Q&A with Runner-up 2019: Luyanda Zindela

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

My artistic journey so far has been filled with all sorts of interesting twists and turns, particularly in the last three or four years. Mostly due to my Master’s degree studies as well as my gradual entry into the field of curating, I have seen my creative practice transition from making art myself towards writing about my work as well as the work of other artists. Whilst this creative transition has been very fruitful for my overall growth as a creative practitioner, I’ve seen that my art-making has taken a bit of a back seat in recent times. I wanted to address this by making work and entering art competitions this year, to see if I could still produce work that could compete at a national level.

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

To this day, the single biggest influence in my art career was going to the Johannesburg Art Fair for the first time in 2012. Seeing the standard of the work being exhibited there, seeing how professionally the participating artists carried themselves, allowed me to think of art not just as a passion but as a legitimate career choice. It was my first time being in a space where art didn’t have to do or say anything to legitimise itself, it was legitimate and so it was a powerful form of internal validation for me that the career that I chose to pursue was a valid, viable and legitimate one. This internal validation changed everything for me, I began to take myself and my work a lot more seriously and established clear quality standards that I always seek to reach with every artwork I produce or write about.

Have you entered the competition previously? And if so what was the result?

Yes, I have. I entered in 2013 and made it to the top 100. I entered again in 2017 and didn’t make the cut.  Not cutting it in 2017 was important. The feedback I got was that I needed to improve in the technical execution and presentation of my work. I took this feedback and made it the central focus for the work that I entered into this year’s competition.  

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

As mentioned before, art-making had been relegated to something that I only do occasionally, and this naturally led me to question if I could still produce work of a high standard. I figured that entering a premier national competition like the Sasol New Signatures art competition would be a good place for me to accurately gauge where I was in terms of my art-making and so I entered this year’s competition with the aim of at least making the top 100.

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

Pen and ink have always been my preferred drawing medium. I had made several small pen and ink drawings using the crosshatch and stippling method and eventually began to think about how I could develop this drawing technique on a larger scale. The drawing I submitted for this year’s competition was a major departure in terms of scale as well as overall complexity. I wanted to gauge how it would be received by an art audience. I would like to produce a body of work based on the drawing I submitted. The drawing itself, as well as entering it into this year’s competition is sort of “proof of concept” phase in the production of a larger body of work that I’d like to do after this competition.    

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

I believe that this statement in some ways is true. I believe that it can be a huge motivator to those who believe that they can win it. This belief is an internal thing. No competition can motivate an artist who doesn’t already have some sort of belief in themselves or their practice. I do believe though that art competitions in SA have gone a long way to become accessible to artists; they’ve done a lot to try and address perceived barriers to entry. For me, the biggest thing motivating me to enter art competitions isn't the thought of winning, I’m motivated by the platform these competitions give me to gauge where I am technically / conceptually in relation to other young artists who enter. It’s not a space where I compare myself to others, it is more of a way for me to find out where I fit. 

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

Prizes come and go. I’ve seen other promising artists enter these competitions, win and simply fade away. The artists who have gone on to do bigger and greater things since winning this and other competitions have done so because they were able to build on the experience and platforms these competitions present.

Do you have a mentor and how important is mentorship in developing a career?

I have many mentors, or as would like to say “people I consciously, actively watch”, I say this because these mentors aren’t always aware that I am their mentee. I believe that mentorship plays a central role in the growth of any career, not just in the arts. I also believe that it is important to have mentors, or people you observe, who are not in your field or discipline.

What excites you about the creative process?

The editing / reflecting process is probably the part I enjoy most. This may sound strange but I don't enjoy the act of making art,  or I should say, I don't enjoy it as much as I used to as a teenager.  I see every action made during my art-making process as a conscious decision, and so I enjoy being able to look back at my artwork and reflect on the decisions I've made, as well as making minor adjustments. The editing process is something I enjoy. The most daunting and frustrating part of the creative process for me is beginning or starting the work, I feel that I enjoy the work most when it's done.

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

This is an interesting question because it partially sums up the current crossroads that I feel I am in as an artist. I originally enjoyed working with traditional media such as pens and pencils etc. But now I’ve taken a keen interest in working digitally, whether on Photoshop or even making videos on Premiere. I love the editing tools these software programs provide as well as being able to make sweeping changes almost instantly. I'm currently in a space where I am trying to find ways of bringing my interests in physical and digital media together. 

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

Labour-intensive. Intricate. Layered.

Has entering this competition taught you anything about yourself?

I don't think that it has taught me anything new, but rather it has reaffirmed a few things that I've known about myself and my art. It has reaffirmed the belief that I am just one more big push away from the kind of art career that I want for myself, but for this big push to happen, I will need to be a lot more disciplined than I am now.

Which South African artists do you admire and why?

There are many South African artists and creatives that I admire. The creative collective that I have the most respect and admiration for right now is the iQhiya collective. I love how the young, talented, creative and unapologetically black members of this collective came together to address the various challenges of exclusion and marginalisation that each one of these members would have experienced if they were working alone. I also really admire Tony Gum and Lady Skollie; I love how they have taken advantage of new media and particularly social media and made it play an important and fruitful role in their artistic practice and careers. I also love the work of visual developer Terence Ntsako ‘Tako’ Maluleke; the African characters and settings he imagines and depicts in his work are beautiful.

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

Now that I've just completed my Master’s, I'm a little unclear on what lies next for me as an artist. I continue to work on little drawings and pieces that are purely for myself, but I am still in the process of establishing the direction that I want to go in, concerning producing a body of work. Entering this competition forms part of the steps that I'm taking to establish a new direction in my art-making.

What impact would winning this competition have on you?

First and foremost, I guess it would be the validation that comes with winning a national competition. The exposure and platform that comes with winning a competition of this scale would be great. It would be the push I need to break into the art industry in the way that I want to.

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

I think that's something that would be both exciting and daunting. The potential opportunities that would come with the publicity are exciting but with this publicity would come a lot more scrutiny of my work as well as a scrutiny of me as an artist. The hope is that whatever experiences lie ahead are an opportunity for personal and artistic growth.

What does innovation in the visual arts mean to you?

To me, it means being open and accepting of the new and the disruptive.

In your work, how important is a commentary on current social or political issues?

Social commentary plays a key role in my work, because my work almost always centres around my lived experiences and how I navigate the world around me. To me, avoiding these issues in my work would almost be avoiding the very things that contribute towards making me the artist that I am.

 Art is… in everything and everyone.

Download the 2019 catalogue here