Q&A: Nokwanda Themba – The medical student and illustrator carving a multi career

Nokwanda Themba is a self-taught visual artist and illustrator based in Joburg. The 23-year-old has been making art since childhood — which some might consider far removed from her background in medicine. The artist has just completed her BsC in Physiology, and is currently working towards her medical degree.

Nokwanda’s main inspiration is women: through her work, she embraces all aspects of femininity — both her own, and that of her subjects. And has recently been garnering attention with her takes on magazine covers, like the Elle South Africa March 2018 and the Vogue Arabia featuring Imaan Hammam and Iman, plus more. Her work is vibrant and easily recognisable, especially after her illustrations based off of some of the photos taken at Afropunk 2017 made the rounds. We asked the artist a few quick questions about her work.

How do the worlds of physiology/medicine and illustration come together for you?
They don’t at all (laughs). I’m a multi-faceted human, so these are just parts of the making of me. I exist fully in both worlds. Both worlds that do not merge. Kind of like the stratosphere and mesosphere, they are both separate, there is no solid division between them but they are one.

How did you get into art?
I didn’t ‘get into it, it’s just something I never stopped doing from childhood. So I’ve grown my natural gift and shared my work with the world, and I’m grateful for the fruits it has bared. It’s never for the fame but recognition.

Do you think it is harder as a self-taught artist to get paying jobs?
Yes it is, most people won’t trust you with specific work if you haven’t studied the field. Also, in South Africa your success as an artist is largely based on social capital and networking. If you’re not in these art spaces and affiliated with certain people you won’t get much recognition.

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a woman of colour in the art world?
Fortunately there is a rise and celebration for women who are artists, but the general assumption from people and men is that you are an artist and only just that. You get put into a box alot, you can’t be bigger than people’s idea of you.

Any advice for young women trying to make it as an artist?
Social media is a great platform to share your work and get opportunities, so utilise that. Take your time with your artistry to, it will take time for you to be poppin’. It’s not a race



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