51: Painting the world you want to see with South African-American artist Thenjiwe Nkosi

Artist/Mother Podcast
Artist/Mother Podcast
51: Painting the world you want to see with South African-American artist Thenjiwe Nkosi

I was thrilled to talk with Thenjiwe Nkosi, a multimedia artist based out of Johannesburg, South Africa, for this episode. We talk about working with (and around) toddlers, the generative powers of a creative hiatus, and managing life’s surprises as both an artist and a mother.

Thenjiwe walks me through her trajectory, emphasizing the importance of nurturing creativity and art in early education, which Thenjiwe attributes to her childhood experiences in a Waldorf school. She then carried out her undergraduate work at Harvard, where she was heavily invested in social studies and social justice, and completed her MFA at the School of Visual Arts. Though she has always been a maker and a doer (she compulsively made art as a teen and practiced martial arts for years!), Thenjiwe is enjoying her recent shift to full-time artist. We talk creative cycles, returning to old work to give it new life, and Thenjiwe’s transition from video work to painting. 

Whereas the art world tends to underestimate the capacity of painting to serve as social practice art, Thenjiwe has proved that her painting can spark change. She remains committed to “painting the world [she] wanted to see” and portraying black bodies in spheres where they are underrepresented — and where their artistry is often overlooked. While Thenjiwe turned to experimental documentary work while in university, she recently returned to painting black gymnasts, a project she paused about five years ago. 

We also confront the challenges of placemaking as an artist (akin to those discussed in last week’s episode). Navigating physical, social, and emotional distance from the art world is a lot of work — especially when institutions choose to make assumptions about the needs of artist/mothers. We discuss the power we have as individuals to build more inclusive environments in the art world for artist/mothers and artist/parents at large while also developing intergenerational legacies of care that span place and practice.

Lastly, Thenjiwe’s words of wisdom for fellow artist/mothers? Never forget to be kind to yourself.

You can see more of Thenjiwe’s work on her website and her IG @thenjiwe_niki_nkosi.
The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn

Thenjiwe’s daughter in her studio
“Evaluation”, 1,000 x 1,500mm, oil on canvas, 2019
Thenjiwe working in her studio, credit Nina Lieska
Thenjiwe’s studio and work in progress

“Evaluation”, 1,480 x 1,000mm, oil on canvas, 2019

Legote (After Grace Matsetsa Legote), 50 x 50cm, oil on canvas, 2018
Thenjiwe and her daughter painting at The Africa Center, credit Transcendent Enterprise
“Execution”, 1,000 x 1,500mm, oil on canvas, 2019
Okino (After Betty Okino) 50 x 50cm, oil on canvas, 2018

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