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Your Life: Zana Masombuka

Known as the Ndebele Superhero, South African artist Zana Masombuka uses her Ndebele heritage to explore how modernism impacts tradition and culture in Africa. At once the artist and subject matter, she weaves visual narratives that explore cultural inheritance in multidimensional mediums of film, photography, sculpture, and performance. Currently in the UK for her first solo exhibition in London, we chatted to Zana about her heritage, hobbies, and artistic dreams.

By Leigh Herringer
South African artist Zana Masombuka. Her hat comes from the Ntuli family’s archives. (Image_ Jonathan Greet)

To me, luxury means freedom of being and living without any limitations.

My day usually starts with a meditation followed by an insightful and reflective chat with my sister. I sometimes hike in the mornings before I start working.

My heritage creates anchors for me. I grew up surrounded by Ndebele art and my work is largely inspired by the Ndebele culture. The heritage of that is the inheritance of my foremothers who existed and lived in the freedom that manifests itself as art, which then allows me the honour to do the same today.

Zana (left) with her mother Benzi and sister Noni (Image Sam Eskure)

My latest body of work ‘Nges’rhodlweni: A Portal for Black Joy is inspired by the energy of is’rholo in the Ndebele home. This is where energies are anchored during times of celebration, and they act as a springboard to open portals that bind both the spirit and the natural world.

The artist is inspired by her Ndebele upbringing. ‘Nges’rhodlweni: A Portal for Black Joy

My essential travel items are an umbalo (Ndebele Blanket), comfortable socks, ear plugs and an eye mask.

My last holiday was spent in Camps Bay, Cape Town. I’m not much of a city fan and prefer big, wide-open spaces in nature. These spaces are not specific to a place – they can be the savanna of Mpumalanga, the beautiful forests in Linlithgow, Scotland or skiing in the mountains of Trento, Italy. I feel most connected when I am outdoors.

My most treasured possession is the last straw mat that my late grandmother gifted me. I also have a gold necklace that I wear every day, and my sister has a matching one. We share a very special bond – the necklace is a metaphor for the golden thread that binds us.

Zana and her sister wear a thin gold necklace as a symbol of their bond (Image_ Alexis Peskine)
The straw mat pictured here was a gift from Zana’s grandmother and is her most treasured item (Image_ Imraan Christian)

I would like to add more items to my wardrobe by conceptual and experimental South African designers such as Wanda Lephoto. I also love OffMankind and Viviers Studio, to mention a few.

I am reading Termites of the Gods: San Cosmology in Southern African Rock Art.

If I could invite anyone to dinner, it would be the next generation of Ndebele artists who are yet to be born, to see how far they have taken it.

The last song I downloaded is Lahai by British singer-songwriter Sampha. I’m always excited for Sampha’s work and this is a part of a new body of work he’s releasing. I downloaded it two days ago and I’m still spending time with it.

Sampha_s Lahai is the English musician_s latest album

The best gift I recently received was a pair of Jordan Hex Mules; they are the perfect shoes for travelling.

Jordan Hex Mules are perfect for travelling, says Zana

To relax and unwind, I read and take naps. I also enjoy hiking and foraging and consider myself a professional eater as I love trying out new dining experiences wherever I am in the world. I recently went to Jam Delish, a Caribbean vegan restaurant in London. I really enjoyed the food and the ambience of the space.

In London, Zana enjoys modern vegan restaurant Jam Delish

My guilty pleasure is alien documentaries – I enjoyed Unacknowledged: An Exposé of the World’s Greatest Secret.

The food I love is always made by my talented chef sister, Noni Masombuka. She founded BlackOlive House, a bespoke catering company in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg.

One thing I always have in my fridge is blueberries.

I collect indigenous Southern African seeds.

My artistic dream is that art has awakened, and freedom can be created.

‘Nges’rhodlweni: A Portal for Black Joy is on until 30 September at the October Gallery, London.

octobergallery.co.uk; @ndebelesuperhero

Leigh Herringer

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