One Brick at a Time: Miatta Kawinzi

When asked how she feels as a black female artist working and living in South Africa, she sighs. “My name is Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa. I’m a mother and a grandmother” she says. “That is all.”

But that’s not quite all. Dhlomo-Mautloa’s maternal skills reach in directions which have nothing to do with her own children. New York based Miatta Kawinzi (47) was in South Africa on a 2017 Visiting Artist Residency at The Bag Factory Studios until August 2017, and she’s certainly one of the young artists that looks to Dhlomo-Mautloa as a parent of sorts.

New York was a place where Kawinzi knew she could work in her studio until 2am, hop on a train and walk home when she felt like it. “In South Africa, it’s different”, she says. “It’s like everybody runs away as soon as the sun sets.”

She knows she is more aware of race when she moves about in public spaces back in America, but in South Africa she is more concerned about gender. Kawinzi considers herself to be a conceptual artist. Her work is driven by her curiosity. Part of her interest in openness ends not with ideas but in exploring spaces. “One thing that first struck me in being in Johannesburg was feeling like space is regulated”, she says, “so I had to pay a lot of attention to the barbed wire, it’s symmetrical rows of circles – which, sometimes, are falling down, twisted and old.”

And indeed, emulating the barbed wire of this city was a starting point for Kawinzi. She began the process with miniature structures which take months to develop. “It kind of disappears and then it reappears”, she says. “The wire is easy to bend, it’s very soft, but it’s metal so it’s also very strong and it could poke you”.

Working with an earthly pallet of blacks and burnt sienna, inspired by the abundant red soil she has encountered during her South African visit, Kawinzi also draws and paints. Working on Arches paper – made in France and air dried, which makes it the paper of choice for printmakers and watercolourists – and using a paintbrush in a very cold and controlled way, she represents barbed wire tangling or untangling endlessly.

During August, Kawinzi hosted a solo exhibition at the Bag Factory, entitled (beneath). This new and contrasting work, was an intense exploration of the use of space and featured long and delicately worked barbed wires hanging from the walls and the ceiling.

“I’ve been thinking about digging a lot”, she says. The paintings, comprising different layers of ink, communicate what is beneath, being rooted in soil, using the burnt sienna. Feeling that what is above is very mysterious, Kawinzi uses black ink to create ‘space’.

Kawinzi acknowledges that the gender of an artist still affects how people read art. “People say they see wombs in my works”, she says. “If a guy would have made that, I don’t think that would have come up”. Both Kawinzi’s drawings and her sculptures will be on show in the FNB Joburg Art Fair.

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