8 Questions with Senzo Shabangu

Senzo Shabangu is a multidimensional artist from Johannesburg whose work explores space, alienation, and identity. Shabangu talks to 10and5 about the importance of social commentary in art, bringing his visions from God to life, exploring power dynamics in art, as well as the importance of paying it forward.

1. How would you describe your style?

My style is poetic, figurative – often employing printmaking techniques, charcoal, ink and experimenting with different mediums such as clay and chalk. I drawing inspired by dreams, my imagination and the reality of our lives as spiritual beings, especially people who come from humble beginnings like rural areas, townships, and migrants. People who seek change and to own something and not be swallowed by the big cities.

2. Take us through your creative process.

Most of my work begins with words, titles, conversations, dreams and socio-political issues. Every time I get goosebumps I draw the vision down on my sketch pad then I’ll draw it on a bigger paper or on canvas later. As a printmaker, I sometimes push the idea to prints or even sculptures. Most of the time, the ideas come at 3 AM in the morning. I also make sure that I focus on how I received the message or see the vision without focusing on getting the reference to try to portray the artwork in a ‘nice way’ or to impress the viewer.

3. What or who has been your main inspiration?

I have been asking myself the same question over the past few years but I have realized that my main inspiration is God, I believe he gave me the vision and I draw. However, I won’t take for granted that I have been fortunate enough to spend time with elders and legends such as the late David Koloane, Kay Hassan, Patrick Mautloa, David Krut, etc. These are my greatest inspirations when it comes to professionalism and artistry. There is also a German artist called Anselm Kiefer. He has breathtaking artworks and he is such a great inspiration. Most of all I get inspired by energy and consistency.

4. What are some of your favourite projects you’ve worked on and why?

I have done many solo exhibitions locally and overseas and the reason behind that was to showcase my gift, especially after studying printmaking for three years; I felt like it was worth it. I feel even more passionate about the kids from rural areas because they remind me a lot of who I used to be, a rural boy with no art education, a boy who never met an artist, someone who never visited a gallery, not even a museum until I was in my matric year. I also get myself involved in dialogues, talks, and healing from our wounds of the past through my wife’s organization called Consciousness Cafe – where we talk about deep issues of racism, inequality, etc. For me, it helps me to know where we are as South Africans, and how issues affect us, our families and our communities.

5. What do you have in the pipeline for 2020?

There are some international projects I am working on with Manchester University in the UK. I am doing a collaboration with one of the departments and will be going there soon.

As an independent artist, I am also doing a collaboration with Undiscovered Canvas which is an African Arts Promotion Agency, created by Nomaza Nongqunga Coupez. After four years of not printing, I am excited to be producing and releasing new prints in collaboration with David Krut Projects (DKP) – they are an independent arts resource, active in Johannesburg and New York. I’m doing a few works with the Artist Proof Studio in Newtown, and a few more collaborations with a few of my mentors in the art world too. I just launched the website a few weeks ago, as a portal to which one can access all information regarding my work.

6. What is the importance of social commentary in art?

As artists, we live on Earth and we are not aliens. We can’t be isolated from the community and our daily lives and issues. I believe we have the power to change the landscape and the view of things. We also play a huge part in documenting our history, especially as black artists. There are more stories to tell to the world and roles to play to change the way our communities view their lives every day.

7. What are some of the challenges you faced when opened your own studio?

In my art, I speak a lot about ownership. So in my heart, I always looked forward to a time when I would truly own my space and my productions. Renting in artistic spaces means that you always owe someone something. Also, I got married, had more kids, and paying rent in other spaces stopped making sense. It was better to have a space in my own home and avoid the pressures. Even when I used to rent studios in town I used to enjoy being surrounded by my fellow artists, have coffee or a drink before or after work and great conversations. Now I am on my own in my home studio. I battled to leave my wife and my kids when I had to go to work. Now working at home – I can hear them talking or the child crying, she calls me whenever she wants.

8. What is your opinion on the current socio-political climate in South Africa, and what do you feel is the artists’ duty to help aid it?

We are living in such difficult uncertain times – terror, inequality, and alienation amongst others – all these are now governing how we relate to each other. We are also in a Digital Age where cyberbullying is rampant – we have more celebrities and fewer role models. As an artist to put it more precisely as Nina Simone once said, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist
I could not have explained it better on what or how an artist can aid it.

Follow Senzo Shabangu on IG.

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