Meet the hairstylist who's used her career as an artist to weave the most extraordinary stories about black women

She turned her passion for hair into art
She turned her passion for hair into art
Thami Mnyele

Lebohang Motaung is a 26-year-old hairstylist and artist who has combined her two passions to create showstopper portraits that embrace black women's hair. 

It won her the Cartier Johannesburg Art Fair competition in 2017 and her future has never looked brighter.

Her work is loved by many because she portrays ordinary women, and using synthetic hair fibres she adds a tangible element of reality to her artwork.

She also recently showed at Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2019.

We had a chat with her about her career and her popular hair signature that celebrates and embraces black women's long adored hairstyle - braids.

READ MORE: Black women are taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa to challenge continuing beauty and power stereotypes

At what age did you realise that you could draw and braid hair very well?

I started plaiting around the age of 10. I was just experimenting with my family and friends. At the age of 13 I started to plait for money.

My drawing started at a young age but when I decided to study fine arts that's when I realised I have talent.

Hair, braids, Women, Lebohang Motaung, Black women

Do you know where your love for hair braiding comes from?

I love the creativity that comes with plaiting, I’ve always seen it as an art form of its own.

At first I was just plaiting for money, but that also gave me independence and made me do it even more.

I then became great at doing it, which was when I started to become more fascinated with hair.

When did you decide to connect it to your artistic talents?

When I was in my third year of studying fine arts. We were asked to choose a concept that we would keep working with, something that would become our signature.

My drawing teacher advised me to choose something that’s already part of my life and something that I could never get bored by doing. And that's how I chose my signature.

What does your artwork mean to you?

This artwork presents the connection that exits among black women and the relationship they have with their hair.

It's about sisterhood, women often socialise while braiding and having their hair done.

The process of braiding is a unifying gesture, it carries on a tradition of bonding and brings people together.

Hair, braids, Women, Lebohang Motaung, Black women

The connection of braids from one head to another, shows the transfer of thoughts of one head to another, emphasising the connection and the conversation that happens in the process.

READ MORE: Here's a list of the 'first black women' that made history this year

Do you still work as a hairstylist?

I started as a hairstylist and I still plait my family and friends when I have time.

Most of my artworks are made from images of people that were plaited by me. I’m the one who comes up with the designs and looks.

Lebohang Motaung, Art, Women, Braids, hair

Among all your drawings, which one is your favourite? 

Formation is my favourite drawing by far. It's the first work that incorporates three canvases to make one artwork and it’s the first installation.

It is not just 2D but it’s also 3D and I feel like it’s very unique, and you'll never see anything like it.

Where do you draw inspiration?

As an artist, I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. I want to be the best female artist.

I draw inspiration from seeing women owning their image and being unique and creative.

Lebohang Motaung, art, Women, braids, hairstyle

It makes me feel good when I’m able to make other women feel confident by doing their hair.

What do you do to improve your art?

I’m always open to learning more from other artists. I always experiment, I’m not scared to break the rules, and I’m always looking for different ways to improve my work.

What are your career goals?

To have my first solo exhibition by the end of this year, and I want to exhibit my work internationally.

READ MORE: Meet SA's youngest black female gin distiller, Naledi Goottsch

What’s the best career advice you've ever received?

Don’t just work to be any other artist, work hard to be the best female artist of our time.

What advice can you give to a young person who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Stay true to yourself. Be patient and never give up on your dreams.

What's the one thing some people might not know about you?

I plait myself all the time.

Where can people buy your paintings?

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