On black beauty: Explore illustrator Dananayi Muwanigwa’s electrifying Afrofuturist universe

Born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, Dananayi Muwanigwa is a digital painter and freelance artist currently in South Africa as part of a month-long Digital Africa Residency Programme for annual digital innovation event, Fak’ugesi Festival, which launches this week.

Dananayi’s bold futurist illustrations feature fictional characters and famous faces like actors Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. These figurative and imaginative artworks comprise “transcendental African beings from the future or past”, according to the artist, who exist in an alternate universe.

Describing his artistic style as “semi-realistic with an Afrofuturistic or fantasy slant”, Dananayi chats to us about his latest body of work, titled Rimi, which celebrates the female form, and exploring alienation in upcoming work, which will be on exhibition this month at the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, which is home to Fak’ugesi Festival.

When did you start your career as a digital artist?
I went to a multimedia design school in 2012 where they offered character design. I was introduced to Photoshop and subsequently fell in love with digital painting. I joined the online community and experimented with a plethora of digital painting styles for years to the point that my current visual aesthetic was conceived.

Can you tell us about the figurative works that you create?
I like depicting transcendental African beings from the future or past on alternate worlds, and marrying this with my love for fantasy, magic and blackness. I’m fascinated by the human form, I believe the complexity of the human experience is evidence of a divine creator and creativity is an inherent quality in all of us.

Tell us about this body of work.
The art I’ve been working on this year is called Rimi, which means “flame” in Shona. My artwork is also a celebration of the black female form and beauty and personal associations of beauty with power and fear.

What are your thoughts on the digital art industry in Zimbabwe?
I believe the industry is growing but still marginal compared to traditional mediums of expression, especially in Zimbabwe. The global citizen internet boom has facilitated in the growth and interest of the creation of art in the digital space. More and more young artists are able to learn, explore and share their unique perspectives to a global audience via the internet and social media.

What design tricks have you learnt over the years?
Ultimately for me, it’s less about “design tricks” but more about using your intuition to determine what you like and don’t like, and subsequently developing your own unique voice as an artist. With that said, I have developed certain habits like using “Chromatic aberration”, which is an optical problem (typically found in photography) that occurs when a lens is unable to bring all the wavelengths of colour to the same focal plane. I replicate this effect by shifting one of the three colour channels in Photoshop to create that colour fringe effect on my highlights. I also make efficient use of particles, deliberately using complimentary colours and utilising compositional techniques typically used in film and photography.

What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m working on a series of surreal dreamlike portraits exploring alienation and the idea of spiritual ascension through vulnerability and self-acceptance. This artwork will be on display as part of the Fak’ugesi Residency Programme and festival.

See Dananayi’s work at Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival from 8-15 at Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

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