Currently on at the Absa Art Hot Spot and running until the end of January 2022, is The Resilience of the Human Spirit, a collaborative exhibition showcasing a selection of recently produced artworks by 2019 Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors, Raji Bamidele from Nigeria, Winifrid Luena from Tanzania, and Nkhensani Rihlampfu from South Africa.
We reached out to these three artists for a group Q&A about their work, the theme of the current exhibition, and how being Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors has impacted their careers so far.
In 2019, you were announced as Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors. Since then, a lot has changed. Can you catch us up on the last two years in terms of your work?
Winifred Luena: After winning the award in 2019, I began to get more involved in various collaborative art projects aimed at promoting the local art scene in Tanzania, especially in photography. At the end of 2019, I founded Striti Za Bongo, a collective of documentary photographers with the aim of fostering the growth of documentary photography practices in Tanzania, so I started to organise workshops, exhibitions and coordinate different projects that relate to documentary photography practices. In the first half of 2020, I focused on developing a personal documentary project that shows the efforts of Dar es Salaam residents to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In the second half, I focused on finding various artistic opportunities by applying different grant proposals for different projects of Striti Za Bongo collective and international residencies for myself. I also participated in Kampala Art Biennale 2020. In the first half of 2021, I had a research, cultural and knowledge exchange residency, Afro Ndi Luso, in Zambia. After the residency, I started to focus more on creating works for this exhibition. All this time and experience that I had, has really helped me to grow in my career as an artist.
Raji Bamidele: Covid-19 happened, so, I spent a lot of time confined in the four walls of my workspace doing a lot of introspection towards life and the kind of works that I create. This was followed by a series of masterclasses and a mentorship programme as part of my prize as an Absa L’Atelier 2019 Ambassador.
Nkhensani Rihlampfu: Winning the Absa L’Atelier was a great opportunity. It exposed me to a lot of clients and clientele, added to my CV and it was a good award to receive. Unfortunately, at the start of 2020, Covid-19 hit and we were not able to take up the initial residency prize that formed part of winning the Absa L’Atelier. Instead, the prize was changed to accommodate the challenges due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. I think that, in terms of art practise, more work has been done and I think that my career has continued to grow – better galleries, platforms and opportunities. Part of this is largely due to winning the 2019 Absa L’Atelier and the continued hard work and dedication that I apply to my art practice. Over the past 18 months, I experienced a rollercoaster ride since the outbreak of Covid-19, but at the end of the day, I think that I have pulled through and with my fellow 2019 Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors and we still managed to pull together a show. We’re hoping for the best… so things are good.
What is your personal take or understanding of the theme of the current Absa Art Hot Spot exhibition, The Resilience of the Human Spirit?
Winifred Luena: This theme is the capability that we, humans, have to persist both physically and mentally in achieving our desired life goals regardless of the challenging situation and circumstances that we face as we go through our life journey. I relate so much, personally, to this theme when I look back at my artistic journey, which was started as a dream nine years ago. A dream that seemed overwhelming and almost impossible to everybody except me – it was unlikely to be achieved due to the environment and background that I come from. But through the perseverance that I have in hard work, openness, learning, confidence, flexibility and adaptation to the various obstacles and situations that I face, I have overcome them and I am very happy that I’m now living the dream and continue to dream more as I move forward in my artistic journey.
Raji Bamidele: The Resilience of the Human Spirit isn’t a new discourse to me, given that I’m quite philosophical with my approach to life. From the moment that we are born, we begin to learn; from experience and from the society, we persevere. Basically, and without regard for peripheral details, The Resilience of the Human Spirit demonstrates that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Nkhensani Rihlampfu: The theme of the exhibition connects with my work personally. It also connects with the two other Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors who are a part of the exhibition, because we had a long discussion about it. Over the past 18 months, since the outbreak of the pandemic, I went through a number of personal experiences. As I was working towards the show, I was at the point where I could actually recognise exactly what I was going through and I thought, let me put it on a canvas. I mean, The Resilience of the Human Spirit is also a signifier of a person who goes through a lot and they still come out a winner, where they continue to find ways to persist through all these situations that each of us are faced with.
Looking back, how has being an Absa L’Atelier Ambassador influenced your work or your career?
Winifred Luena: The greatest positive change in my career happened after I became an Absa L’Atelier 2019 Ambassador. More doors and opportunities began to open. I started to get international commissions, exhibition offers and residency opportunities, which all helped to increase the growth and value of my work. Also, through the fantastic masterclasses that we have been given as part of the prize of being an Ambassador, it has really helped me to realise the value of my work, to formulate the direction in which I want my career to go in the future and know the best way to reach where I want to be. Being an Absa L’Atelier Ambassador has helped me to successfully bring some of my visions to reality, visions that were stuck due to various reasons, and this gives me much happiness as I move forward in my career.
Raji Bamidele: Looking back to where I came from to now, being an Absa L’Atelier Ambassador, my thought process and approach towards my career has been shaped in a positive light and direction. This can be attributed to the masterclasses that formed part of our prize. Also, I’ve had the benefit of mentorship with Oliver Enwonwu, where he challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and begin working with acrylic paints.
Nkhensani Rihlampfu: It influenced it in a special way. There were masterclasses with leading experts in the visual arts that taught us a lot about the professional world and a number of professional creators that were appointed by the Absa L’Atelier team came through with their teachings, and that was another learning avenue for us, which I think I wouldn’t initiated on my own. That was the first benefit. More benefits were media exposure, where we were granted an opportunity to market our brands along with the Absa L’Atelier and, by virtue, it made us reach bigger crowds and as an artist, I think such opportunities are pivotal to our careers and businesses.
Could you tell us a little bit about the work that you have on show in this exhibition?
Winifred Luena: The body of work that I have exhibited centres on the experiences of transformation and growth that I went through in the journey of realising my dream and creating meaning in my existence by becoming an artist from my engineering background. In this body of work, I use metaphors, symbolism, personal objects, reflection on my dreams and proverbs to make references about the experience of the journey. The body of work combines works from different mediums of photography, digital art, new media art and light installation to emphasise the aliveness that I have found and experienced in this journey.
Raji Bamidele: The works that I’m exhibiting highlight the concept of duality and dualism in relation to the resilience of the human spirit.
Nkhensani Rihlampfu: The works that I have at the exhibition speak about a personal journey and part of them speak about when we have reached the promised land or the imaginary, peaceful land where things are at harmony and it’s a wonderful future. I speak about emancipation (these three artworks called Emancipation (the three flying figures) and it’s just the imaginary time where one is happy, joyful and you can actually fly in this land). I was just exaggerating what freedom would mean when you could fly free like a bird and it’s not figurative, instead it’s literal. The other piece is The Spirit of my Ancestors obviously giving glory to the guardians and the spiritual side of things. Part of it is thanking my ancestors for being there through my journey. The last pieces speak about the explosions of emotions, and that this is just a journey that I am recording. Sometimes life is not smooth, but you need to appreciate bad times because we learn, are humbled and come out as a better person. Sometimes it takes longer, other times it’s quicker, but everyone deserves to overcome their challenges.
What’s next for you and where can our readers keep up to date on your work?
Winifred Luena: Right now, I have started to work on personal projects. I am experimenting with knowledge from science and technology to create immersive exhibitions that would help in bridging and increasing the interaction between the audience, art and artist in the Tanzanian art scene. In 2022, my focus is to work mostly on documentary projects in collaboration with local creatives and international agencies. In 2023, a solo show at Absa Gallery. I am really happy and looking forward to this first solo exhibition. You can keep up with my work through my website and Instagram.
Raji Bamidele: I will keep creating art as much as my ability permits. Dig deeper, broaden my horizons. Possibly, get a gallery representation and evolve. I will also be working towards my solo exhibition at the Absa Gallery in 2023. Readers can be updated on my Instagram page.
Nkhensani Rihlampfu: What’s next for me is that I am planning a two-man show next year; I will announce it once all details have been finalised. Also, I am working towards my solo exhibition in the Absa Gallery next year. However, there are several other projects happening in between, in particular a number of group exhibitions. Readers can keep up to date with my work on Instagram and Facebook.
The work of all three artists can be viewed in The Resilience of the Human Spirit, currently on exhibition at the Absa Art Hot Spot until the end of January 2022.