Kilmany-Jo Liversage makes global feminist statement and honours the life of Nokuphila Kumalo

Kilmany-Jo Liversage is a Cape Town artist who paints large-scale graffiti-style portraits of women. We caught up with the artist after she created site-specific artworks in Dubai and Melbourne, and honoured the life of Nokuphila Kumalo, murdered in 2013 by South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa. 

Recently you painted a giant portrait of a woman in Nando’s Australia, which you called ‘Hosiera2017′. Who is she?
She’s a woman caught up in a moment of contemplation and deep thought. She’s someone waiting for a bus preoccupied with her thoughts amidst the busy sprawl of urban life. She is a full-colour spectrum captured within the hues of city life.

Hosiera2017. Spray paint and acrylic on wall. 5 x 7 m. 2017. Nando’s Melbourne.

The works you exhibited at Cape Town Art Fair and That Art Fair related to the murder of Nokuphila Kumalo by artist Zwelethu Mthethwa. Tell us about this.

I’ve made three works in relation to my feelings about Nokuphila Kumalo, and these were shown at Cape Town Art Fair and That Artfair.

Nokuphila Kumalo was a 23-year-old mother who lived in Woodstock. She was a sex worker described by a friend as “just the girl next door who wanted to provide for her family”. Nokuphila Kumalo was found beaten to death on a Woodstock street in 2013. Zwelethu Mthethwa was accused, and ultimately convicted, of Nokuphila’s murder in March 2017. During the murder trial, prior to Zwelethu’s conviction, the women of SWEAT, other activists and myself observed that Zwelethu’s name, which was newsworthy due to his international success as an artist, was always used in media coverage of the trial, while Nokuphila’s name was often disregarded, which we found profoundly unjust and disrespectful.

Hosiera2017. Spray paint and acrylic on wall. 5 x 7 m. 2017. Nando’s Melbourne.

In the midst of this, Iziko South African National Gallery held an exhibition timed for South Africa’s 2016 ’16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children titled, Our Lady. This exhibition was officially described as meant to “interrupt the puritanical and patriarchal visual economy that surrounds imagery of the figurative female form”. A work by Zwelethu was included in the exhibition, without providing any contextual information about the accusation against him of murdering a woman, which we found offensive and distasteful.

I made placards stenciled with ‘Her name was Nokuphila Kumalo’ and joined the placard-holding women of SWEAT and other activists to honour Nokuphila’s life, to protest against the unspoken brutality of rendering a victim nameless, and, crucially, to protest against the significance of including an uncontextualised Zwelethu Mthethwa artwork in this show.

Protesters at the Iziko South African Gallery hold up placards stenciled by Kilmany-Jo. This typography appears in portraits created by Kilmany, before and after this protest, as she grappled with the brutal murder of 23-year-old Nokuphila Kumalo, and honoured her life through naming and painting her.

Abuse, rape and murder of woman are at pandemic proportions in South Africa. The male perpetrators are usually given bail (as was Zwelethu Mthethwa) to continue their normal lives and often handed a pathetic amount of years behind bars when found guilty. These three works are in line with my desire to shine a light on abuse against women, while inspiring women to empower themselves to their fullest and brightest potential.

Triptych: Part 1. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas.3 X 258cm X 184cm. 2015
Triptych: Part 2. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas.3 X 258cm X 184cm. 2015
Triptych: Part 3. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas.3 X 258cm X 184cm. 2015

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, residences and/or interesting projects we should know about?

I’m busy working towards the Joburg Art Fair, Moniker Artfair in London, a group show in August at C.A.V.E Gallery in Venice Beach, USA as well as SCOPE Artfair in Miami in December.

Find more by Kilmany-Jo on her website and Instagram

Her name was 117. Acrylic and spraypaint on canvas. 125cm x 125cm. 2017.
Amasi 117. Acrylic and spraypaint on canvas. 150cm x 180cm. 2017.

Cover image: Tauba2017. Spray paint and acrylic on corrugated iron. Nando’s Dubai Festival City. 5.3 x 5.3m. 2017. 

This article was made possible by the Nando’s Art Initiative. 

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