10 womxn blazing trails across Africa’s art scene

The continent’s diverse and expansive art scene is ablaze with womxn who are pushing creative boundaries and breaking new ground; take Laetitia Ky’s glorious hairstyles and Danielle Clough’s embroidery reinventions.

When thinking about the ”art world”, we often forget to think about the elements and infrastructure of organisations that keep the creative sector thriving. Beyond artists, this includes gallerists, arts public relations, critics and buyers, plus more.

And in this “art world”, which is still plagued by issues surrounding gender, economic and racial transformation, there’s a nexus of art practitioners like publicist Jessie Cohen, arts and culture writer and editor Maneo Refiloe Mohale, as well as curator Londi Modiko and consultant Kholisa Thomas, who are doing the most for representation and tackling such issues within and outside of the industry.

From multidisciplinary artists pioneering new work to PR mavericks and thought-provoking writers, here’s 10 womxn who are creating, interrogating and nurturing visual arts.

Kutala Chopeto

Who: Art collective
Location: Pretoria and Johannesburg

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Kutala Chopeto is the name of artists Teresa Fimino and Helena Uambembe’s creative duo. While at a baby shower, they discovered their shared history: Teresa’s grandfather and Helena’s father were both Angolan soldiers who fought in the 32 Battalion during South African Border Wars, between 1966 and 1989.

”This unit was predominantly made up of Black Angolan soldiers. There are books and documentaries on the 32 Battalion but they hardly speak of the Black people in the unit,” says Helena. Since forming Kutala Chopeto, the collective’s work aims to rewrite black history deliberately erased by colonialism, and dismantle colonial stereotypes.

”We are currently working on a performance piece for the group exhibition The Silences in Between that is taking place at Goodman Gallery Cape Town this month. We’re working with a story we wrote called The Crocodile Lover, based on how marriages were made in the community,” adds Helena. Follow Kutala Chopeto

Jessie Cohen

Who: Publicist for Goodman Gallery
Location: Johannesburg

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Before taking up a publicist role at Goodman Gallery, Jessie worked at the Mail & Guardian as a gender and arts correspondent and at David Krut Projects as an in-house writer. Despite the perception of galleries as counter-spaces for challenging conventional gender expressions and relations, they’re more conventional than what we’d like to believe.

”I’ve found it interesting to experience the art world from different sides; writing on the arts from the position of a journalist and from the position of PR. It can be exciting when the press is pulled in by the content and write interrogative reviews of shows, taking the conversation forward,” she says when describing what excites her most about the PR art industry. Follow Jessie

Thuli Gamedze

Who: Multidisciplinary artist, writer and educator
Location: Cape Town

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Based in Cape Town, Thuli is busy with a Masters in Philosophy, focusing on creative methodologies and ways to disrupt the colonial education project. Between part-time lecturing, she’s part of art collective iQhiya, formulating a performative series of new works and penning a text about gender.

”Writing about art has in many ways allowed me to give myself space for the discomfort and violence I found existing in the art world, and how that echoes what I found outside of it, but more than that, I think it’s super important to make space for criticality because so often people seem so fancy and ‘cultured’, and white, that there is a collective mentality that shies away from making itself vulnerable by calling out bullshit’,’ she says. Follow Thuli

Marsi van de Heuvel

Who: Visual artist
Location: Cape Town

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Marsi graduated from art school Ruth Prowse in 2010, where she majored in painting and has since gone on to create an oeuvre rich in delicate artworks, created layering one-directional marks made by a fine liner. Her subject matter includes botany, outer space and volcanos — all symbolic of inner, intimate landscapes.

She says her ”technique is compulsive; it doesn’t really feel like a choice. I like the juxtaposition of using countless, simple, tiny marks to represent something infinite and grossly complex. Yet, the process for me evokes a similar overwhelming feeling that I get from looking at the sky; no end in sight, intimidation, loss of Self.” Follow Marsi

Maneo Refiloe Mohale

Who: Arts and culture writer and editor
Location: Johannesburg

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Photography by Kgomotso Neto

Maneo’s writing has appeared across South African publications on subjects such as the role of contemporary poetry and the politics of the tag #blackgirlmagic. A 2016 Bitch Media Global Feminism Writing Fellow and the managing editor of online music magazine, Platform, Maneo’s writing topics include race, queer identity and history, to mention a few.

The writer and published poet, contemplates local media. “South Africa’s media landscape is just beginning to see the immense power that voices from the margins of society can have, and as a queer feminist writer with a deep love for music and culture, I’m inspired to add my own perspective on the unbelievably exciting and challenging currents happening around me every day,” she says. Follow Maneo

Kholisa Thomas

Who: Art advisor and founder of event Art Talks
Location: Johannesburg

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Art advisor Kholisa Thomas was inspired to start event Art Talks in 2016 as a way to bridge the gap between artists and their audiences. Held once a month around Joburg, the event brings together mentors, creatives, artists, writers and eager buyers in a welcoming setting, that nurtures dialogue exchange beyond the stiff white walls of art galleries.

”I wanted to give the emerging art loving and art buying audience a unique opportunity of meeting artists and learning the stories behind their work, which were not only personal but narrated our own unique collective South African story. That is was what made art appreciation and collecting so exciting for me,” she explains. Follow Kholisa

Natalie Paneng

Who: Multidisciplinary artist
Location: Johannesburg

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Natalie Paneng’s vlog Hello Nice  is part performance and personal experimentation, filled with vaporwave and GIF elements. Currently studying Set Design at Wits University, Natalie says she chose the subject as a way to experiment with film and continues to make art that is accessible to those who come across it.

”I love accessibility, I used to struggle with the fact that artistic platforms are hard to access. I love that I can make art in bed and publish it at that moment. Everything I do is in direct relation to me. I am a womxn and so my work has to reflect that. I’m the subject of a lot of my work, so I’m not sure if who I am is the biggest influence or being a womxn is the biggest influence. They are blurred’,’ she says. Follow Natalie

Laetitia Ky

Who: Hair artist
Location: Côte d’Ivoire

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”I came across an Instagram album of hairstyles women used to wear in some African tribes prior to colonisation. These hairstyles were really impressive and made me want to use hairstyling as a means of expression,” the 21-year-old hair artist recently said.

Using fabric, wool, wire, extensions needle and thread, Laetitia has transformed her hair into a ballet dancer, the earth, bunny ears and helping hands — there’s no limit to what form her braids might take. For Laetitia, using her hair as an artistic medium is about confidence, playfulness, and celebrating the limitless possibilities and beauty of black hair. Follow Laetitia

Londi Modiko

Who: Curator and art advisor
Location: Johannesburg

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Londi is the director at WHATIFTHEWORLD in Johannesburg. She studied Fine Arts and business and has worked in the industry for ten years honing her skills at David Krut Publishing and Goodman Gallery, to name a few.

”I aim to expand the discourse around contemporary ‘African’ art. I aim to share narratives that have been omitted in our ‘art history’, artworks that encourage questions/solutions to our times. I would like to think that I am also helping to reshape how the art world is run in the background, specifically in SA. I am also interested in the patronage of art through commercial exchange, my long-term goal is to democratise access to art,” she says. Follow Londi.

Danielle Clough

Who: Photographer, designer and embroiderer
Location: Cape Town

With a background in art direction and graphic design, Danielle Clough has found a niche in embroidery art and has subverted expectations of it being an antiquated craft. And has become renowned for embroidering any design, from vintage tennis rackets to shoes and celebrated figures. In addition, she’s also a photographer and a deejay that goes by the moniker Fiance Knowles.

At the moment, Danielle says she’s ”working on two commissions; a collaborative collection of seven pieces with water colour artist Danelle Malan and illustrator Daniel Hugo, and [her] largest piece to date on perforated steel. After the commissions, its a shop update and a workshop tour in Australia.” Follow Danielle

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