Luyanda Zindela’s first solo show “Abangani bami – Izithombe zami” (SMAC Gallery), presents a series of portraits that explore his relationship with his sense of self and inner circle; resulting in a more intimate body of work that offers a gaze into the artist’s life.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
Main Image: Luyanda Zindela portrait/Courtesy of SMAC Gallery
Luyanda is one of the young artists gently ascending in the local art scene. The artist has already bagged noteworthy accolades in the industry. In 2014, he was the recipient of the ABSA L’atelier Art Competition Merit Award, and in 2019, he was the second runner-up in the Sasol New Signatures competition.
Born and raised in Durban, now working in Cape Town, Luyanda holds a BTech Fine Arts Degree and Masters in Fine Arts from the Durban University of Technology. He is an interdisciplinary artist who specialises in drawing.
The artist says he finds it uncomfortable to describe himself and define his work as he is still on a journey of self-discovery. “I believe that my understanding of myself and who I am is constantly unfolding and evolving over time,” he tells us.
“I would describe myself as a black, South African visual artist and, at times, working creative; and my work centers on reflecting on my lived experiences and interpersonal relationships with people around me.”
We had a conversation with the artist about his artistic journey and his latest work.
Blacklight Media: Can you tell us more about your first solo exhibition and the process of bringing it to life?
Luyanda Zindela: Abangani bami – Izithombe zami explored the notion of close friendship as a form of portraiture making. I explored how my relationship with my inner circle of friends plays a central role in how my identity, or self-portrait, has been formed.
I began the series of portraits during the height of lockdown as a way to cope with going through much of the lockdown period living alone. This time alone led me to reflect on the relationships that mattered to me—and how these relationships were essentially character ‘mark making’ spaces that play a central role in the formation of my self-portrait. I then sought to produce a series of portraits of people close to me; that would then combine to form my self-portrait, hence the exhibition title.
The hand-drawn portraits of everyday interactions with my close friends are a glimpse into the nature of my close relationships, which offer a space where various forms of affection, acceptance and self-disclosure take place. I see my inner circle as an intimate ‘mark-making’, ‘portrait-making’ space where my conceptions of self are constantly formed and reformed, reinforced or dismantled, altered, or unsettled. I choose to visually represent my inner circle through an active “drawing” space where, much like the practice of traditional (portraiture) drawing, there is a constant and deliberate mutual process of creating, interpreting, reflecting on, and representing of identity taking place.
BL: For the ‘New Signatures’ art competition presentation, you also showcased portraits that celebrated friendship. Why is this theme so important to you?
LZ: My close relationships with the people in my inner circle lay at the centre of my life and art practice. To me, my inner circle is a liberating space where the internal (mental) representation and imagining of myself as black and human begins. My inner circle is a space where I can imagine and practice the refusal of the notion of my life—due to my blackness— as always in constant proximity to various, often violent, forms of marginalization or negation. My art practice allows me to document and reflect on these relationships through the portraits I produce.
BL: How did becoming second runner-up for the Sasol New Signatures impact you and your practice?
LZ: It was a massive life shift for me. It was the beginning of my transition into making art on a full-time basis. At the time, I was doing other work, and my art-making was reduced to just a spare time activity. This was very important because it was a time when I was developing my voice and technique. The competition gave me the confidence to move toward the current creative path that I am still on now.
BL: What was your introduction to art?
LZ: I was always drawing and interested in drawing since (around) grade three. I had been doing it consistently enough throughout my adolescence that by the time I was in matric, I knew that I was good at it and wanted to continue doing it more seriously. There was never a grand moment of inspiration that made me ‘want’ to pursue an art career – art-making was so embedded in my everyday life (I would draw a lot in my spare time) that pursuing an art career felt like a natural fit. At the time, I did not see myself pursuing anything else.
BL: An art career is still quite a difficult path to choose; what were some of your earlier challenges, and how did they shape you into the artist you are today?
LZ: I faced challenges that most young black artists face. I initially received very little support from my family and, at times, even opposition, especially as an adolescent. There are still very prevalent notions around the lack of sustainability of art as a legitimate long term career choice, so convincing my family to allow me to pursue this career path was hard. The art industry is a difficult space to break into, especially early in one’s career. So I guess I learned to be resilient.
BL: Finding one’s voice in the art industry is a complicated journey, especially now, with the digital space serving as a platform for young artists. How does one find and nurture their artistic voice in this modern era?
LZ: That is a difficult question that I am still grappling with. I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this; it’s a bit of a balancing act. The digital space is a great way for an artist to expose themselves to the work and voices of other artists and creatives, which helps them find their own space and voice within these voices. At the same time, that wealth of content online also comes with the danger of drowning in the ‘pool’ of endless content and potentially losing one’s creative identity and voice. It’s a very difficult balancing act that genuinely takes time to figure out.
BL: Do you have any artists you look to for inspiration or who serve as a reference for your practice?
LZ: I’m inspired by other contemporary artists who explore ‘the everyday’ in their work. Billie Zangewa is by far my biggest inspiration. Other inspirational artists include Dada Khanyisa, Talia Ramkilawan, Lorin Sookool, Tony Gum, and Amy Sherald. I’m also inspired by the work of Bronwyn Katz, Kudzanai Chiruai, Gabrielle Goliath, Mary Sibande, and the list goes on…
BL: What does a successful career as an artist look like to you?
LZ: One word: Longevity.
Check out Luyanda’s work on smackgallery.com