Photography by @garvageart
Front row with Mbali Nqobile Mdikane
My next interviewee for the FRM Blog is fresh from her debut collaborative exhibition in the heartbeat of Johannesburg – and she's a hyper-talented creative powerhouse, a real diamond in the rough. Mbali Nqobile Mdikane, aka 'Quiing', is an emerging multidisciplinary artist currently based in the streets of Jozi, specialising in painting, printmaking & performance art.
Earlier on this year, I wrote an article about Joburg's current art scene & its parallels with New York (SoHo) in the 1970s. And I think Mbali's story reminds us of an extremely important point which I expressed in that piece: that these young emerging artists in the streets of Jozi are the future of the art industry – locally and globally. The way in which I witnessed how her debut exhibition, 'UN-ALONE', with friend and fellow artist, Bronwyn Davis, was organised & executed was incredible to see.
Photography by @jem.ugw
It's clear that Mbali's superpower is her ability to connect with others and create communities based around her artistic gifts and sensibilities. Her creative presence commands with the aura of a deity and spirit of a khaleesi. The style of art she uses includes fictional characters inspired by Afrofuturism, which she reinterprets in order to change the narrative of how Black people are seen. So, from explaining her background in art further, the struggles of being an independent Gen Z artist in Joburg, and so much more – I had the absolute pleasure of virtually engaging Mbali in order to further understand her creative vision, artistic process & aspirations.
Photography by @shelovesramsey
Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?
Quiing: Ndibhotisa kuni nonke (greetings to you all). My name is Mbali Nqobile Mdikane for the friends & family, and 'Quiing' for the streets. Born in Margate, KwaZulu-Natal, but grew up in the Eastern Cape eMthatha and East London. I'm currently a student double majoring in Fine Arts (3rd year) and Psychology (2nd year) at the University of the Witwatersrand. Besides being a pretty face haha, I am more than that. I am offerer to the Art culture (idk if that’s a word but if not I just made it up). To describe what I do is that – I am an artist. Currently specialising in painting, printmaking and performance art.
How would you describe the style of your art? What inspires it?
Quiing: My style of art and its journey has been an interesting one. This is a progression of fantastical characters that appear to be abstractions of human anatomy. The role of these fantastical characters is to demonstrate solutions to human problems. In a way, these fantastical whimsical characters highlight the simplicity of life rather than the complexities of it all. The way the figures are depicted, influenced by Wangechi Mutu, Dada Khanyisa, Afrofuturism/Africanism – essentially an intriguing way of exploring how Black people can be seen. I am using Black people to change the narrative of certain topics, as Black people are always seen at the back and never in the forefront of ideas. It is my personal way of depicting these abstract, hybrid, Afrofuturistic figures, changing the narrative of how black people are seen.
Also I paint my figures in colour as I want people to grasp that we are beyond the colour of our skin, and I feel representation lately will fully stem on how physical. We are more that the colour of our skin. When we talk about the African experience, we talk about the pain of it all but now I want to highlight the joy, pain, vulnerability, life, death (different kinds of emotions and stages in life) in a calming manner – and in a ‘it’s a way of life’ type of way. I use my work to heal people, especially my community, and using these futuristic images showcases that here is still hope for the future. I am deliberately drawing Black people as these super out of this world figures that are here to save the day. Another thing, I am not forcing individuals to be in a state of healing but my body of work shows you the possibilities of healing.
Do you have a specific process when creating your artworks?
Quiing: I do not really have a specific process in regards to how I create but I will say my work can be emotional to create, as it is beyond the physical and is of spiritual connection. When I work, I feel, I cry, I heal and I am present. To a point where if you look closely, my work tends to look ‘unkept’. It is expressive beyond the paint and canvas. I express how I feel and you will see it. If I am not okay, you will see that I was not okay in this painting. With all of the feelings that I may feel when creating, I am allowing myself to feel. Therefore, I guess that is my process – to be one with the work beyond than just the paintbrush. However, with that I do my work for the people, so within my process the outcome is for the people.
You recently hosted your first ever art exhibition – congratulations! It looks like it was a resounding success. How did it feel putting this together in collaboration with artist Bronwyn Davis?
Quiing: Ngokuzithoba, NDIYABULELA KAKHULU! Ahh man I am still gobsmacked yet humbled by the reception that 'UN-ALONE' received. The process of creating a debut collaborative exhibition with my friend, Bronwyn Davis, was an experience I would not have had with anyone besides her. What fuelled us was how sad gatekeeping is in Johannesburg – especially in the art world. It is a space that is beautiful ofcourse, we are not disputing that, but it is a toxic one. As these upcoming young artists who are students, we believe that as artists, being in control of how you exhibit your work is liberating. Also – we are not about to wait for people to notice us. We want to create our own spaces that will be filled with so much talent, good energies and people only. We thank God that it was just that. The people that came to support us, wow they came through for real. From even curating the space, we had our friends to assist us.
The process of planning for the day was stressful because we are students deep in exam season but having our friends support us from the beginning to end, is something that I feel Bronwyn and I will forever be grateful for. Therefore, this is not congratulations to Bronwyn and I only, but congratulations to everyone who has helped us and was present for the exhibit. We are a movement and a collective of beautiful creatives in and out, that no one can break – and we are closer than what we think. The support that we got proved to us that we are the next people who are here to heal & take care of Joburg art culture, and we are ready. To the musicians, visual artists, photographers, poets, stylists, curators, performers, thespians, art lovers, buckle up – we are ‘NEXT’. <3
Photography by @garvageart
It really refreshes me to witness the independent Gen Z creativity manifest itself on the Johannesburg streets. What is your POV on what's to come from the emanating creative scene in Jozi?
Quiing: It is really a good time to be alive! Like what I said before, we are tired of the gatekeeping that the art world that it has and why not create our own opportunities? For what is to come… we are not ready. A new wave is coming, well I feel like it is already here. The creative scene is changing, it is filled with community, love and understanding. The Johannesburg streets are healing. As artists, I believe that we are healers in our respective forms, and seeing this community being fruitful by UN-ALONE is a beautiful start to healing the art space and South Africa in general. More authenticity will run around the Joburg streets. Passion and hunger to strive. Wow, Jozi is about to be way more beautiful that what we see and know.
So what's next for Mbali looking ahead towards 2023?
Quiing: What is next for me is to be the glue to this community that UN-ALONE has built. We pray for more art, more life, more passion, abundance and alignment – not only for me but also for the beautiful community. I do not want to say much but be ready for the ‘NEXT’… 2023. Wow, we are ready.
Photography by @jem.ugw