Why digital artist Lethabo Huma creates art centred around black female bodies

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Lethabo Huma spoke to us about her art and what being selected as an artist for a TIME magazine project meant for her.
Lethabo Huma spoke to us about her art and what being selected as an artist for a TIME magazine project meant for her.

She struggled with expressing herself verbally as a child. She had to find ways to articulate her feelings and what she wanted to say, so her relationship with art was born. 

It's not just a profession for her, but something that embodies who she is. 

Lethabo Huma (23) grew up in Pretoria and frequently used drawing and painting as an escape from reality until she realised that it was her calling.

Her digital paintings often speak of her thoughts and emotions and continental issues such as young mothers in African countries, displacement of black bodies and beauty.

“I have always been an artist; I have always had an interest in crafty projects such as drawing and making music beats. I used to do it as an escapism, it was my safe space because as a kid I struggled with expressing myself. I studied computer science for two years [at Wits University] and I came across a module called digital art. It took priority in my life, and I saved up for a second-hand iPad and started practising sketching.”

She is currently pursuing a degree in visual multimedia at the University of South Africa. 

“As a child I daydreamed a lot and I was in my head a lot of the time but right now I am finding it a lot easier to articulate myself and to be around people because it is people who connect to my work. I am growing into a person that is finding it easier to connect with other humans."

She has been a professional artist for five years and has been posting her drawings on social media, which gained a strong following and also became her way of making money through commissions and drawing on request.

“I saw then that art is what I am supposed to do on earth. As a black woman I believe in creating art pieces that are centred around black female bodies because there is a lack of representation, especially in art that speaks about black women’s lives. I feel strongly about representing black bodies.”

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Lethabo says that creating art is different with every piece. A sketch could take her three months to a year depending on what she is working on and the message that it has.

"Formulating a concept can take time, I have to jot down the concept and have the overall image put down on paper in its entirety before I create it. Being a full-time artist is hard. What really makes me happy is that I have found my purpose. Even when I go through hard times, I use my work as a destress method for me. Getting commission has been hard especially as a digital artist because people don’t see much value in what I do. It's difficult to put yourself in the industry because a lot of galleries aren’t keen on show casing your artwork.”

She boasts of a great portfolio and was recently honoured as one of 40 artists who collaborated on picturing a better future for a project with TIME Magazine. She says that being recognised by the international magazine has been the greatest highlight of her career thus far.

“It still feels surreal, I felt like I wasn’t just doing it for me, but I was doing it for every single South African artist. TIME brought 40 artists to create pieces about what we thought building a better future was, they also have a website where you can sell your digital pieces. I was nominated by a visual artist from America, the piece that I created was about the protection of black little girls. It is important to create a safe space for children to grow up in, especially black girls because the world can be so harsh and dismissive towards us.”

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“A lot of things that are happening in Africa are not being spoken about, the big voices that are international also do not have enough knowledge about what’s happening in other parts of the world. It's very important for artists to share the state of the world. As a digital artist I use a lot of technology, but I also know that in South Africa my reach is limited. Not everyone is privileged enough to have a phone and internet access, we still have people that don’t have basic needs such as clean water and food.”

She says that navigating the art industry as a female artist is very hard and that there is still a gap in treatment and pay between male and female artists.

“There is such a huge gap between the genders whether in traditional art and digital art. Hopefully somehow we will find ways to bridge the gap between male and females. Female artists have it tough.

"As an artist I want people to know that it is okay for them to be themselves, I want black women to be stop worrying about what people might think. I’m creating my work as a form of validation to myself also, I hope that people get to see that through my art.”

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