Real Life Is Dada Khanyisa’s Art
Dada Khanyisa is bringing the ancient art form of relief sculpture into a contemporary mixed-media space and a South African context. Her artworks depict the everyday scenes she’s witness to at Bree taxi rank, in a club or at an outdoor party. As if the frame can’t contain the life within it, the accentuated characters pop into 3D form in places.
Dada’s art is not bound by medium and her creative expression finds itself in customising sneakers, tattooing and mural art. Her custom Converse sneakers are currently on show at Guild, who she’s collaborated with on a range of products.
Photography by Laura Theunissen
Dada uses her art to document daily realities as she sees them in the places she’s grown up in or called home; the places that have taught her to navigate life. She says, “I understand that I have to greet strangers in rural KZN, keep my phone guarded while in central Joburg and ask a white mate to call the agent if I am looking for accommodation in Cape Town.” She describes her work as a social mirror, which she tweaks and distorts in places for affect.
Each character in Dada’s works has a back story, their actions in the scene only a moment caught within a busy day. These stories change depending on who is viewing the works. In her artist statement for her grad show Inkosi Ibenathi , she says, “Being exposed to different people in the many spaces I have lived and experienced is what fuels this body of work. From the people who walk through city centres submitting their CVs, to the gogos selling amagwinya at the taxi rank. The train fruit sellers, public sector workers, Kasi advert wall painters and the ‘things need to change’ protestors. The ones who handshake with a thumb-pop in agreement, also the aunty who works a ‘night shift’ just so food can be on the table. Not forgetting the sneaker heads and everyone that plans their good day outfit a week in advance.”
Dada’s talent for story-telling and character development is telling of the fact she studied animation before completing her Master’s in Fine Art at Michaelis. In 2017 Dada’s piece Ama #WCW was shown by Stevenson at Miami Art Basel, and earlier this year her work Untitled (Intimacy) was on show at the Stevenson Booth at the Investec Cape Town Art fair.
We caught up with Dada ahead of her solo show Bamb’iphone opening on May 17th at Stevenson.
What were some of your early creative influences growing up?
My family, television, friends, the internet and colour books.
Where does the idea for a new piece or a new body or work come from?
It comes from personal creative goals and curiosity. I have visual goals that merge with what is in my sketch book. The sketches in the book come from a far away place in my head.
What are the scenarios playing out in your works based on?
They’re based on the narratives that unfold around me. There’s a lot to take from the daily experience. The simplicity of reality entertains and inspires.
What do you hope to communicate through your artworks?
It differs from work to work. It is never really about a strong message – more about what the visuals do to the viewers. I’ve heard people piece together their own narratives from the visuals, so it’s an open ended conversation if anything.
What do think resonates with people about your work?
The content is figurative and borrowed from real life. It’s familiar to people because it is about the people.
What’s the role of art in your opinion?
To keep me busy and constantly imagining alternative endings to everyday stories.
Your works spans many disciplines, is there a thread that links them all?
The characters sort of link all the disciplines because they can be presented in any form. Besides that I think it’s a survival matter – the need to pay the rent and live comfortably has allowed me to explore other ways of presenting simple stories.
You have a 2018 solo show coming up – what are you focussing on for this?
The show celebrates smartphones and people’s relationships with these personal devices. You should come see it, opens May 17 at Stevenson Gallery.
More about Dada at The Might Whale.
Photography of Dada by Amber Rose Cowie.
Interview by Alix-Rose Cowie.