Q&A with Merit Winner 2019: Mlamuli Zulu | Sasol New Signatures

Q&A with Merit Winner 2019: Mlamuli Zulu

Tell us about your artistic journey up until the point of entering Sasol New Signatures 2019? 

The journey has been challenging and surprising at the same time. I spent five years studying towards and completing my National Diploma in Fine Arts at the Vaal University of Technology. After I graduated I was hired by the Department of Arts and Culture as a Cultural Officer where my role was that of an intern. Last year I entered the Thami Mnyele Fine Arts Awards (TMFAA), a contemporary fine arts completion, and I won the first prize! Following that, I was part of the first group to attend the American Art incubator programme in Durban 2019 at the KZNSA Gallery.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career as an artist to date?

Lucky Ntshaoba once told me: “Not everyone can become a good artist but a good artist can come from anywhere”. His words have had a profound effect on me I have used this statement as my biggest motivation.

What motivated you to enter the Sasol New Signatures art competition this year?         

I was inspired and advised by Bongani I. Khanyile (he was a merit award winner in 2014) to enter the Sasol New Signatures art competition this year.

Tell us a little about why you created the piece you submitted?

The installation is a liberal piece that seeks to invoke common rhetoric: “is religion overdue?” It is intended to trigger a conversation that digs deeper into the foundations of Christianity. To question whether religion is serving us or is the opposite a reality we face.

Art competitions can be a huge motivator for artists. What do you think of this statement? 

I agree! Art competitions have played a huge role in my career as an emerging South African artist, being selected to exhibit with established and emerging contemporary artists is a wonderful experience.

Why is it important to focus on the experience rather than just the prizes?                   

It is important to focus on the experience because that is what I believe produces original aesthetic development. Focusing on the prize alone can create unrealistic expectations.

What excites you about the creative process?

For me, seeing the final project in my mind first is very exciting...and then having to surrender to the unknown to finish and be satisfied.

Tell us about your preferred medium/s ...and why?

My interest lies in manipulating the context of common objects into a three-dimensional installation to change the subject and come up with new meaning, translation and appearance.

If you could summarise your entered work in three independent words, what would it be?

Art versus Religion / Religion versus Art

Has entering this competition taught you anything about yourself?

Yes, what I have learnt about myself is that I do not give up when I set a target I have to reach it no matter the circumstances.

Which South African artists do you admire and why? 

The artist I most admire is Mary Sibande! She is the artist that made me understand the meaning of art when I was at school as a first-year student. I like the fact that she critiques stereotypical depictions of women, particularly black women in our society.

What are you currently working on? What is next for you as an artist?                            

I am working on a collage. This two-dimensional work is a traditional Nguni design on canvas using different coloured beads pasted one by one as a form of pointillism.  

What impact would winning this competition have on you?

As an artist from a rural area, the impact will be getting a larger audience to listen to my story and start conversations about me or and my work.

The winner and the merit award winners receive lots of publicity. Is this something that excites or daunts you?

I am very excited to get exposure from the biggest art competition.

What does innovation in the visual arts mean to you? 

To me, innovation in the visual arts means coming up with new ideas and a style to express feelings and to apply skill.

In your work, how important is commentary on current social or political issues?         I would say the very reason I do my artworks is to trigger a conversation between my audiences about the specific issue that I am exploring at the time.

 Art is… the application or expression of human creative skill and imagination, basically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.