Artist Zandile Tshabalala revisits the representation of Black women throughout art history

Currently finishing up her degree in fine art, the Johannesburg-based painter is already debuting her first solo show at Accra’s ADA Contemporary Art Gallery.

15 March 2021

The rising artist Zandile Tshabalala has always been in touch with her creative side. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, she remembers a childhood drawing a lot of paper dolls which led her to want to be a fashion designer. When she was introduced to fine art as a teenager, that’s when Zandile began to take the arts really seriously. A career in the arts was frowned upon in her family, so the decision was also “a way for me to rebel,” she tells It’s Nice That, though with time, her family came to support her decision after seeing her evident passion.

In the last year, all Zandile’s hard work has come to fruition, most recently with her first solo show now exhibiting at ADA Contemporary Art Gallery in Accra, Ghana. Having opened at the end of February, the show is on til 18 April and centres Zandile’s paintings expressing the Black female experience. Titled Enter Paradise, the intricate series of paintings show Black female figures immersed in sensual dreamscapes, in turn hinting to the role of Black women throughout art history.

On the subject of Zandile’s work, the artist says “I have found my ‘niche’ and that is the representation of Blackness and particularly Black women – my experience of being a Black woman, my thoughts, perspective, influences and positioning in the world at large.” Zandile hasn’t quite settled on a signature style yet, as it is unfamiliarity and curiosity that drives her practice forward. Continuously evolving, she welcomes the unpredictable. One instance of this is the artist’s use of colour, mixing together various pigments to create new kinds of vibrancy and thicknesses.


Zandile Tshabalala: Study of a nude (self) (Copyright © Zandile Tshabalala, 2021)

Subject-wise, Zandile’s work challenges the art history canon by reinforcing the Black female figure through traditional forms. Struck by the exclusion of Black women in art, she uses recurring motives to emphasis who Black women have been, and continue to be, depicted. Her work is both analytical and deeply personal at the same time, ultimately highlighting the multiplicity of Black female identity which has been seldom explored in the art history text books.

The artist talks us through two paintings currently on display at Enter Paradise. The first Untitled is named after Kgebetli Moele’s 2013 novel of the same name. “For me,” Zandile says of the book, “it is very reflective of myself growing up in the township and having consistent aspirations to become a great woman.” With this in mind, she wanted to capture a moment where she engages with her home. She chose a part of her daily routine at home, cleaning – not the particular act of it but more a moment in between; “where I sit down in the middle of my chores and engage with other distractions.” In these breaks, Zandile tends to daydream, particularly about the future and “sometimes participates in imaginary scenarios where I am being interviewer of projecting my future self”.

She thinks back to the countless daydreams where such flurries of thought occurred, and wanted to document it in this painting. Looking back, it “remains to be a significant part of my childhood,” and the painting, in turn, reflects such. In another painting, February Flowers, another painting named after a book – this time Fan Wu’s 2006 novel – Zandile turns her attention to queer love as the book marked her first introduction to the subject. The book is one of Zandile’s favourite love stories to this day and has informed the subtle way she communicates love through her paintings. In February Flowers, she recreates the love story with a male subject, one of her primary male muses. Not only a comment on the love between two people, Zandile finally goes on to explain of the intention of the work: “I like that the portrait can also extend beyond this and become a love story between self and self.”

GalleryZandile Tshabalala (Copyright © Zandile Tshabalala, 2021)




Proud nude II


Ode to Rousseau II


Ode to Rousseau I


February Flowers


Enter Paradise II


Enter Paradise I


Proud nude I

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Zandile Tshabalala: Untitled (Copyright © Zandile Tshabalala, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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