These young artists ‘wear the weight of their emotions’

Image by @wacom_boy
Image by @wacom_boy

They are young, queer, bold and, of course, on Instagram. These are two South African artists we can’t get enough of.

Just before the national lockdown was announced in March, I saw a huge mural in Braamfontein, promoting South Africa’s Netflix original series Queen Sono. It’s by 23-year-old illustrator, graphic designer and tattoo artist Khanya Kemami, who is also known as WacomBoy.

It reminded me just how talented young people are. Kemami creates futurist depictions of local creatives, imagines queer utopias through powerful symbols of identity and contributes to global calls for liberation in his art.

“I actually wanted to be a tattoo and illustration artist before doing graphic design, and I saw that, the older I got, the more attainable tattooing could be. So then I decided I’d do it at a later stage of my life,” Kemami says.

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In 2018, he started seriously thinking about changing mediums as he was getting tired of digital work, and he wanted to see his art in different formats. This reignited his passion for tattooing.

“Last year was when I bought my first tattoo gun and the work I have done to date has been of existing images, but I plan on doing original WacomBoy artworks in my tattooing soon.”

Kemami’s work archives his experience as a young black creative who is also part of the LGBTI+ community as a transgender person. His art has been a portal for both visual activism and freedom.

“This page is dedicated to dark aesthetics, LGBTI+ representation and Africans,” states his artist page under the Instagram handle @wacom_boy. He uses Instagram as his digital catalogue, and people can contact him to commission artworks. He says he sometimes draws on paper first then digitalises that. He tends to draw freehand, which is not something a lot of people can do.

Another young person who pushes the envelope is Cape Town-based Githan Coopoo. The self-taught ceramicist and jewellery maker, a University of Cape Town BA graduate and former assistant curator of costume at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, describes themself as “using clothing and clay as universal mediums to queer the archive and unpack the performative nature of dress” in their Instagram bio.

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The artist, who makes hand-sculpted jewellery, recently raised more than R17 000 for sex workers’ human rights and health rights advocacy NGO Sweat by selling 69 unique pieces.

“The pieces I made for the sale were originally part of a series of a collection that I produced after the beginning of lockdown. After seeing a post that upset me on social media regarding the mistreatment of sex workers in our country, I decided that I was going to dedicate the sale of those pieces to Sweat,” they say.

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Coopoo, who is part of the Kutti Collective, a South African Desi art collective, creates work that plays with fashion and identity in unconventional and freeing ways, using clay and bold paint. Coopoo’s work is completely without gender, and the power of disrupting social views of clothing and accessories through this type of work is beautiful.

As I scroll through their catalogue on their Instagram page, @githancoopoo, I’m enchanted by the strength of their self-representation and passion that they exude through their craft.

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In a Mail & Guardian interview, Coopoo discusses how fragile their pieces are: “It’s about feeling and wearing the weight of your emotions. We are fragile, sensitive, porous, broken and subject to the elements that are beyond our control.”

Each piece of Coopoo’s jewellery is unique – a symbol of individuality and being affirmed in being exactly who you are and who you want to be.

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July 2020

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