Cinthia Mulanga’s mixed-media works interrogate the notion of beauty
Through painting, drawing, collage, photography and sculpture, the artist examines beauty standards, stereotypes and femininity.
- Ayla Angelos
- 23 July 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
It’s always interesting to hear of an artist’s upbringing, learning about the specific stories, people and memories that then later go on to inform their practice. Cinthia Mulanga tells us how her mother is a beauty therapist, who owned her own beauty salon in Congo before they moved to South Africa in 2006. “I fell in love with fashion from watching her sew with liputa (a cloth popularly worn in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), making dresses and skirts with it,” she recalls. Her brother, too, is a self-taught artist who later transferred his skills to his sister. So it wasn’t long until Cinthia joined The Little Artist school project during her studies in 2012, and in 2017, she attended Art Proof Studio – an arts school that specialises in printmaking – where she learnt her craft.
Cinthia now strikes a fine balance between painting, drawing, collage, photography and sculpture. All of her work examines the notion of beauty, particularly within the context of her lived experiences as an African woman. Harking back to the inspiration of her mother, beauty forms the crux of all that she makes, including her most recent works now on show at both HOFA Gallery in London and Agora Gallery in New York. One of those pieces on show in London is The Library, currently exhibiting alongside a mix of female artists of African descent – such as Jamilla Okubo and Sola Olulode – who are each portraying their own sense of Black female consciousness.
The Library is a two-panelled painting of two complex and complementary scenes. The left depicts a woman who’s dressed in a red gown, touching her hands on the shelves stacked with packaged Barbie dolls and hair products. The subject is in fact a representation of the artist, “in a space I envision as the library,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Instead of books, I have cut-out pieces of collage as objects that represent certain beauty beliefs – such as the Barbie doll in the pink box, hair products, The Nefertiti bust amongst others.” The right side shows what appears to be a lounge-like setting. The woman standing powerfully in the foreground is based off an old photograph of Cinthia’s mother wearing a blue liputa and red earrings, composed of pasted fabric. The woman sitting on the floor is wearing a red veil, “a statement on beauty beyond just the face,” she adds, “or the features we try to reduce to tribes or race. Furthermore [the piece represents] the domestic scenes, perceived beauty standards and stereotypes which condition women to certain circumstances in society.”
Self-Sureness, on the other hand, is exhibiting as part of A Force for Change – UN Women: Benefit Auction 2021, which includes 26 works by female artists of African descent. In a similar manner to The Library, the painting is split into two sections, with a timber beam dividing the narratives at the centre. On the left, a woman sits at the plush blue sofa, smelling a product in her hand with a somewhat extravagant interior behind her. You can’t help but be drawn to the finer moments of this painting, like the heels under the table, the bottle of red, the statues and the artworks on the wall. The left-hand side appears more gallery-like, as her subjects whimsically pose on a bench and the other crouches with a gaze to the audience. The objects again take an almost central focus, but that’s precisely the point. “The collage elements in the work Self-Sureness pose as emotions of desires, contentment, accomplishment and expression,” says Cinthia. “Some pose challenges such, as the statue of Paul Kruger on the left, which stands for the laws of patriarchy. These moments in the painting allow me to create open conversations and interrogate notions of beauty.”
Beauty is a core theme throughout her work, yet Cinthia handles the subject by building layer upon layer of hidden messages, symbolism and meaning. As a viewer, you’re asked to consider the question: What does beauty mean today? “I hope they resonate with a particular moment in the works,” she says, “whether of their own or of someone they know, to interest with them from a place of reflection.”
Cinthia Mulanga: With Desire (Copyright © Cinthia Mulanga, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.