During her fine art degree in Johannesburg, Zandile Tshabalala’s current project was sparked by her observation on how black women seemed to be omitted and marginalised from art history.  Since then, she’s made it her mission to place them in the foreground of the frame, and to let their clothes, make-up and posture show the ease and strength that defines her vision of Black femininity. 

Struck by the exclusion of Black women in art, she uses recurring motives to emphasis who Black women have been, and continue to be, depicted. Her work is both analytical and deeply personal at the same time, ultimately highlighting the multiplicity of Black female identity which has been seldom explored in the art history textbooks.

Her 2021 Enter Paradise exhibition was held at Ada Contemporary Art Gallery in Accra, Ghana and featured a series of figurative self-portraits portraying an opulent depiction of Black female figures. 

In an interview with Metal magazine, Tshabalala stated that she has “gone through different journeys with the self which involves a lot of confrontation with regards to how I see myself and who I believe I am. I have experienced a lot of unveiling and growth and also phases of awareness with regards to my position in the world as a young Black woman, one who is also a creative.”

Tshabalala cites Caravaggio – “who painted the most beautiful men in my opinion”, Henri Rousseau, Kerry James Marshall – “who has dignified the imagery of the Black man”, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby as her inspirations. 

What is arguably most striking about Tshabalala’s work is the contrast in colour between the black figures and the multicoloured backgrounds. There is a feeling of lusciousness, assertiveness and richness through her choice of colour. Perhaps this stems from her childhood dream of becoming a fashion desire which is clear in her knowledge for fabrics and prints which her portrait’s display. 

Discover more of Tshabalala’s work here.

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