ART2019-08-30T18:02:33+00:00

DANIELA YOHANNES

Since the beginning of time, mankind has searched for answers to the plethora of existential questions. In the quest for answers we have looked inwards to the subconscious and outwards to the cosmos – Daniela Yohannes’s work seems to be the manifestation of what would happen if a philosopher traded their pen for a paintbrush. Her striking work deals mostly with themes of ‘consciousness and ancestry, the ethereal nature of the cosmos and plurality of the individual’.

Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes
Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes

Tell us about your journey as an artist. How did it all begin?

I spent a great deal of time making art in my teens and took it quite seriously in college. I went on to study illustration at University, but struggled to settle in, as I was the only black student in the whole department. During my studies I was always seeking ways to combine image making with ideas and concepts that were important to me. I found this difficult within a commercial course, and as a result I became disillusioned and uninspired by what I felt was a lack of substance in the practice.

It was at this pivotal moment that I discovered a jazz scene that was vibrant and alive in the heart of London. I immersed myself in it and in doing so, I began working to facilitate performances and events. I was also in a relationship with a jazz musician and learnt a great deal from him about the music and its history. I witnessed a whole new generation of musicians, both European and American. At the time I had no idea what I was doing, hanging out in jazz clubs and absorbing all this music. I just knew I loved it and the feeling it gave me; that feeling of being a part of a community, a sense of belonging and the free, radical nature of music and lifestyle.

I came back to image making, and began creating album covers and promotional content for jazz groups, until my relationship ended and I needed to remove myself from this very intimate scene. In 2010, I was offered an artist residency in Thailand. Those three solitary months were spent in a depression that transformed into a rebirth of sorts. I consider this the beginning of my practice.

All those years spent listening to the music and seeing how these musicians approached it became my unconventional education. I learnt about risk, reward and improvisation. I continued to be close to the music and spent many years travelling with jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. He led me deeper into music, introduced me to a world of literature, art, esoteric concepts, silence and solitude that continue to penetrate my life and art. Those 10 years spent with Keith taught me the importance of doing the work – and the power and strength of intuition.

Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes

You were also involved in the world of dance before you became a painter. How did jazz and dance influence you as an artist?

Both these art forms contain in them great elements of improvisation and I think I was unconsciously creating in the same improvisational style. My practice up until this last body of work The Fall: A Woman’s Descent into the Unconscious have all been created with this same unpredictable and spontaneous spirit that jazz and dance embody. I would paint the figure first, then allow it to dictate the narrative; often not being able to come up with a real explanation for each finished piece. This is reflected in the unrestricted colours, and palettes chosen intuitively.

You call yourself ‘painter of the invisible’ on Instagram… what does ‘the invisible’ mean to you? 

Forces and concepts that drive and surround us: unseen but constantly at work on our bodies and minds.

The settings for most of your paintings seem to be alternate dimensions or other worlds. Why is that?

For a long time I didn’t continuously pay much attention to this aspect of my work. However, now that I have a new sense of focus and direction, I have come to understand that at the heart of my work I am interested in examining how we identify with our surroundings, environment and each other. How we create roots in unexpected places. What experiences shape those identities, and how you can be made to feel like you don’t belong in a place that you deeply connect with as home. Also how by embracing a non-identity you can access true freedom.

I am the outcome of multiple identities. There are many places I can call ‘home’ and in all of these places I have attempted to establish roots. However, my experiences have exposed me to the notion of ‘other’. I grew up feeling hostilities that caused me to want to flee. So I contemplated the stars and imagined a personal utopia – an escape – seeking alternative worlds and spaces that can offer me sanctuary. I often paint this lone figure in semi-abstract space as a projection of my rejection and simultaneous navigation of struggles and identities.

Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes

‘I often paint this lone figure in semi-abstract space as a projection of my rejection and simultaneous navigation of struggles and identities.’

Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes

Your work deals with dreams and the subconscious, which you describe as ‘a place of magic, transformation and rebirth’. Can you explain what role this plays in the creation of your artworks?

I deeply believe in the important connection between mind, body, soul, spirit and heart. In my work I consult my subconscious and dreams as a means to process those buried feelings: the work becomes a process from which I can access those dominant emotions and get insight. It is not an easy pursuit, but I aim to give this aspect of my life much importance and consideration. It is a kind of silent teacher guiding me. By doing this work I have been able to resolve personal health issues, fears and trauma. Therefore art is a necessary healing practice.

And you also touch on this exploration of the subconscious leading you to a ‘deeply personal healing narrative’. Can you elaborate?

The experiences I accumulated and absorbed in my life began to display their effects on my mind and body. Social inequality played its part in creating that disconnected and ‘alien-life’ feeling. I’m trying to be present and listen to my deeper self and making art from this emotional pandemonium. In doing so I resolve a lot of this external pollution: it is an ongoing healing practice.

Your work often depicts solitary figures, which is opposite to the belief that ‘by nature, man is a social animal’ (Aristotle’s Politics), what are your thoughts on this?

Solitude is a comfort to me and the only way to hear myself. I don’t believe I could create work without this precious silence. My time is often spent in nature and away from city life and its activities. It is only from time to time that I venture into the city and absorb that life. This quiet contemplation of thoughts and feelings feeds into my work. My connection to the invisible and the unseen forces has always been revealed in silence and solitude.

I am painting about an internal dialogue that deals precisely with the nature and desires of belonging and finding one’s place in the world. And while human beings are inherently meant for communal life, I think social inequalities create a sense of loneliness in a world full of people. My hope is that my work speaks to that part of you that struggles to find a place; inviting you to venture into the unknown and alerting you to self-remember.

Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes
Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes

‘When I first started out, I mixed collage and painting techniques by painting over white faces in beauty magazines with black paint. Subconsciously there was something cathartic about that. Purposefully projecting blackness to elevate blackness.’

You tend to use very dark colours for all the human figures in your work, what’s the symbolism here?

I think there are many meanings one can draw from the dark figures. ‘Black’ as a colour has come to mean so many different things over the ages. When I first started out, I mixed collage and painting techniques by painting over white faces in beauty magazines with black paint. Subconsciously there was something cathartic about that. Purposefully projecting blackness to elevate blackness. As the work developed, more layers of meaning arose. Black became the primordial darkness; a representation of the void and the figures amidst the bright colours became kind of black holes; drawing the viewer to them. In the same way that a black hole’s gravitational field is so intense that no matter or radiation can escape, so the gaze is held by the dark figure.

Tell us more about how your film (ATOPIAS, I Have Left that Dark Cave Forever, My Body has Blended with Hers) came about and the difficulties or joys of creating a film versus painting?

Exploring film has really come about as a natural progression. It is an extension of my painting practice. I wanted to bring my paintings to life and make work with movement and narrative. The shift of role from author to the subject, in some ways looped back to my dance practice, as I became the performer as well as the artist in my own work. I experienced the physical burden of creating in a different and very visceral way.

Africa Is Now - Daniela Yohannes

AFRICAN GINGER

Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger

Johannesburg-based illustrator and multimedia artist Seth Pimentel aka African Ginger on what music means to him, the principles of balance in design and Africa as a creative force.

Where does your love for art stem from and how did you get into illustrating?

I started drawing at a very young age. I was an indoors kid so I found myself drawing and experimenting with mediums more than interacting with people. I found out about illustration during my first year of university at The Open Window Institute.

Instagram is the main digital platform where you showcase your art. How does social media affect your mental health and how does that translate into your artwork?

I hate myself. Social media just heightens my own self-deprecating thoughts, and I make constant comparisons to other artists. Most times I just want to stop. But I guess I have this odd tendency to always try and outdo myself. I try to create more; push myself beyond myself.

How do you use your artwork to express your psyche?

I exude very unconventional weirdness by nature. My art and my mental illness just emphasise that weirdness.

Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger
Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger

You have training in ceramics, industrial design and game design. What motivated you to pursue a career in illustrating rather than those other paths?

I guess I’ve always been obsessed with exaggeration, whether it be body proportion or colour. In my ceramic and game design/3D animation days, I played with breaking normality by changing things in the most subtle of ways, pushing these works to more of a surreal realm. I guess with illustrating, it’s more of a challenge, which is why I love it.

What is the focus of your illustrations?

That it’s okay not to breathe sometimes. You’re not alone in feeling so alone, I guess.

Following you on Insta, it is hard not to notice your love of music. Tell us about what music means in your life?

Music has shaped my life in so many ways. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up as a kid, so music and art were all I had. Even when I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, the only constant I felt in my life at that time was the vibration through my headphones. A shared intimate connection felt between myself and the lyrics. Even right now, doing this interview, I’m listening to music. It’s my life.

Aside from music, what helps to get you in the mood to create?

Film and drawing inspiration from other artists.

What facets of the African experience and culture do you use as inspiration for your work?

A lot of Johannesburg’s youth culture. It’s gorgeous.

Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger
Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger

‘Africa is the creative powerhouse of the world. So many other creatives from around the world tap into our frequency and find waves of inspiration here. I foresee the scene growing more now than ever because Africa is making a noise.’

Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger

You have said that choosing the alias ‘African ginger’ was spontaneous. Has the meaning of this alias changed for you over the years, beyond its original meaning?

People associate African Ginger with creative force. It’s become this thing, this brand name. Completely separate from me. I find Seth very separate from African Ginger. I no longer create for myself, but for the people around me; to inspire the people around me. I enjoy being separate from it. I sometimes inspire myself.

Why do you often contrast dark themes/motifs with very bright colours?

To emphasise the idea of balance. Balance is key in the self and in the work one creates. In design, you’re taught about the principles of balance; of harmony between two opposing concepts.

When people look at your work, what about you – the artist – do you want them to see? What traces of yourself can be found/identified in the work beyond the artwork’s aesthetic appeal?

The quirky elements of myself embodied in my work.

Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger

This year you sold some of your pieces and donated all the proceeds to charity, a highly commendable deed and a rare one. What motivated this act?

I was incredibly blessed to have been able to raise R10 000 in 24 hours by auctioning off my illustrations on Instagram. I donated all the proceeds straight to a charity organisation called TEARS. They focus on aiding women and children who were/are victims of sexual abuse and different forms of abuse in general. A lot of my closest loved ones were victims of sexual abuse. If I can do anything to make a change and stop the cycle, I’ll do it. No one should ever feel the immense pain of abuse and they should know that they are not alone. Creatives are generally empathetic. I believe that everyone does what they can, where they can and in different ways.

What is your vision for the creative scene and industry in Joburg and Africa in general?

It’s a beautiful scene, filled with so many amazing creatives. I might be biased in saying this, but Africa is the creative powerhouse of the world. So many other creatives from around the world tap into our frequency and find waves of inspiration here. I foresee the scene growing more now than ever because Africa is making a noise.

What can people expect from you in the not so distant future?

There are a couple of really cool projects on the way. I can’t really discuss much but stay tuned to see what I’m doing – no matter what it is, I will be challenging myself.

How can people follow what you’re up to?

They can check out my Instagram @african_ginger.

Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger
Africa Is Now Magazine - African Ginger

BROWNCOFFEEMOKA

BROWNCOFFEEMOKA is a designer, illustrator and visual artist, whose creations are black, defiant, and socially and environmentally conscious. She is also strongly connected to environmental concerns, and creates her art sustainably by drawing on recycled paper, employing reused fabrics and upcycling. We talk to her about her recent collection NA BOLAYI YA EBALE CONGO, the Afropunk exhibition and working with sartorial menswear brand Art Comes First. Through her work, she follows in the footsteps of her Congolese ancestors, who shine a guiding light on the harmonious relationships between nature, animals, art and humanity.

Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA
Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA
Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA

Tell us a bit about your upbringing.

I grew up with my two little sisters in a multicultural family. My father is Congolese and my mother is French. We have a lot of different origins: Polish, Russian, English, Spanish, Indian, Northern African, South American… I did not really see that there was a difference between black and white when I was at home.

But the outside world has shown me that black and white are not the same. At home, my mother was not white and my father was not black. They were just two people who had chosen to love, respect and grow together and even if they knew who they were, what mattered were their hearts, their souls and the energy they were sharing.

Respect, open-mindedness, sustainability, knowledge, culture and art have been part of my life since my childhood. We have learnt that all life matters: flora and fauna, human lives, mineral lives, previous lives, spiritual lives – all have their importance on Earth.

Art has been probably the most important element in my everyday life. I started drawing when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old. It was very natural for me and it was the moment I could be at peace with myself and with my thoughts. I was happy to be alone to draw and to create. I visited a lot of museums and art galleries with my parents. They taught me a lot about art, culture and history.

Have you always wanted to become a visual artist?

I think so, yes. Of course, when I was growing up, I was trying to fit into society and to find a ‘real job’, like being a doctor, or a lawyer, but deep inside I wanted my art to flourish. I realised that when I was 14. It was hard to convince my parents, but they eventually saw that it was part of me and understood that they had been feeding my love of art since childhood.

Africa Is Now Magazine - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA, Congo, Art, African Art

How did your collaboration with Art Comes First come about?

I was their assistant for 6 months, helping them in the design, during the showrooms, etc. One day Sam Lambert saw one of my artworks on Instagram and loved it. It became part of their collection for Complex Con in LA. I stopped working for them in January. I have learnt a lot with them, but I needed to focus on my art and to work for myself.

Tell us about your exhibition at AFROPUNK Paris 2019.

It was a fantastic moment in my creative life. It was all about culture, art and energies. A lot will come from this exhibition. It was the first time AFROPUNK Paris curated an art exhibition during the festival. I was chosen alongside various artists to be part of the Arts and Times exhibition. Ami Weickaane, the curator of this exhibition, was very kind, helpful and a great listener. She felt the vibrations of my artworks and decided to highlight them. I have to thank her so very much for that. I exhibited 4 artworks about the universe: Mother Earth, the spirit of my ancestors and the essence of womanhood, and 4 photographs about my project NA BOLAYI YA EBALE CONGO that were taken by photographer Marc Posso. It was great to let the world see the versatility of my work and the message I want to bring to people. It was a great moment of communication, of gathering and a flourishing and creative time. I am currently working on the next chapter of my project. I can already feel the highest vibes of my ancestors.

Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA

‘My roots are essential. They have been part of me for all my life. I cannot even imagine creating without thinking about them. One of my uncles told me: “You are the reincarnation of your ancestors. Never forget where you come from and who you are”.’

Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA

NA BOLAYI YA EBALE CONGO highlights art and crafts across the different ethnic groups in Congo. What are your thoughts on the perception that due to the political unrest portrayed by the media, there is not much of an art scene in Congo?

One of the saddest things for me is that people want power, money and material possessions. They do not focus on the truest and purest essence of life. My ancestors were doing divine masterpieces – in textile, sculpture, painting, jewellery, etc… And still, we have a lot of gifted craftsmen and artists in Congo. Unfortunately, the country does not give them what they need to shine in the way in which they deserve. Our grandparents gave their lives for us to be an independent and free country. It is as if we have forgotten their sacrifice or as if we take this for granted.

Congolese artists are highly talented. We just need to showcase them, to help them to spread their magic, their love and their message. That is what I tried to do with this project. My goal was to let the world know about our rich culture, our great art, our magnificent pride, and about our traditions. I wish people knew the history of Congo better. What we have been through, how strong we are, how royal we are. My duty is to give light, respect and love to that land, which I have yet to visit. A part of my soul and heart were born in Congo, or Congo was born in me I don’t know. But there is this sacred link between my country and me.

What inspires your creativity?

I can be inspired by so many different things… A colour, a sound, a feeling, an energy can inspire me. History, cultures and roots also inspire me and I am always looking for cultures or traditions I have never encountered before. Beauty, spirituality and mysticism are also part of my essential inspirations. But my general inspiration comes from what the Earth, the moon and the universe give me. It comes from the sacred energy around me. Also, pain, anger and sadness can give me material to work with.

Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA
Africa Is Now Magazine - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA, Congo, Art, African Art
Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA

You incorporate the theme of ancestry into your art, why is that important to you?

It is very important to know my heritage, to be immersed in my culture in order to honour my ancestors. They have been creating those beautiful and strong traditions for such a long time. They share their history with me. They guide me in my everyday life. They bless me with their light and with their energy. I always feel their vibrations, so it is completely natural to pay tribute to them and to respect them by creating for them and with them.

Without my ancestors I would not be myself. My roots are essential. I cannot even imagine creating without thinking about them. One of my uncles told me: ‘You are the reincarnation of your ancestors. Never forget where you come from and who you are’, and this makes true sense to me. My parents have always told me about my past, my history and my heritage, which is why I am permanently flourishing.

Your art deals with spirituality, nature, culture and love, among other things, what interests you about these themes?

Those themes are the most pure, raw and deep to me. They deal with the true essence, the ancestral, and the most natural energy we can have. To really understand these themes, you have to connect yourself to the essence of art and creation. Everything starts with creation. You have to search your soul; through your pains, your feelings and your emotions to sincerely create. Most of the time it can be draining but this is the most real and sacred kind of art.

Africa Is Now - BROWNCOFFEEMOKA

CROSS THE RIVER IN A CROWD

We came across Dan Halter’s work on a cold First Thursday and were immediately captured by his vivid and striking images. Dan possesses the unique ability to take materials ubiquitous to South Africa and use them to tackle pervasive issues affecting Africa and, more specifically, Zimbabwe.

Cross The River In A Crowd - Africa Is Now Magazine

Who is Dan Halter?

I am a conceptual artist making work about Zimbabwe and South Africa, and tackling issues I find personally relevant. I grew up in Zimbabwe and relocated here to study art. I also have Swiss roots on both sides of my family and have spent some time in Switzerland.

How and why did you start making art?

I started drawing and then painting when I was quite young which I really enjoyed. I was encouraged by my family and I decided early on that I would like to pursue a career as an artist. I have always found art to be a great way to express myself. I also like the fact that I am more or less free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.

I was fortunate that my grandmother enrolled me for art classes with Helen Lieros at Gallery Delta in Harare at the age of 10 or 11. There, on Saturday mornings, I attended free-spirited art classes that I continued throughout high school, doing O and A Level art there as an extra subject.

Cross The River In A Crowd - Africa Is Now Magazine
Cross The River In A Crowd - Africa Is Now Magazine

Do you consider yourself firstly a Zimbabwean living in South Africa or an African living in South Africa?

I do feel a strong connection to both Zimbabwe and South Africa. I spent the first half of my life, including the most formative years, in Zimbabwe (18 years) and the second half in South Africa (20 years up until now). I also spent 4 years in Switzerland, 2 influential years after leaving home for the first time at the age of 18, and 2 after graduating from Michaelis School of Fine Art.

Your current exhibition Cross the River in a Crowd includes a sculpture of a mother with a baby on her back, balancing a load on her head. Tell us more about this imagery.

The mother and child is a recurring theme in art and I have used variations of this in my art before. In Shona sculpture, the abstract mother and child embracing is so common that it often found as a curio. In this version of mine, the mother is carrying her child on her back and a load on her head in a way that is common in Zimbabwe. The load in my work is vastly exaggerated and suggests the balancing rock formations common to Zimbabwe that are also depicted on many Zimbabwean bank notes. For me, the image of a mother and child, half-submerged in a river border crossing, with all her worldly possessions on her head, suggests the height of desperation.

What is your process for choosing material for a project?

I choose materials that resonate with me. The project will normally dictate the materials in some way. The starting point may be a proverb or expression that lends itself to being visualised in a certain way. I gravitate towards cheap and ubiquitous materials such as plastic-weave bags, matches, paint sample cards and beads. The process of making the work is often labour-intensive.

How do you know when a work is finished?

When I used to paint, I struggled with this issue and I often over-worked my paintings. With the work I make now, I am more removed from the process and so it is easier for me to tell when something is finished.

Cross The River In A Crowd - Africa Is Now Magazine

What is the best advice you have been given?

It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than than to ask for permission.

You have a brilliant ability to tackle pervasive issues that affect the majority of Africa. How do you manage to stay both personal and original in your creative endeavours?

Thank you. I am inspired by stories and there is an abundance of good stories to be found here.

If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?

I would like my work to challenge people and hopefully create a more tolerant and understanding society.

Cross The River In A Crowd - Africa Is Now Magazine

Have you ever been faced with negative feedback? How was this reflected in your work, if at all?

I have been faced with some negative feedback that I did not agree with and it has not reflected in my work.

What is coming up next for you?

I have an exhibition coming up with This is No Fantasy, a collaboration between respected Melbourne gallerists Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stein, in Australia in November.

Where can people find out more about you and your work?

Via my website: www.danhalter.com

DAN’S PROJECT IS ON EXHIBITION AT WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY UNTIL 31 AUGUST 2019

Cross The River In A Crowd - Africa Is Now Magazine

TEXT: JOHN CLAUDE @_johnclaude

MARK DRAWS

An artist interested in the reimagining of African identities and stories, Mark Antony Modimola uses ink, acrylics and digital art to explore representations of blackness and contemporary Africa through themes such as self, Afrofuturism and nature.

Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws

With Africa’s colonial history, how does one begin to reimagine African identities and stories?

One might begin by looking at African identities and storytellers who have made it their mission to tell African stories from the mind of an African.

We can look at the cultural writings of Wole Soyinka and Credo Mutwa, and the artwork of Kehinde Wiley and Nelson Makamo in order to begin gauging the vibrant depth of being African. The intention being to make oneself aware of who we are, of Africa and its African qualities.

We are rich in stories waiting to be uncovered. I believe Africans should focus on their own voice, and African stories being told by old and young Africans, as much of our history has been told for us.

What themes are you exploring with your work at the moment?

My work currently deals with self-love and the relationship we share with water and our hair as Africans. Our hair forms part of our identity as Africans, water forms part of us as beings, thus both are physically and metaphysically tethered to our vision of self.

How big is the role that hair plays in our identity as Africans?

Hair for us as Africans is a power tool. We have used it to resist oppression and to distinguish ourselves, our cultures and our mood. The texture, colour and forms are uniquely African; it’s our voice.

We are able to manifest thoughts through our hair; to connect to each other. It connects to our subconscious and thus forms part of our dreams and identity. Hair is aspirational and a statement for Africans as a result.

Which artists or creatives have influenced or inspired your creative process?

Definitely, the music of Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Fela Kuti, and Credo Mutwa’s African symbolism and knowledge. They are all incredible storytellers. I love the visual art of Harmonia Rosales and James Jean. Their subjects, reimaginings and scale of work inspire my own career as a storyteller and artist.

Where can people find your work?

On Instagram @mark_draws and at The Moral Kiosk in Melville, Johannesburg.

Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
Africa Is Now Magazine - Mark Draws
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