In Conversation: Zandile Tshabalala Opens Her First Solo Exhibition ‘Enter Paradise’

After the opening of her first solo show at Accra’s ADA Contemporary Gallery, we had the pleasure of chatting with Soweto-born fine artist Zandile Tshabalala to find out more about Enter Paradise – an exhibition focused around the concept of paradise and how this can be found in ordinary, everyday spaces.

Zandile Tshabalala

Tell us about your exhibition Enter Paradise and some of the work that has been included. 

Enter Paradise is my first solo exhibition that is currently showing at ADA Contemporary Gallery in Accra, Ghana. The exhibition itself is focused around the term “paradise”, but instead of thinking or approaching it in an imagined reality or as a constructed landscape, I have decided to focus on paradise as a feeling that can be found in one’s ordinary space. These paradises can include things like resting your feet, reading a book and so forth. These paradises vary amongst different people; for this particular work I decided to make works that reflect some of my own.

How did the partnership between you and ADA Gallery, which is based in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, come about?

The gallery founder reached out to me on my Instagram mid last year, we’ve then stayed in contact and cultivated our relationship until this day.

How would you describe the process of curating the exhibition, especially because this is your first solo exhibition?

I think the curation for this particular exhibition was based on a lot of teamwork. On my end I have curated the works and based them on a particular topic, which as I have mentioned is paradise. The gallery has curated the space in response to my approach to the work.

How did you go about selecting the pieces that are being exhibited?

I have done some planning prior to the actual exhibition on the kinds of work and narratives I wanted shown for this particular exhibition. All the pieces I have selected are in sync with that narrative.

What was your inspiration behind the collection?

For this exhibition, I was inspired by everyday moments that I have often overlooked. I’d say this exhibition for me was very reflective and introspective. I have paid attention to my surroundings and my body and it’s reaction to certain activities. I then responded to those moments and activities.

What is your favourite piece in the collection and why?

One of my favourite pieces is titled ‘Untitled’ after Kgebetli Moele’s novel Untitled. This is one of my favourite books that speaks about a young girl from the township who is very imaginative and has very big aspirations of becoming something bigger than her surroundings. Her name is Mokgethi and, like her, I have always been that girl growing up. I’ve always aimed to reach for what seemed out of reach for me and aspired to move past being a stereotype.

Untitled, 2021

What are some of the different emotions you felt leading up to the opening of the exhibition?

There has been a bit of anxiety with regards to creating a body of work that makes sense and is in communication with each other, a bit of disappointment and heartbreak with not being able to travel to see my first solo exhibition, and a lot of excitement and gratitude with seeing how everything has come together at the end of the day. I think the end is always the happiest for me because I get to exhale again then go back to the beginning of the cycle.

Tell us about your creative background and how you got to this point in your career.

So I am not from a family with a lot of creatives or where art was known and embraced. It is only now that my family is getting into the arts as they watch me grow in my field. I have always enjoyed being creative in my school work and even took visual art back in high school, where I learnt about fine art and people who are living as full time painters. Because of my background I’d say that I had to rebel to study art even further and attempt to become a painter as I had initially desired. This desire came due to how out of reach being a painter seemed for me when I was learning about it, and thus made this journey an even more exciting but simultaneously daunting one. I’ve gone through a lot of experimentation and trial and error and eventually found my voice through observation and consistent learning from those who have been painting before me and my contemporaries.

Can you describe your work to us; your style and messaging? 

My work is focused on centralising the black woman and aims to give a variety of narratives shared through my perspective as I am in this body. My desire is for black women to be represented in ways that show them as intellectual, beautiful, confident and assertive, diverting from the few narratives that are found in history – particularly art history, such as those of servitude and black women being able to withstand difficult positions.

Is there a virtual exhibition for Enter Paradise where people outside of Accra can view the work?

I’d say Instagram is also the best space to see some of the pieces and how the space has been curated.

What more can we expect from you in 2021?

More exhibitions and collaborations.

February Flowers

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