Enter Paradise an interview with Zandile Tshabalala
ADA \ contemporary art gallery specialized in the work of emerging artists across Africa and its diaspora, unveils Enter Paradise, an exhibition of new paintings by South African emerging female artist Zandile Tshabalala (b. 1999, Soweto). Marking the artist’s debut solo career, and the gallery’s third consecutive debut solo show since opening in October 2020, the new paintings include a selection of figurative self-portraits in which Tshabalala revisits the representation of the Black female figure. The exhibition will be going till April 18th, 2021.
KALTBLUT: Tell us about your creative background – when did you first start painting / what really pushed you to do so? Zandile Tshabalala: I’ve always been in touch with my creative side. I used to draw a lot of paper dolls when I was in primary school, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I got introduced to fine art in grade 10 when I took visual art classes and made the decision to study art further. My family and I were not in agreement with this decision, so I would say that studying art was a way for me to rebel (we eventually got into terms as my passion and dedication were evident). Although I’ve always made art, it is only in 2019/2020 that my works began to be publicly recognized and that I began to be taken seriously as a practicing artist.
Could you tell us broadly about the works in this show and the process of creating them?
I start by selecting the focus on which I want the works to be based, whether it be a feeling, an attitude, or a narrative. I do most of my research and I also tend to go through a lot of imagery of my favorite painters. Upon finding this base, I move onto my photo library to check for suitable references, or I take some reference images. From there, I move straight onto the canvas. I draw my reference image. I am usually more focused on the posture and gesture. I tend to change my reference image quite a lot as I paint – I’m more focused on executing my initial thoughts than on mirroring the image itself. Once I feel like I am getting what I am looking for, I stop.
The Black female figure is very central in “Enter Paradise”. Is this also so strong in the rest of your work and why is this so important?
The woman that is depicted is myself. I do not aim or aspire to depict an exact likeness, but rather a
reflection that is more internal. My paintings are very reflective of me as an artist, and sometimes there are clues in there as to how I think and who I am. On a separate note, I had the pleasure of having my first male muse also in the show (I’ll leave it to my audience to spot him!).
Could you tell us more about “Proud Nude I & II“.
The title for both “Proud Nude I & II” sums up what the works are about. They depict a singular figure in
an over-simplified background. She sits nude and looks at the viewer, either directly or through a side
view. The work is about acceptance of one’s body and nakedness and tries to move away from the
ideals set by society today with regards to the perfect body. I think that this work is important for me
because of its relevance at the time in which we are living, in particular when it comes to access and
opinion. This can be very disproving, and misleading sometimes, so the work is a way for me to come
back to myself.
Is there an artwork in “Enter Paradise” you are most proud of? Why?
I am proud of all the works I have done, but if I were to pick one it would be “Untitled.” I am fond of this
work particularly for its setting and narrative which at once takes me back home in Soweto and brings
me feelings of nostalgia.
What do you think of the South Africans representation in the art world?
I think that there is a variety of imagery and narratives to explore reflecting the diversity amongst South African artists.
How has lockdown affected your artistic practice? What has this period taught you?
With COVID-19, I sort of had to find a new way of living and a space in which to work. This move has led
to me being alone in isolation consistently and thus projecting reflections a bit more onto my work.
What is the message you want to get across to viewers regarding your work?
Representation, Rest, Self-reflection, Body positivity and dreamscapes are what I tackle most. As I
continue painting and engaging with my curiosity, my work evolves.
What other work/artist do you find really inspiring right now?
My current favorites are actually my peers: Cow Mash, Matty Monethi, Keneilwe Mokoena and
What is your ultimate goal?
I am always seeking growth and knowledge, so I would say that my aim to continue in my search to find
it. Also, on a more practical level, I look forward to completing my fine art degree.