In our ‘Black Artist To Watch’ series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists and more who are producing vibrant, original work.
Black Artist To Watch: Mafalda Vasconcelos was born in South Africa but grew up in Mozambique. Mafalda’s work is inspired by the symbolism and spiritualism of her Mozambican culture. Her process is about spiritual self-discovery, identity, cultural exploration but also about love and admiration for ancestry and womanhood. Her art is not just a spiritual quest but also a way of exploring emotions and how they relate to identity.
Read more about the inspirations behind his work below
Tell us about the first moment you knew you wanted to be an artist? How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I have never wanted to be an artist per se, I have always been creative and wanted to pursue a creative career through which I could make things with my hands. I never thought that art was a possibility, but I am grateful that I have become an artist. Art to me is not just a spiritual quest but also a way of exploring emotions and how they relate to the subconscious.
You were born in South Africa, grew up in Mozambique before moving to Australia. How do you incorporate Africa to your art and how does Africa inspire your work?
I grew up surrounded by Mozambican women and African art, in Mozambique. My mother and her family are from the Nharinga ethnic group from the north of Mozambique. This was a very small ethnic group and due to assimilation, most of their culture was lost and not documented. I create work that is inspired by these women but also as a way to connect to our culture and my ancestors. Ancestral heritage is a very important aspect of most African cultures, including my own, which I try to honour by creating portraits based on spirits and energy rather than real human figures.
In addition, I draw or paint female figures as a reference to the Divine feminine that the black women in my life represent. Africa, the continent is also a feminine and nurturing figure and my work always depicts her in an allegorical way. She represents me and my ancestors.
Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve created?
Nolwandle is my favourite, I kept her to myself. I also love the new mini paintings I have been creating based on the concept of duality.
How has the current pandemic affected you as a creator?
The current pandemic has provided me with an opportunity to really look within and reflect on my creative process and focus on my art. It has allowed me to explore and experiment with themes and techniques that I wouldn’t otherwise have tried. We are currently in a very strict lockdown in Melbourne and basically all I can do is create from my home studio, which I am very fortunate to have. Making art has become a spiritual practice that keeps me sane and motivated.
What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Books. The most important part of my process is visual research, I use books as a source of inspiration and guide. I can’t imagine creating without that important part of the creative process. The books that inspire me the most are books about African art and African spirituality.
Art can change one’s perspective on the world. Are there certain ideas that your works try to introduce, suggest, or communicate to the viewer?
My work is about spiritual self-discovery, cultural exploration but also about love and admiration for ancestry and womanhood. I hope that the viewer is drawn to the imagery I create but most importantly, I hope that they feel the love that I try to pour into the canvas. The interpretation of art by the viewer is personal and relates to each one of our experiences, which I find interesting. The work I create is not so much about thought but about human emotion and as long as the viewer is feeling something when looking at my portraits, I am happy.
if you could sit down and have a meal with one artist/designer/musician in the world, Who would it be and why?
I would absolutely love to sit down with Dr. Maya Angelou. I have so many spiritual questions that I want to ask her. Other than that, I would just love to sit with ordinary people like my great grandmother Faneta. I would ask her about her life, which I find so interesting, more so than any artist or musician.
What is the best gallery or museum for art lovers in Australia?
NGV in Melbourne or Mona in Hobart are in my opinion, the best ones to visit.
What are you reading or watching at the moment?
I am reading Divine Inspiration by Phyllis Galembo and Robert Farris Thompson.
Do you consider a country’s art galleries when you select your travel destinations? If you could take an artistic tour across one country in the world, where would you go?
I am more interested in culture and people than in art galleries. I find that most art galleries are not often representative of the culture within a country or even the people. But I do try to visit art galleries wherever I go.
If I could do an artistic tour of a country, it would be Mozambique. I would visit every little town from Rovuma to Maputo, learning more about my country and the cultures within the ethnic groups of Mozambique. I was back there in January and visited a few places which I hadn’t been even though I lived in Mozambique for 20 years. I learnt so much about myself, my story and my people and it was life changing. I think those are much more enriching experiences for me as they relate more to my theme of work.