For many artists, the digital sphere has been a necessary tool in reaching larger audiences and sidestepping possible gatekeeping from institutions. Instagram, with its emphasis on all things visual, has been particularly helpful.
Since the 2018 rollout of a feature that allows users to share other peoples’ posts in their Instagram stories, profiles on the social media platform have become reminiscent of the blogs on LiveJournal or Tumblr, with personal posts placed between music suggestions and images meant to boost an imagined aesthetic. Queued after videos from, say, a hike or a meal, you may catch the work of an unknown artist your old friend or little cousin admires — and find that, after visiting the artist’s profile, you admire them, too.
ALL ARTS has always been a platform meant to bolster the work of artists through a supportive community that transcends genre, and the ALL ARTS Instagram is no different. Every week, we feature posts from creators in the digital space on our Instagram stories. And now, with the aim to foster our arts community, we’re talking with a new artist every week in our series: Artists of Instagram.
Meet Lindani Nyandeni (@lindani_nyandeni), a 28-year-old abstract portrait artist based in Durban, South Africa.
Nyandeni’s interest in art started at a young age, but as he grew older, he was encouraged by his family to pursue engineering. However, in 2013, he decided to refocus on an arts career, and by 2014, had enrolled in a Visual Arts course at BAT Centre, a community arts development and cultural entertainment center. The artist continued his studies at Rorke’s Drift Art Centre through 2016 before embarking on a Swedish art exchange. He is now within a two-year full-time mentorship with artists Wonder Buhle Mbambo and Sthenjwa Luthuli.
You may recognize his works from a 2018-19 traveling group exhibition by Zanele Muholi titled “Ikhono LaseNatali,” or the 2020 virtual exhibition “4 x 4” from KZNSA Gallery’s Young Artists Project, highlighting four emerging artists.
We spoke to the painter about his pieces, his inspirations, and what art means to him.
What does art mean to you? How does it fit in your story?
Art is a very powerful medium. For generations, it has been used as a strong catalyst in documenting and addressing societal ills. Art is a strong voice for the oppressed, the masses and those who are in the periphery who can be used as a harbinger of change.
In my approach, I use art as a podium and a pedestal to voice out my thoughts and observations that engage, question and comment on [the] self, including societal ills. Through art, my goals are to strike up discussion and bring to light the challenges we face, while being able to reach a broader audience nationally and internationally.
How would you describe the type of art that you create?
My work features semi-abstract portraits and figures who are rendered in a stylized manner. My subjects are done in a wash-like style, which metaphorically translates to nostalgia. In my work, I carefully use the relevant techniques and methods which metaphorically speaks to my concept; however, as an artist, I continue to experiment and explore in order to find new and fresh ways to present my work.
I basically take the traditional mediums, such as oil pastels and paint, and mix them with contemporary techniques and styles to create something fresh and relevant to our time.
How has social media and the digital sphere helped you with your art career?
In this day and age, social media is a very powerful tool in marketing an artist and [their] work. With social media, an artist does not need to wait for his work to be in a gallery space in order to make a living; the artist can simply upload an artwork on Facebook or Instagram and be able to connect with their patrons. And social media proves to be even more powerful in the times of COVID-19, when galleries are closed and people aren’t keen on going out.
How has the current global climate affected your art?
This year has really been tough for all full-time artists in general, since we’re not earning a monthly salary and we’re dependent on the sales of our artworks to make a living. I had some major plans put on hold and some postponed.
One of the biggest milestones in my career was a solo exhibition, which was initially supposed to be in March at KZNSA art gallery. As part of their Young Artists Project, the title was “4 x 4” — the first solo shows of four artists in the same area. My own solo show was titled “Bonakele.” But the whole exhibition was postponed when we went into lockdown and later opened as a virtual exhibition in June during the easing of the lockdown. It was very frustrating for me to have my first major show unable to be viewed by the public. However, the virtual exhibition and social media did some justice in making it possible to showcase my artworks to a broader online audience.
How do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration from the challenges we go through as humans, as a society, and how we maneuver around those challenges and heal from the wounds. As a human being, I have been blessed to be an artist and to have the ability to document and share my personal experiences with the broader world, in hopes that I will be able to strike up conversations around the challenges I face — which are not just challenges I face alone but with most of society. Society is wounded; therefore, I challenge people to engage with those hardships.
What other artists inspire you?
I’m inspired by art itself. All art is created to be viewed and appreciated and to inspire. So I receive a lot of inspiration from different artists, whether that be up-and-coming artists or established artists. I sort of look at what works within a particular art [piece].
My all-time favorite artist is Jean-Michel Basquiat, and as a result, my earlier artworks were likened to his wild use of colors and brush techniques. However, my recent artworks feature different styles.
My immediate source of inspiration are the artists who groomed me and I have been growing under their guidance — Sthenjwa Luthuli and Wonder Buhle Mbambo. They gave me a lot of inspiration because their work is always settled, and they are humble, respectful and committed to their work. I dream of reaching their standard and going beyond it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think it is very important to be able to share whatever challenges we go through in life. That way, we will be able to heal and move on.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Top Image: Courtesy of Lindani Nyandeni