‘It’s an interesting time to be young in South Africa,’ says 24-year-old artist Luyanda Zindela. Zindela is a recipient of the L’Atelier Merit Award 2014 that sees a worthy artist on a residency with the Ampersand Foundation in New York.
Zindela’s mixed-media photography-sketches toy with images of historified figures in contemporary contexts. Having studied classical and neo-classical art at Durban University of Technology, where he now works as lecturer’s assistant, he became fascinated with the image of the great scholar or philosopher of ancient history. He pictured young black people like himself in the white robes that adorned the statues of the great names. He then questioned why this image of knowledge and authority seemed peculiar on black figures. He says that ‘as an artist you are aware of what’s going on with “Rhodes Must Fall” etcetera,’ so the role of young people in relation to historical figures is intriguing to him. The new wealth of information at the fingertips of the youth makes them long to be involved. His work distinctively places young people in the frame of history.
In his award-winning Umkhumbi wakaMedusa (The ship of Medusa) Zindela plays with the ancient mythology of Greece and Rome in its title. The Zulu title is also a keen interest of Zindela’s to propagate his language and culture: making it acceptable for people to use their vernacular as a language of esteem and not merely reverting to English. And so, Medusa is made part of the Zulu contemporary in his ship – a van – carrying labourers to work. The strange juxtapositions of this work are completed with a romantic gold frame so that the different layers of contrasting visuals becomes a parody of content and form; as well as a circumlocutory social commentary. He draws young people into parliament scenes using a multimedia form that was inspired by his time in South Korea. The multimedia black and white sketches alongside colour photography is like the words of the youth on social media which have found their way into discussions by heads of state of late. The form creates an introspective social commentary by balancing figures of import looking out into the world and young people next to them looking in; not sure of how to use their free speech. It is a mix of media that makes the work both historical and colourfully contemporary simultaneously.
Having been in Korea at the time of the gala event that presents the winners of the L’Atelier, Zindela had to purchase a flight to South Africa and back to Korea for the event. He had not imagined that he would win. He entered in order to give himself a gauge of where he stood in the African contemporary art scene. As a Durbanite, his work had only really been seen by his peers in the city until the competition. Winning a Merit Award said to him: ‘Luyanda, you belong in this industry.’ He was not only surprised to win but was thrilled. The gauge gave him a very positive reading. The artists that he was selected in the Top Ten with were older, more experienced, and were people he looked up to. ‘As a young artist you get a lot of “no’s” before you get to “yes”,’ he says. But he had to enter to see if he could generate some kind of dialogue through the art.
He was able to talk to artists from Johannesburg who were working as artists full time and realise that he could make a career out of being an artist. He acknowledges that ‘in Durban you kind of have to have a day job,’ and then says that ‘I felt really small during the gala event and New York made me feel even smaller… It opened my eyes!!!’ He cherished the opportunity to visit all the museums and galleries of New York through the Ampersand Foundation because that was the real eye-opener that helped him see how small the scale of work in South Africa is. He had dabbled in sculpture but had had to let go of this interest because of the cost of materials. He felt that seeing the sheer scale of works in the American metropolis showed him that even though he may be on the side of the have-nots in terms of affording the materials to sculpt and make grand-scale art he was ‘grateful for being born in 1991’. He is planning larger works celebrating being young.