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HomeBusinessAfrica to the world: Four of Mzansi’s best fine artists

Africa to the world: Four of Mzansi’s best fine artists

Africa to the world: Four of Mzansi’s best fine artists

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Art is an often overlooked profession, but it expresses perplexing and complicated human experiences – and it can be lucrative.

It also allows us to see, connect with, and interact with others in the world, and it can be a very rewarding career to pursue.

Here are four of South Africa's biggest fine artists:

Zanele Muholi

“Fine artists deal with finery, but I deal with painful material. It is personal issues that make me do what I do, for I have been assaulted more than 50 times by just listening to what women who have confessed and confirmed their love for other women have been through.”

Muholi is a visual artist, and activist whose work focuses on black, lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.

As a non-binary person, Muholi uses they/them pronouns. They were born in the township of Umlazi, Durban.

They hold a Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.

Muholi has researched and heavily documented hate crimes against the LGBTQI+ community in the order to highlight the horrific realities experienced in the country, such “corrective rape”, assault, and HIV/Aids.

Their first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004. The 42-year-old seeks to empower the subjects of their photography by inviting participants to speak of their experiences at these events.

Nelson Makamo

“Later on in life, we sometimes forget there’s beauty in being a human being, but children are just discovering that.”

Modimolle, Limpopo, is the birthplace of the 40-year-old fine artist. He studied at the Artist Proof Studios in Johannesburg and has had a successful career spanning more than 20 years.

His distinct and instantly recognisable work consists of destitute African children depicted in charcoal and oil paintings.

Makamo shares the vulnerable, yet hopeful, and wide-eyed nature of children that many African children lack through this focus on African youth.

In 2019, his painting Mapule was featured on the cover of TIME’s Optimists issue, guest-edited by film-maker Ava DuVernay.

Makamo is in a league of his own, with solo exhibitions in the United States, Finland, England, France, and other countries.

Esther Mahlangu

“It is my passion to transfer this skill to the generations after me. I want them to learn where it comes from, why the Ndebele people paint their houses, and monuments.”

This icon was born in Middelburg, Mpumalanga. She began painting at the age of 10 and has honed her skills over the decades.

With a focus on her native Ndebele style of painting, which is traditionally done by women and girls to the exterior of houses, Mahlangu pays homage to her heritage through her work.

In 1989, her art reached the world stage at the European art exposition titled Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the World).

Two years later, BMW commissioned her to create an “art car”, following in the shoes of other iconic artists who had taken on the car manufacturers’ commissions, such as Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and David Hockney.

Mahlangu made history as the first non-Western, and female person to create these art cars.

Her Ndebele motifs were also reproduced in 1997 on the tails of British Airways planes.

In 2006, Mahlangu was awarded the government’s Order of Ikhamanga, silver class.

Talia Ramkilawan

“Attempting to find a process of healing through making led me to where I am now. I craved intimacy between what I was making and myself. I place emphasis on exposing how trauma from the past resonates in the present.”

The textile artist was born in Cape Town but grew up in Nelspruit. She attributes her journey into the creative space to her English teacher, who encouraged her creativity.

She studied sculpture at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts. As someone of South Asian identity, her art focuses on the trauma of dislocation and displacement in the country.

In rug-hooking, she weaves contemporary imagery into her tapestries. Her first solo exhibition, Aren’t We Always Having Indian Dreams? touches on the themes of family, trauma, and healing.

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