inspiring to me. So for specific artists, I don’t have a particular tune that I am singing every day. However, a trend that I think I have been noticing is the wave of Diaspora concepts and conversations, that is surfacing amongst South African conversations. I mean, it has always been in discussion, but I think it’s finding a platform and integrating into the South African art context.

How is your work relevant in a South African context?

I feel that my work is relevant because it aims at the anxious youth that follows the generation of Apartheid. It attempts to look at the platforms of communications that we use, the trends we create, follow and lead. I’m interested in the anxiety, confusion and discomfort that I feel coats the generation that I’m in. I want it to include everyone, but not in a rainbow nation ideal, but in a way that is raw. I believe in accepting what we do to each other, in order to know how to treat and see each other.

What do you think South African artists can contribute to the global art market?
Firstly, an accurate voice and representation. Whilst I don’t know much about how the global market operates, I think it’s a safe assumption that South Africa has been portrayed as the poster child for reconciliation of differences, and as a result the works that find themselves in the market are followed by this assumption. However, I think there is something exciting about how mixed and interconnected the messages are from the art surfacing and circulation from South Africa. I think the contribution to the market would be disruptive in the most incredible sense, it would add value in a way that is counter to the flow of the market – which I think is progressive and important.

StateoftheART is South Africa's leading online gallery. How important do you think it is for an artist's career to market their work online and through social media?

I think it depends on the artist and how they see their work functioning in their perception of reality. I also think this decision could change. However, as somebody who works digitally, my work depends on social media and online platforms. I think because of things turning towards digital solutions, that there isn’t any harm in understanding how one’s work could be elevated or supported. The platform is interesting as it is inherently known as a space where you can reinvent yourself and decide what you reveal or hide. I think it could be beneficial for an artist to reveal their journey as an artist, their daily routines, their achievements, maybe even potential achievements for others aspiring towards this career path.

How do you feel about the upcoming group exhibition and the other shortlisted finalists’ works?
I am positively overwhelmed that I made it into the exhibition. I really just wanted to try, and I was going to be happy with any sort of recognition from the gallery. Now that I am in it, I want to push myself to do more as an artist and really reach for new and exciting heights. As for the other finalists, I think it’s always important to engage with other artists works, and I always enjoy the conversations that come out of curating various talents.

Black Don't Crack

Do you have any plans for the coming year?

I plan to do my Master’s in Fine Art, and possibly engage in some curatorial projects. I also want to start working on a digital platform that connects all kinds of artists. Maybe even get busy with a series of works and start looking for more platforms and opportunities for my work.

If you win the Gallery Award, tell us about what you have in mind for your solo exhibition in 2020?

This feels a lot like asking me what I wanted for Christmas when I turned eight – my imagination is endless. I have always had a love for creating spaces that are interactive and engaging. A space of sensory overload, where live music, live performance and maybe even food is all part of the process of engaging. Of course this would be done realistically, and would be conceptually considered. I know that the content of my work would start to take an interest in the concept of African Futurism. I’m not sure what the work would all look like yet, but I do know that the space I want to create would be one that invites difference and makes conversations about them less scary. I want to make people smile, I want them to have an exciting trip into my colourful mind!

Finally, tell us something surprising about yourself.

I am extremely terrified of butterflies and birds!