Manyaku, how would you describe your work in 3 words?
Spirituality. Identity. Lineage.
What do you believe is integral to the role of an artist?
I think the integral role of the artist is to create an accurate archive of their time or times imagined.
I LOVE THAT. AND SO, Was there a Eureka moment for you to become an artist?
I think I spent a lot of my youth learning and working tirelessly for and in institutions that did not include people who look like me or give us the opportunity to imagine futures informed by our traditions and environments. I felt very alienated and lost confidence in my identity for a long time. My eureka moment I guess would happen everytime I left these institutions and decided to do whatever felt like home. This is when I decided to be an artist. To not be confined by medium, time and everything else that is strategically placed before me to silence me.
If you weren’t an artist called Manyaku, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else!! I have always wanted to teach. So probably an educator.
Who or what are your greatest influences? How do you find these, and how do you think these influences come out in your work?
My biggest influencers are my family and friends. I try to always include them and their stories in the work I do.
Manyaku, your portraits are so iconic. They truly capture the lives and stories of the subject. Who are the people in your works? What are they saying to the viewer?
The people in my work are my friends (chosen family), my family and also people who have made a big impact on me who I have met through work, travelling or in ordinary everyday situations. There are people who I have never met who have influenced me in many ways who I try to include too. What are they saying to the viewer? That is a very good question. I would also like to know. I do hope that the people I portray in my work connect with the energy and movement I try to portray, I hope they see an accurate representation of their lineage and ancestry. I hope there is a spiritual connection to where they are from, to what they look like and to the way they move around this world.
Tell us a bit about your process, and how each piece comes to life?
My early works are paper-based drawings, and I have since moved to painting with mixed media on canvas which has given me more freedom, both in terms of physical space on the canvas and the durability of the new medium itself, which allows me to create works with a deeper layering and detail. My process is a blend of portraiture, collage making, mark making and mapping.
In my work I use existing photography from the past and from my own present as reference and inspiration to peace together the memories and feelings that exist in my mind. These photograhs can be by black South African photographers from the 30’s to 50’s, from my personal family archives, and from friends’ family archives. I like to use mediums which are striking in color to layer different textures, stories and movement.
Please explain to us a little bit about the titles you assign to your works?
The titles of my work represent verbs, actions which manifest between worlds. They exert a movement into the work with a spirited connection with those ancestors and figures, both known and unknown. They are suggestions of a spiritual journey towards a place of healing and acceptance.
What would you change about the art world?
I would love to change the pace that the world moves in. I would also like to change the access that is denied to black people from their land and ancestral archives. I wish there were more spaces for black artists to be able to feel safe in.
COULD YOU SELECT A PIECE OF YOUR WORK AND TELL US A BIT ABOUT IT?
This work is part of my most recent works which brings together some of the styles of painting and mark making that I have developed within my practice. This work is called “We are going to see the future first”.
I drew inspiration from photography archives from past and present depicting the mundane in the form of bodily movement present in ancestral and spiritual events, rituals and ceremonies that take place amongst black communities, such as people travelling to weddings, funerals, church, work, baptism, initiations.
The work is part of a new series of meditations on these movements being a gesture towards a place of peace, healing, belonging, love, home, and a claim on spirituality rooted in Blackness as the highest cosmological order.
What is your studio like? What are your artist essentials, what do you listen to etc...?
My studio is filled with loud music on most days - spiritual jazz, psychedelic african rock, experimental jazz. Space to move around is essential so I try to keep my work area clean and uncluttered. As well as light. Lots of natural light.
If you were to describe yourself as a colour, what colour would that be and why?
A deep burnt or rusted red or orange.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time:a) What would the meal be?b) Who would it be with?c) Why?
Santu Mofokeng (1956 - 2020). His work depicts Black South Arican lives in a way that is very personal and deep to me. I have many questions for him.
Who is your favourite historical female artist Manyaku?
- Laura Wheeler Waring
- Loïs Mailou Jones
Who are all your favourite practicing female artists and their instagram handles?
- Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
- Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
- Lungiswa Gqunta
- Jennifer Packer
- Portia Zvavahera