South African freelance illustrator and artist, NOKWANDA THEMBA’s latest series, Benign, is a visual delight to the eyes. According to Nokwanda, the works together express “neurons, silhouttes and ganlions infused with geometrics and color”. In many ways, the portraits of women among the collection also read as a alchemy of feminine energy.
Baking soda, green tea leaves (dry), coconut oil, lemon juice, organic milk, turmeric. The series reflect deliberate ritual making in self-care, recognition, appreciation and sharing. A reveling in a deep kind of beauty.
Below we speak to Nokwanda about her conceptual process behind Benign.
THE BENIGN SERIES
I wanted to explore a new element to my work and evolve. The series reveals a connection through science and ART, almost futuristic. The figures are usually incognito, a huge play I often use in my work – half faces, backs turned or silhouettes, not revealing one’s self completely, almost as if wearing a mask, hiding a complex aspect of oneself. I believe we all hide something from everyone and we aren’t completely transparent, which is okay, it creates an intimacy and vagueness. The silhouettes have doodles of nerves, neurons, synapses & ganglia and pattern work, an insight into the complex mind.
THE POLITICS OF HAIR
I’ve always celebrated blackness and my work has been dedicated to providing visual representations of Black women and our versatile hair. There can never be enough representation of black girls/women or women of color in general for it to start becoming a norm to see her as a muse for artwork. Also, hair is a very sensitive topic within Black women communities. It is both oppressive and a prideful crown, particularly natural hair, more and more BW are starting to understand and wear their own hair. I celebrate and encourage that.
A MAGIC BREW
My characters are carefree brown women with a certain quirkiness to them, like myself. I try to represent a greater variety of Black girls. One who is witty,whimsical, cultured and cosmopolitan. Most artwork depictions of Black women tends to be heavy and follow the ‘strong black queen’ narrative, which is fine, but this is not a complete representation of all Black women. I try to fill that gap.
Black women are doing magical things and saving lives in reality already. She would probably have fluffy curly hair and be full figured. She would have the ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ vanishing ability, especially from spaces or situations which could cause her harm or when the load gets to heavy and she needs to rest.
THE FALLIST MOVEMENT
We have the bravery to be honest and truthful about our experiences, confront the realities and unfairness that is currently happening. The beauty about being an artist or influencer is you have the platform to be a voice with your peers, although it loads a great responsibility on your shoulders. More and more youth are becoming unapologetic and proud of being Black – a point I relate to as well.