RE-ROOTED: African Artists Channeling Their Ancestry

From bold, statement installations to subtle symbolism, we’ve put together a growing list of artists who are seamlessly weaving the themes and practices of their African ancestry into their creations to produce work that’s rich in tradition, history and spirituality.

They’re creating personal and collective narratives across design, installation, artworks, movement, poetry, film and fashion. Each piece is a golden tribute to the celebration and preservation of age-old culture in a modern, euro-centric world.

Karabo Moletsane | Illustration

What’s important is embracing your unique style, learning to understand it, working on making it better and in turn using it to contribute to the aesthetic identity of you country.” – Karabo Moletsane, The Creative Pattern’s Blog, August 2015.

Karabo Moletsane is a Joburg-based freelance designer and illustrator who, after working in the industry for a while, realised that she wouldn’t find an agency that embodies the core fundamentals of the South African aesthetic and spirit – a theme crucial to her practise. So she went out on her own. 

She has since carefully developed and crafted her own distinct style that is deeply rooted in the celebration and preservation of her culture. Karabo’s illustrations are an effortless balance of current cultural references and her distinctively vibrant and modern aesthetic. 

She recently created a series of portraits for the Jameson Music Video Grant Top 10 and panel, some of which we’ve included below.

More of Karabo’s work here.

Mohau Modisakeng | Performance & Installation

“In African spirituality, you don’t possess gender. Just spirit.” – Mohau Modisakeng, CCQ Magazine, Issue 10

Multidisciplinary performance artist Mohau Modisakeng has been shaped and inspired by his upbringing in Soweto; from the black urbanity and cosmopolitan culture, to his mother’s practice of traditional healing. 

He uses material, metaphor and the black body as his communicative tools to express South Africa’s post-colonial history, utilising film, large-scale photography, installations and performance as his creative mediums. His work is a powerful yet poetic invocations where the body is transformed into a poignant marker of collective memory.

More of Mohau’s work here.

Sindiso Khumalo | Fashion & Textile

“I think at the moment in Africa we are going through amazing renewal. We’re embracing our heritage and subverting it.” – Sindiso Khumalo, Design Indaba, March 2015.

Sindiso Khumalo is a South African textile designer whose creations are primarily based on her a steady eye for bold, striking print; a visual celebration of her Zulu and Ndebele heritage. Beyond her beautiful creations, she is also a global advocate for sustainability, empowerment and craft – the foundation upon which her fashion label was founded in 2012. Since then she’s consistently created modern, handmade textiles produced by women in small, sustainable workshops around South Africa.

More about her work and philosophy here.

Sethembile Msezane | Performance & Installation

“If we are to have statues, where are our black female heroines?”  – Sethembile Msezane, Between 10 and 5, August 2015

Sethembile Msezane is a Cape Town based artist who defies colonialist ideals and draws attention to the history of black women through performance art. She establishes themes of African identity in her work by utilising iconic beading and traditional headwear.

Her signature mechanism of contrasting well-known historical Western references with current socio-political issues in South Africa is used to evoke how history often repeats itself in various ways. Her designs raise questions about the past and present of South Africa, and create conversations about the injustices that are and have been suffered by black women specifically.

The most important outcome of her work is to create consciousness on particular issues, with the hope that her viewers can draw similarities from history and learn from them.

More of Sethembile’s work here.

Laduma Ngxokolo | Fashion

“When I went to a Xhosa initiation in 2011 I felt that the outfits for the initiation ritual were too Westernised. Xhosa initiation is a traditional ritual and even though we are all living in a modern time, I felt that there should still be an element that resembles the Xhosa culture.” – Laduma Ngxokolo, Between 10 and 5, April 2014

Laduma Ngxokolo is a fashion designer who showcases his Xhosa heritage in his creations, using his clothing label, Maxhosa, as his creative canvas. The brand was born in 2011 from Laduma’s desire to explore premium knitwear suited to traditional Xhosa initiation wear. As someone who’s experienced the ritual, he wanted to develop a range that showcased and celebrated authentic traditional Xhosa wear, using South African mohair and wool.

Laduma is a contrasting agent of both change and preservation, transforming with the times and engaging in a dialogue that showcases Xhosa culture while helping to pave its way in an ever-evolving modern landscape.

Visit the MaXhosa website here.

The Ninevites | Art & Textile

Named after a 19th century South African resistance movement, artist and designer Nkuli Mlangeni founded The Ninevites to celebrates under-told African narratives. Her preferred medium is traditional textile weaving, and much of her work includes exploring age-old ways of creating authentically African imagery. 

More about Nkuli here.

Buhlebezwe Siwani | Performance & Installation

“I cannot use any other body to represent myself, I am many different bodies in one as iSangoma.– Buhlebezwe Siwani, Between 10 and 5, June 2016

Known for her installation and performance piece, Buhlebezwe Siwani’s primary calling is as a practising iSangoma. She is deeply connected to the world of spirits and uses her body as a medium to express her personal history and spiritual identity. 

More specifically, her work provokes conversation about the oppression of the black woman’s body in South African history, bringing systematic violence and gender-based oppression to the foreground.

Being an iSangomi demands that much of Siwani’s practise is concealed, while being an artist encompasses complete self-expression and revelation. She works within this paradox, which instead of being limiting, she finds to be a seamlessly symbiotic harmony.

More of Buhlebezwe’s work here

Atang Tshikare | Art & Design

“It’s good to be able to go and see what people are doing in the most rural settings, and if you can learn the old traditions of doing stuff, then we can actually preserve it as well and we’ll be taking something that is established and putting a new twist to it.” -Atang Tshikare, Design Indaba, 2017

Atang Tshikare is a self-developed multidisciplinary artist whose practise has evolved steadily and speedily since his days as a graffiti artist in Bloemfontein. Atang’s brainchild, Zabalazaa (meaning “to hustle”), is an independent studio showcasing a part of the dynamic urban dialogue that’s rapidly emerging across the African landscape.

His work is an amalgamation of line drawing and high-energy street art, which he executes in various mediums from pencil, marker to acrylic and aerosol. He then splashes his designs on objects that vary from sneakers, wood, metal, plastic, canvas and paper.

See Zabalazaa’s work here.

Morena Leraba | Music & Sound

“I want to display the potency of Sesotho language and spirituality; hence, its practice as inspired by our deep-rooted faith as a people.” – Morena Leraba, Okay Africa, March 2016 (Transcribed from Sesotho to English)

If you kept tabs on the recent Jameson Music Video Grant, then this next artist’s name should ring a bell. Morena Leraba is part of this year’s winning trio. He’s a Mosotho musician and shepherd from the Mafeteng district, south of Lesotho’s capital.

Morena Leraba’s music (especially lyrics) is deeply rooted in Lesotho’s traditional music, poetry, and it’s sub-genre, Famo, which was introduced as early as the 1920s when Basotho men were migrant workers in South African mines. However, the approach in the beat is significantly different as it hurls almost everything from Electro, Electronica, Afro-House and Hip-Hop. He was introduced to a wider audience internationally when he was featured by Kashaka, a Brooklyn-based producer on their collaboration, Lithebera, which was premiered by OkayAfrica in New York and also appeared on Konbini UK and PRØSPECT in France. In 2017, Morena Leraba is again featured on Spoek Mathambo’s new album ‘Mzansi Beat Code’ with first listen on NPR Music.

Upcoming projects include a 5-song EP with Kashaka, which will feature Spoek Mathambo and Manteiga from BATUK. Additionally, Morena Leraba is working on a 3-song EP with Red Bull Cape Town which will feature Sho Madjozi (with production from Spoek Mathambo, Sibot, and Trap Funk & Alivio from Bahia, Brazil). Morena Leraba was recently in Paris, France where he performed together with Spoek Mathambo at Festival Banlieues Bleues in La Dynamo…

Lend him your ears here.

Impepho Music Video Jameson Music Video Grant Impepho Music Video Jameson Music Video Grant

Sikhumbuzo Makandula | Performance & Installation

“My practice focuses on the intersections of the fine and performance arts, public history and public memory in relation to public space in the post-apartheid South Africa.” –Sikhumbuzo Makandula, Art Africa, April 2016

Sikhumbuzo Makandula is a Fine Art graduate of Rhodes University who currently lives and works between Johannesburg, Grahamstown and Cape Town. His work explores themes of spirituality, nationality, ritualistic practises and indigenous culture.

One of the artist’s recent bodies of work, Ubuzwe, aims to question and challenge the fundamental basis of a political and historical South Africa. He utilises photography, video and installation as his tools in an attempt to debunk the myth of “The Rainbow Nation”.

He’s definitely one  to watch.

Lazi “Greiispaces” Mathebula | Illustration

“It’s the energy of the township. Growing up there as a kid the things you see; traditional methods, religion, language, communication, convenience and improvisation. From transport to the food we eat, it all filters into my mind to execute definitive stories.” – Lazi, Between 10 and 5, November 2014

Staying unapologetically true to his upbringing in Alexandra Township, Lazi is challenging perceptions of township art. His works are alive with vibrant, luminous colour combinations and intricately detailed etchings. They can be found on clothing, shoes, wallpaper, stickers, furniture and print work.

More of Lazi’s work here.

Athi-Patra Ruga | Art, Installation & Performance

“I want to find a space where I can use my body to communicate politics.” – Athi-Patra Ruga, Design Indaba, May 2014.

Athi-Patra Ruga is an multi-disciplined artist who uses performance, video, textiles, and printmaking to explore themes of utopia and dystopia, material and memory. He explores and often overlaps the perimeters between fashion, performance, and contemporary art and uses the body to tell stories of structure, ideology, and politics.

Ruga’s works are made up of enchanting mythical characters and imaginary worlds, as identifiable as they are bizarre. They’re often wrought with eclectic multicultural references, subtle undertones of humour and blaring colour combinations.

His vibrant fictional world Azania is a place where cultural identity isn’t determined by geographical origins, ancestry, or biological make-up, but is increasingly transforming into a hybrid construct. It recites the narrative of an imaginary, liberated Africa.

More about Athi-Patra here.

iQuiya Collective | Performance & Installation

“In various working relations whether it be on campus, exhibitions or workshops, we have been confronted with a lack of respect from men.” –iQuiya, Between 10 and 5, March 2016

“iQhiya” is a term that refers to the cloth women use on their heads to support water vessels that they carry: an age-old representation of strength and power. Made up of a group of black female artists, iQuiya was formed as a rebuttal to being consistently underrepresented by the South African art world. 

The group comprises of Asemahle Ntonti, Bronwyn Katz, Buhlebezwe Siwani, Bonolo Kavula, Charity Kelapile, Lungiswa Gqunta, Matlhogonolo Kelapile, Sethembile Msezane, Sisipho Ngodwana, Thandiwe Msebenzi, and Thuli Gamedze.

iQuiya is multi-talented in their disciplines, which include performance art, printmaking, video, photography, sculpture and other mediums. Their vision and design is based on creating good work to compete with their male counterparts, and as a collective, they build on each others individual strengths and prove that there’s always power in unity.

Follow them on Facebook here.

Anyone we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

Copywriter & Cringeworthy Pun Enthusiast
  • Khanyisile Mintho Mbongwa

    Lhola Amira

  • Khanyisile Mintho Mbongwa

    Ronald Muchatuta