For Pietermaritzburg-based visual artist Larissa Mwanyama, entering this year’s Young Creators’ Network competition meant associating herself with a popular South African brand. Mwanyama recognises the Young Creators’ Network as a platform as one that uplifts young creators as well as their abilities to visually contribute to social progress and change and is hopeful that it may offer a new creative lens for her to see herself through.
Now selected as one of the artists in the top 15, Mwanyama shares that this is an exciting opportunity that makes her feel seen. “It also makes my creative expression feel understood and acknowledged. There are massively talented and passionate creators in South Africa, and to be selected within this context, for an iconic local brand, feels really good for the soul,” she says.
Mwanyama’s creative journey was highly influenced by the matriarchal lineage that raised her and their teachings through African traditional storytelling; using imaginative parables along with visual theatrics to invoke a physical understanding of a life lesson. These teachings and her upbringing shaped her use of imagination, sense of identity, and visual creative journey.
“When I would visit my grandmother in Malawi, she would make a whole adventure out of finding a magic drawing tool (a stick) and thereafter we would map out distant landscapes in the sand and soil. My aunt bought me my first art book and a charcoal pencil set and encouraged me to draw the colours in my mind and never to erase only reinterpret.”
“In the prime of my childhood my mother would wake me up early in the morning, make me some tea, and we would sneak in a session of ‘Tom and Jerry’ before I had to get ready for school. Along with the tea and tender company, we would sit with loose sheets of cartridge paper from the printer and we would both attempt drawing the characters live in action. All of this visual exposure and practice, along with the constant sharpening of my imagination, peaked my passion for illustration, curating and story-making,” she adds.
Drawing inspiration from childhood cartoons, books, and her family archive of oral teachings, Mwanyama’s work explores themes that stem from concepts of motherhood and mothering, imaginative ethereal landscapes, intersectional identity, and memory, and social knowledge distribution.
“I love to illustrate reimagined characters with detailed backgrounds and quirky relatable traits. I love to challenge the way we see ourselves and cultivate our idea around identity; I believe that identity is and should be fluid and constantly re-created,” says Mwanyama.
With the aim of moving towards an African futuristic archive that challenges our notion of the past and present, she engages with these themes through the symbol of the ‘African Mask’ and what it begins to represent in and outside of its indigenous context.
While most of her influences are from a Pan-African and African-diasporic range, she includes two South African artists who intrigue her interests in storytelling and narrative building as a means of social education and engaging critical conversation.
“[These] would be Lhola Amira and Athi-Patra Ruga. Both of these artists challenge social conversations around identity and lost heritage, and do so through re-creating imagined landscapes in familiar environments; creating a ‘playground’ for creative thought and open-minded investigation of self. I love the use of’ ‘alternate’ characters and spaces to embody a physical experience of their critical work,” she shares.
As a young, up and coming visual artist, Mwanyama shares with us that winning the Young Creators’ Network competition would propel her creative intention to encourage visual storytelling as a valid medium for social education and identity building. Additionally, she shares that winning the competition would open up her practise to different opportunities and public platforms, which would mean a potential responsibility in representing the social intention of her work and paving the way to uplift others.
“If I were to win, I would invest my winnings into the social collaborative projects I would like to start with creatives of all avenues. I dream of creating books and reimagined archives that encourage social engagement on a personal and intimate level,” she concludes.