Art Interview Interview

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993, and has since lived in South Africa and the UK, where she studied Fine Arts at Wimbledon College of Arts. Her new solo exhibition, If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself, considers the notion of home, and deals with nostalgia, displacement and identity, using family photographs and experimental techniques, existing somewhere between portrait and self-portrait.

Hwami’s works also display an optimistic sense of Afro-futurism, as she reimagines the political situation in Zimbabwe and creates hopeful future possibilities in her paintings. Interweaving figures, symbolic elements and intense colour into her work, Hwami’s paintings are a celebration of Afro-punk and the LGBTQ+ community.

We spoke to Kudzanai-Violet about how she uses digital collage to create her work, and how the paintings in this exhibition deviate from those of her past.

“I think my paintings are visions of an idealistic future – it’s a depiction of Zimbabwe that comes out of my frustration with the situation there.”

Sarah Roberts: If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself deals with displacement and identity. How do you confront those themes in your work?
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: 
The idea for the exhibition came to me when I was watching an animated film called Waking Life by Richard Linklater, which is where I got the exhibition’s title. The film quotes that, “You haven’t met yourself yet. But the advantage of meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself.” I had this idea that by going South through photographs and memories, back to where I was born Zimbabwe, that then perhaps I could find and meet myself. I suppose this is how the theme of displacement shows up in the work too. I want to create paintings that speak of how we are influenced by the people we grew up with, and how so many things are passed down to us from the past. I think you always carry your entire life with you. I am always drawn to painting Zimbabwe and South Africa, and my work doesn’t really reflect where I am now, in South End.

Sarah: A lot of the works also show scenes that belong to a futuristic vision of African life. Can you tell me about your interest in Afro-futurism?
Kudzanai-Violet: I think my paintings are visions of an idealistic future – it’s a depiction of Zimbabwe that comes out of my frustration with the situation there. I am trying to create something that I know isn’t really going to happen, but I am constantly thinking about what Zimbabwe is going to be like in the future, and I am trying to imagine the best possible version of it when I’m painting.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami 'Sekuru Koni' (2017). Copyright the artist, courtesy Tyburn Gallery

Sarah: The works incorporate family photographs – what made you want to include them in your work?
Kudzanai-Violet: 
I’ve always painted my little brother and sister, who are twins, but I steered away from that at university to paint something that wasn’t related to me. Then when I was thinking about the show, I found our family archive of photographs. I was really interested in making those real – there was something I found magical about them and I felt like I’d collaborated with whoever took those photographs. I think doing this exhibition might resolve something for me, but I’m not sure what yet. I also hope that the paintings present a different narrative; I want it to be a different way of looking at a black family.

Sarah: Your work has been described as a celebration of Afro-punk, LGBTQ+ and internet subcultures. What drew you to these themes?
Kudzanai-Violet: 
I wouldn’t really say internet subcultures, but I do use Tumblr a lot. I go on Tumblr to look at photographs of African models and the relationship between their bodies and the background, that’s often how I come up with the colours in my paintings. A lot of my influence comes from fashion photography, and I am drawn to Afro-punk because I love the colours and the culture, and because I was an Emo kid growing up in South Africa, and I was heavily influenced by my own angst. I have always painted a lot of nudes, because my focus was on LGBTQ+ culture, but I’ve sort of put that aside now.

Sarah: How else does this exhibition deviate from your past work?
Kudzanai-Violet: 
My technique has changed, but apart from that it’s probably just my subject matter. Instead of painting nudes, I wanted to work on something that was more autobiographical. At university, I was having fun and being experimental, and now I guess I’m thinking about my work in a more serious manner.

Sarah: Can you tell me a bit about your artistic process?
Kudzanai-Violet: 
Every painting starts from a digital collage that I make. I use that as a reference to the painting, just so I have everything set up correctly – but I want to start creating the collages physically, and not on the tablet, to get a different feel of it.

Sarah: Who are you influenced by artistically?
Kudzanai-Violet: 
Robert Rauschenberg has influenced me this year, because of his technique and use of colour. My all time favourite though is Kerry James Marshall, and I love Alma Thomas, even though she is an abstract painter and her work is very different to mine. I think she uses her art to channel her individual experience, and I’m really interested in people who do that.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself is on at Tyburn Gallery, London, 29th September – 15th November 2017.