EBONY/CURATED at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2022
Solo booth of works by Feni Chulumanco
Feni Chulumanco was born in Nyanga in 1994 and relocated with his family to Langa Township in Cape Town when he was a child, where his mother and grandmother raised him and his younger brother.
Chulumanco discovered his calling in art very early whilst drawing cartoons and painting as a young boy. His mother, who was highly creative and had a penchant for designing and refurbishing furniture at home, influenced and encouraged him. His family had such an impact on his life that they have become themes in his paintings. Chulumanco defines his home as a haven of joy, love, safety, and stability, which he regularly depicts in his paintings – he wants the audience to enter this space and analyze the many metaphors that arise.
Later Miss Nkunzi, a teacher of Art, Culture, and Design at Isilimela Comprehensive High School, motivated him to pursue his noticeable talent and passion for the arts while he was a student there. He lauds her for her openness to the world, her freeness and ideas.
Portraiture, landscape painting, and design were Chulumanco’s earlier forays into art. He credits his design background for his ability to work with a variety of materials in his practice, as well as the precision and speed with which he paints. His design classes exposed him to interior and fashion designers, which influenced his ability to stitch on canvas and paint harmoniously.
South African master George Pemba and Langa street artists were among the artists who influenced him. However, he is intent on telling his story in his unique style. In 2014 Chulumanco met the artist Ayanda Mabulu at Greatmore Studios. This significant encounter led to him being mentored by Mabulu as well as interacting with a wide variety of established artists at Greatmore.
To reproduce and re-story his lived experience, compelling faceless solitary figures are always painted against a background of textiles and notably saturated colours, such as mustard walls from memories of his late grandmother’s home. Chulumanco notes that these figures are self-portraits as well as recreations of his brother and himself at home. Rugs and textile remnants are commonly incorporated in his paintings, which he attributes to the door-to-door salesperson, whom his mother was always easily convinced to buy from because to her love of rugs. Having spent a significant amount of time studying and playing on them, the textures are quite familiar and constant – themes that appear throughout his work.
He paints his figures without faces because, while they are inspired in part by West African masks, they also represent Chulumanco’s own experience. In his pursuit of being an artist, he had faced rejection from his community, and he recalls feelings of voicelessness and invisibility. Chulumanco’s work is never static because his figures are always in motion – they represent the discipline he values through the chores assigned to his brother and him by his mother. He discloses that his dreams still link him to messages from his forefathers, including his late and beloved grandmother. She once told him that becoming an artist was the finest decision he could make.
He invariably returns to personal development and introspection. By encasing some of his figures in glass boxes, he references the individualism, personal growth, and the secure environment he created for himself through self-isolation in order to follow his calling. His emphasis is on self-esteem, individualism, and fulfilment, but it is also a tribute to the caregivers and feminine forces who nurtured, nourished, and believed in him, as he permeates his art with maternal warmth.
Text by Sara Khan, 2022