Teen spirit: Meet the 10 teens changing South Africa’s cultural scene – part 2

The future belongs to the next generation of pioneering music makers, visual artists, fashion designers and more entering the South African creative scene. To celebrate Youth Month, we platform talented teenage artists, talking to them about their inspiration, insights on creativity and coming of age.

In part 2 of our series, we look at five more of South Africa’s fave teens breaking into the cultural industry.

Espacio Dios, 19

Occupation: Beatmaker
City: Centurion

“My work is about inspiring different beings in different
ways using the good and bad sides of love and my life
experiences. My head is always filled with tons of different
melodies and so it’s about making those melodies come to life.”

How old are you? I’m 19 years old and I feel like I’m 19. I really want to try and enjoy my youth as it won’t last forever. Where are you based? For most of my life I lived in Mafikeng in the North West, the same town where the likes of Cassper Nyovest, HHP and Khuli Chana are from. This year I relocated to Centurion. When did you begin making art? I don’t come from an artistic family but I’ve always been attracted to music. I worship every single sound. What is the hardest part of growing up? Learning how to handle being lonely is probably the most difficult part of growing up. I’m lucky to have a supportive mom however, sometimes you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. What are your thoughts on SA’s music scene? South Africa has a small market for true art. There’s nothing wrong with making bubbly music for people to vibe to now and then but we need more art in this country. There’s too much imitation going on and it’s caused originality to be looked down upon. Who do you look up to? To several artists from a variety of genres such as Banks, Chiko Twala, Kid Cudi, Petite Noir, Anatii, Avril Lavigne, The Weeknd, Mashayabhuqe Kamamba, Tame Impala and many more. I hope to collaborate with all of them one day. Any words of advice for young artists who are afraid to express themselves for fear of embarrassment? Embarrassment is temporary, regret is forever.

Mbali Tshabalala, 19

Occupation: Visual artist
City: Johannesburg

How old are you versus how old do you feel? I am 19 years of age. I feel like I was forced to grow up really quickly. I didn’t anticipate that I would have to take on so many responsibilities. Then again it’s only indicative of my transition to being a young adult. When did you begin making art? Like most boys in primary school I started out by doing sketches of my favorite anime characters. Since then, various sub-cultural influences have lead me into the world of visual arts. I actually started making digital art about a year and a few months ago. How would you describe your art? My work is centered around the exploration of human nature, the dark side of the internet and female energy, which basically means submitting to your vulnerability and feminine side not as a weakness, but a source of inner strength. What are you inspired by? I’m mostly by things I experience and feel. I create all my illustrations on my four-inch cellphone, my 3D models on my laptop and use my digital camera to create photographs. What do you want to be? I just want to be happy and I hope that my art will create that euphoric bubble for me. It’s become a form of therapy for me. I hope I’ll be able to continue using my art as a mechanism to channel all that energy into creating visual and audio experiences that will resonate with people. What is the hardest part of growing up? Facing the realities of having to actually grow up. What do you think of your generation? We’ve got the light and we’re very open-minded. We just need to start seeing the world for what it really is and stop losing ourselves to virtual fantasies. What does being young and creative in South Africa mean to you? It’s a blessing to be immersed within so many cultures and sub-cultures. I have an almost unlimited pool of references and have the freedom to express myself in whatever way I wish. Mbali

Romy Searll, 17

Occupation: Photographer
City: Cape Town

How old are you? I’m 17. When did you begin making art? I went to a Montessori pre-primary school, which focused a lot on creativity. My parents have a deep appreciation for art but aren’t inherently artistic. Although, their photography albums do serve as inspiration to me. What do you want to be? I have quite a few creative interests including illustration, painting and fashion design however my main focus is analogue photography. I hope that my work will enable me to become a traveling photographer, taking and publishing photos of the interesting people and places I encounter. What is the hardest part of growing up? It’s the realisation that the world is not as black and white as I thought. Discovering oneself and how you fit into your surroundings is also incredibly challenging, especially growing up somewhere like South Africa, with such an uncertain political and social climate. What does being young and creative in South Africa mean to you? Being raised in the aftermath of apartheid means that you are constantly engaging with political and social issues. It gives you an innate feeling of responsibility to make work with a message behind it. Who do you look up to? I’ve always had a burning desire to be part of the 1980s NYC art scene. That Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Jean-Michel Basquiat group worked in such a magical way; constant creativity and collaboration with one another.

“My work focuses on the vulnerability and impermanence
of youth. I portray fragility, uncertainty and the female gaze
in my work. I aim to capture my subject’s intrinsic nature
in photographs, not only for personal reasons but to share
their essence with others.” – Romy

Riley Grant,18

Occupation: Visual artist, music producer and one half of musical duo Will and Riley

How old are you versus how old do you feel? I am 18 years old. I feel young and happily so. When did you begin making art? I’m lucky that I come from a creative background, which has given me an appreciation for the arts, in particular music. During high school I became more interested in fine arts. My interests in both fields (inseparable in my eyes) influence and inform each other. Can you share more about your art/music? I tend to work quite conceptually and naturally gravitate towards installation art as a form of expression. Sound is a very emotive and abstract form. I try to incorporate sound in my work or think about sounds from the perspective of a fine artists as opposed to a musical entertainer. In terms of Will Shoki, we try to remain topical to current South African issues that we face and that we feel aren’t being talked about enough in music. What do you think of your generation? I like my generation and I’m proud to be a part of it. I think millennials get a lot of hate; Will Shoki expresses some good thoughts upon the matter in our song Millennial SteezWhat does being young and creative in South Africa mean to you? There’s a very vibrant creative scene that I’m happy to play a small part of. There’s a lot to comment on and many perspectives to be heard. I’m invested in engaging with what will be one of the cultural hubs of the world. I have an analogy for Joburg wherein I compare it to a tiger – beautiful but far from tame. If you don’t respect it, it will play you. Any words of advice for young artists? Within the confines of our comfort zones we run the risk of stagnation. We need to break the loop of familiarity and contentment in order to grow. So if you’re feeling a bit of discomfort it’s a good thing. Riley

Dune Tilley, 17

Occupation: Photographer and musician
City: Cape Town

“I get inspiration from all things: gravitational moments
like death and even those more subtle like a trolley that
has fallen over. I try to be very observational of my
surroundings and make comments about the world that
immediately surrounds me.” – Dune

How old are you versus how old do you feel? I am 17 years old and I feel very much like a teenager. When did you begin making art? I had my first artistic spark when I got my first roll of film back around five years ago. What do you want to be? My art and photography have already afforded me so many opportunities and I feel like the good stuff hasn’t even begun yet. I’m hoping to be able to create for as long as possible and to sustain myself off of my work. What is the hardest part of growing up? The hardest part of growing up manifests in two main areas of my life. The first is the naivety that I miss, having mystery and unanswered questions made the world feel far more mystical and large. The second is the responsibilities and existential thoughts that you only go through as a young adult. What do you think of your generation? Millennials get a bad rep for being self-righteous and instantly gratified but we are a direct product of the generation before us. There is a lot of power that this generation holds, really it’s up to the individual and what they have been exposed to. What does being young and creative in South Africa mean to you? South Africa is a cesspool of amazing work and creativity, and is starting to get a lot of international attention. This space is a great space to be in. Who do you look up to? Andrew Putter who founded Putter School in Cape Town and photographer Gerhardt Coetzee have been very influential in terms of my creative growth and both represent some form of mentor to me. I really love Magnum agency photographers: Bruce Gilden, Ian Berry and Jacob Aue Sobel to name a few. Any words of advice for young artists who are afraid to express themselves for fear of embarrassment? This is a real fear due to the permanent nature of social media. My words of advice are to make sure that everything you put online you’d be happy to put on a billboard with your face next to it. In this day and age you’re only as good your last three posts, so make ’em good.


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