Last month we were privileged to visit Zimbabwean artist Kufa Makwavarara in his home in Cape Town where he lives and paints. He was busy finishing up a large, colourful painting entitled ‘Covid Vaccine Roll-Out’ which filled the lounge where he works with bright, eccentric characters and complex, intricate storylines.
We are thrilled to offer this painting for sale (view / enquire online here) and to have had the opportunity to chat to Kufa about this magnificent work as well as his experiences, artistic process and inspirations.
Read the interview below and watch a short film behind the scenes with Kufa here.You can see more paintings available by Kufa Makwavarara in his online portfolio.
About the artist:
Kufa Makwavarara was born in Harare, Zimbabwe. From 2001 to 2003 he studied at the National Gallery School of Visual Art and Design in Harare and in 2000 began exhibiting with Gallery Delta and the Zimbabwe National Art Gallery. Two of his paintings are in the permanent collection of the Zimbabwe National Gallery as his work can be found in the private collection of the Spanish Embassy.
"I think that art must also be a recording of this current time - for generations to come. So that we can reflect on and think about how we solve these problems. "
To start with, could you tell me a bit about your latest painting here: ‘Covid Vaccine Roll-Out’?
Yes, this artwork is about the vaccination or the vaccines – and about people gathering in the line to be vaccinated - that is the idea of this work. I have set it in Cape Town, in Long Street – you can see the sign at the top.
There is that side of corruption too, you know, buying or bribing and people saying "I'll give you vaccines if you give me money" – at the bottom right.
You know how some people do not want to be vaccinated - so I wanted to put something about that too. So that is why the red person at the front is removing his mask, he is refusing.
The character smoking marijuana is wearing a big hat with the word ‘CURE’. There are stories in the communities that marijuana is the cure and that it can cure everything. That is the inspiration – people have all got their own conspiracies, their own thoughts.
You know what people have been saying about 5G phones - that it could carry Covid-19? This woman at the top is taking pictures of the scenario - where people are being injected – I wanted to reference the 5G debates. Again, it is fear - will it help or will it make us die, you know?
The black and white hat at the bottom is inspired by people from Joburg – their South African style and the way they dress and live.
I'm still thinking about adding the certificate of vaccination into this painting. I am just waiting to see what it looks like - for the colour of the certificate - and then I will paint it in.
'Covid Vaccine Roll-Out' by Kufa Makwavarara. Oil on Canvas, 160 x 160cm
How long does a painting this size take you to complete?
This one takes about half a month to get my ideas on to the canvas. I work with oil paints, so you must wait for it to dry and then after it is dry you put on another layer, until you get to the final details.
What is your process when planning a work like this?
I come up with an idea first, then I do some rough sketches, then when I see the composition is fine I put it on the canvas. I paint straight away with the brush and then the characters come out as I paint.
I have fun with this type of work, I become connected to it. It is my own world – but also involving so many others - I enjoy it.
Do you listen to any music or TV while you paint?
My father listens to the news on TV in the lounge: politics, latest stories, sometimes I listen to music. Having the news on helps me a lot. I see what is happening in the world - the headlines, the currency situations; it actually inspires me. But also I listen to music – it’s good for your mind. Because sometimes if you stick with the news only, the stories put fear in your mind and it’s too much. The mind is not designed to have that stress all the time, you need a break, you need to disappear from it. For me as an artist, I want my own world - everyone has their own interests, their own world that gives them stress relief. But then again, this is art but for me but it is work too!
How do you come up with the ideas and stories of what to paint?
I like to paint and create my own world. Galleries in Zimbabwe in the past told me it is too much my own world - that I'm stuck in my own shell. It is wonderful that I have created this world, but it doesn't relate with other people. The stories were my own stories - kind of like a storybook for children (I have always loved the stories of The Lord of the Rings - those epic ones!)
The other thing helping me with inspiration for my paintings is on the train: hearing stories, listening to groups of people seated in the train and discussing, sometimes it can be social chatting, sometimes it is about their countries. I just listen. People from Zimbabwe get very engaged to talk about the current situation in Zimbabwe and what it is like living in South Africa. Those are stories that inspire me again and again.
My focus is social: the stories I overhear - people are always talking and there are so many stories. It becomes something I use for my art, it inspires me. The people talk about their country, their situation, out in public, on the train. So then when I'm home that story that I heard, that storyline, that inspiration now makes my work. As an artist I like to meet with real people, real things, real experiences.
In absence of other stories, it just becomes inspiration and sometimes it becomes emotional. I think that art must also be a recording of this current time - for generations to come. So that we can reflect on and think how do we solve these problems? There are events, things and debates of the current times that need to be recorded.
How did you start painting?
I started to paint at home. My father bought us some powder paints and me and my brother started to paint, playing with the powder paints. Then in primary school the teacher gave us paints – watercolours – and I did a painting of a giraffe using watercolours. That is in my memory – that first painting of the giraffe! Then later she gave us oil paints in high school. I am still using oil now - I fell in love with oil paints. They are easy to paint, they dry slowly. So I started to develop from there.
Tell me about your studio space and where you paint?
I am lucky to have this space at home, set aside for my painting. I am now used to painting bigger paintings on bigger canvases, but because of space I can only work on one or two at a time. When I was working with the Museum (Zeitz MOCAA), everyone remarked that I was so clean and neat - and it’s because I have to work so small and keep my paints together, something I have learnt from this smaller space.
What does your family think about your art career?
It is important to have family that understand and support you. Lots of people have talent but they end up not pursuing their talent - but if you have support in your area, your family, it actually contributes a lot.
My parents they told me I could be whatever I want: ‘If you want to be an artist, be an artist’. But I find now that extended family - relatives - they say to my parents, ‘Don't you think he needs to rewrite his education?’ Because I failed that time. You know sometimes it is now affecting my parents in a way as more people are saying, ‘no - why don't you just go to school?’
Sometimes you just have to express what you are feeling - I am an artist, I want to do art - so I have to educate them again: ‘This is what I want, this is my art.’ With my mother and my younger sister, now I have to show them my work and I get to educate them – this type of art is abstract, this is realism etc. - so they actually know now and they start to criticise my work. Now they understand and actually listen to me. But there are always people who want to influence me and say "why don't you finish your education?" Because with art it is difficult to survive.
What do you do for fun?
As a hobby, I modify small toys - planes or cars and I add on missiles, wheels and other stuff. I take parts from other toys, look for wires to use, putty. Then I paint it so it becomes something new. I get inspiration for my paintings, in terms of shapes, from these toys and changing them.
I also do love to play car games on the TV, sometimes when I’m done with work, or during the night, it is fun.
Do you use social media?
I don't use social media or Facebook or anything. I'm more on WhatsApp - just for communication, chatting with my mother or my sister in Zimbabwe.
Do you think art should influence society?
I cannot change people with my art, but I can motivate people to liberate themselves - I would love people to actually liberate themselves in terms of being in the system. To change in a good way, to have more freedom. Or maybe there are only some parts of life where they don't have that freedom - so I want to tell them that they can free themselves in whatsoever they want to be. Freedom in what you want to do in life - in school, in sport - but in a way that is actually good for you and the society and it doesn't harm other people. Be you - if you feel like you just want to wear something colourful, do that. We are all different in a way - we are all creative - but we are different.
"My art has always been more for me and my world, but now I feel like I must give back, I must do it for people who don't have freedom, especially like those in Zimbabwe. Also I want to spread the message for them - the oppressed ones, the voiceless... I want my art to visually spread the message and stories of people."
Do you have a favourite or most meaningful work of your own?
A long time back, it was the first born of this style of work and it was called 'The Visitor'. It was so long ago, in Zimbabwe and it is still one of my favourites. It was about a dwarf coming through from a faraway land. He was also a storyteller - he came as a visitor and then he became a storyteller. That is my favourite work.
What are your plans and dreams for the future?
I would love to have a studio and art studios for others too. I like working with others in a community, so I would love to develop a place for other artists that don't have a place to work. If they want to work in a place like a studio, they can come there and have their own studio, with accommodation too, because sometimes artists find it difficult to find a place to work. If they could have that place for free – that’s what I want.
My art has always been more for me and my world, but now I feel like I must give back, I must do it for people who don't have freedom, especially like those in Zimbabwe. Also I want to spread the message for them - the oppressed ones, the voiceless... My art is for them; I am doing it for them. So that visually, people can see the other side. I want my art to visually spread the message and stories of people.
Watch our short film with Kufa :
View Kufa Makwavarara's paintings for sale online here>>