Two artists from the Eastern Cape are part of a collective of 13 artists from South Africa whose work will be shown at the Theoule Expo 2017 in France later this month.
The expo was created by Nomaza Nongqunga Coupez, a South African living in France whose company, Undiscovered Canvas, creates a platform to promote emerging contemporary South African and African artists in Europe.
Coupez has collaborated with the city of Theoule Sur Mer’s annual exhibition, called Theoule Expo, and it is here that the work of Butterworth ceramicist Simphiwe Mbunyuza and Grahamstown painter Mathias Chirombo will be shown.
The exhibition is a good promoter of the South African contemporary art scene and will run in the city in the South of France from June 23 to July 2. Mbunyuza said 12 to 15 of his pieces would be travelling to France and revealed that it was his English primary school teacher, Sihlali Mphakama, who had first honed his love for art.
“I used to draw a lot when I was in her class while she was teaching and she noticed this and thought I had potential,” Mbunyuza said.
“She gathered a bunch of us and soon started a group of artists. We entered art competitions and even won some.
She was also a qualified art teacher,” Mbunyuza said.
The Walter Sisulu University fine art graduate is now based in Cape Town where he works from a home studio. He said even though people often undermined art as a viable career choice, his parents were very supportive of his decision.
“When I thought about studying law, my grandmother, who was a teacher, encouraged me to do what I loved and was passionate about,” he said.
Mbunyuza’s work contains cultural heritage elements and symbolism reflecting various cultural groups within South Africa, particularly the Eastern Cape.
“My inspiration emanates from day-to-day objects used by these cultural groups, particularly Xhosa tribes referred to as “amaQaba” – how they dress, their daily activities, their use of natural resources such as clay …
“The use of my colour choice embodied by my work objects draws inspiration from these African cultural groups, particularly the Ndebele and Xhosa – they have a bold mixture of primary colours in their cultural clothing.
“Nature also plays a role in my creativity in terms of colour combination and the way things are sculptured through nature,” Mbunyuza said.
Rhodes University house warden and MA anthropology student Chirombo said he did not know what kind of artist he was.
“I just do things without trying to contextualise myself. I believe and have seen that I can be anything,” he said.
Born in Zimbabwe, Chirombo said he enjoyed painting and dabbling in printmaking. He was also looking into restarting sculpting and filming.
The father of two said his love of art began back home in Zimbabwe when he saw his father drawing rabbit cartoons for him and his siblings when they were still children.
“I enjoyed art at school and started experimenting with different painting techniques as I continued to paint in my parents’ kitchen on top of the freezer as a 16-year-old.
“My mum and dad never worried about the mess and always allowed me the space to continue exploring my artistic passions.
“Sometimes I did take over the entire kitchen and slowly started creeping into the other rooms, but I was shoved back into the kitchen studio,” Chirombo chuckled.
This will be the Rhodes scholar’s first time at the Theoule Expo, but it is Mbunyuza’s second time exhibiting in France. His work was included as part of an exhibition at the Gallerie Hemilton in Vallauris last year, also thanks to the assistance of Coupez.