Artist of Interest

‘I’m doing this work for the matriarchal gaze’

with Nokukhanya Charity Vilakazi

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Nokukhanya Charity Vilakazi is a multidisciplinary artist visualising folklore from a contemporary standpoint. Developed while seeking an existing, domestic and indigenous cue to validate her existence, Vilakazi’s practice is a speculative fiction that documents the ancient ways femmes have and continue to demonstrate power, resilience, wisdom and agency. Recently signed to Kalashnikovv, Vilakazi’s debut solo show Butha Umhlabi Wakho Kukhona isiKhala Emakhazeni is currently on show. Featured in this week’s Of Interest, we talk to Vilakazi about her study of the matriarch.

A painter with film sensibilities, Nokukhanya Charity Vilakazi’s works can be read as feminist storyboards of African mythology and folklore. “My father worked in film and growing up his work taught me so much about how a story can become this visual thing that can touch people,” adds Vilakazi. Together with her colourful and playful approach to depicting community, they fulfill a yearning the artist has had since her childhood. “I was lost and trying to resolve where I fit in between the women who raised me and what the Western world showed me.”

Butha Umhlabi Wakho Kukhona isiKhala Emakhazeni is Vilakazi’s debut solo exhibition with Kalashnikovv since the gallery announced her as their new signing in 2022. “That simply means gather your flock and come around, there’s room for you in the sanctuary,” explains Vilakazi.

This scene is depicted in the work titled Kancane kancane siba munye. A Zulu phrase meaning we are gradually becoming one, the work is of a group of women convening at the end of a rainbow. Gathered against a green speckled backdrop, the women are seen at play.

Uninterrupted, they embrace each other. Almost enmeshed into each other, it’s not easy to tell where one figure ends and where another begins. Not so much a utopia, Vilakazi’s world both highlight the glories and blemishes that come with community building. “I want the audience to feel like they belong and that they bring necessary value to this sanctuary. It’s not a perfect place but there is space for everyone,” adds Vilakazi. “That’s how the matriarchs in my life made me feel. I’m inviting everyone to have that experience.”

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Ruth Ige. Don't hide your glory, 2022.
Acrylic on canvas. 122 x 122cm. (© Copyright 2022, STEVENSON. All rights reserved)