South African Artist Atang Tshikare X Christian Dior
- A collab begins
- Challenges & mediums
- Cultural heritage, colour, texture
- The message of the ’Medallion Chair’
- Why the world is now interested in African art
After years of being perceived by the rest of the Western world as a curiosity (alternatively a creative treasure trove to be plundered), African designers and Artists are finally being recognized for their talent. Recently, Christian Dior came calling to South African Artist Atang Tshikare to apply his genius to their ‘Medallion Chair’. The Wire spoke to Atang about his latest collab.
TW: How did you become involved in this exhibition?
AT: Last year October I received an email from two people from Paris, inviting me to participate in collaborating with an Artwork. They had followed for me for three years, tracking my progress which culminated in them wanting to work with me.
TW: As an artist, you have never limited yourself to a medium, from drawing to painting, printing, customizing sneakers and sculpture. Was creating your own version of the ‘Medallion Chair’ intimidating?
AT: I wasn’t intimidated as much as challenged. I wasn’t afraid at all. I knew that it was a difficult task, but I was up to it. This project afforded me the opportunity to work with different kinds of mediums which I have not worked with before, as well as the combinations of fabrications. There was also the notion of working to the extent as I did with the medium, in this case the debossing of leather. Normally debossing in artwork by hand is limited to 5cm² and this involved up to 40cm²! I also had to find the right artisans to work with’ those that handle leather. The bead work required people that worked with beads in a particular fashion and were also able to understand and interpret what I was doing. I’d say the challenge was bringing these different people together as a cohesive team and producing at the height of technique and of museum quality. It also has to be beautiful, functional and authentic to who I am as an artist.
TW: What were your inspirations: in terms of cultural heritage, colour, texture and other design elements that you wanted to incorporate?
AT: I was moved to work in black. There is a sensuality in the way light can interact with it, either as a matte finish, or gloss or satin. In the final assemblage, the leather was matte, the beads were glossy, and the wood had a satig sheen. As an African people, our hair and eyes are black, so the colour selection is intrinsic and natural and bold.
In terms of heritage, I worked with a few references. I’m Tswana, the pictograph on the chair refers to a Banthu language originating out of the Congo and Niger delta, as it migrated South it deconstructed down into further pictograms. The Ndebele and Basotho houses, specifically, are painted in Litema, a form of Sesotho mural art composed of decorative and symbolic geometric patterns.
The overarching design element is the style of the chair. As a Black person I felt I appropriated this colonial symbol, loaded with meaning and syntax, and reimagined it as something sculptural.
Texturally, there is an interplay between the debossed leather with the constellation of the stars patterned on it and the beads. I like the idea that you can view the stars with your fingertips if you are visually challenged. The materials are indicative of Southern African but also Black culture. The notion of wealth also plays through the piece, in term of the adorning of beads depicting wealth, and leather or cows representing wealth.
TW: What is the narrative and message of your Chair?
AT: The symbols translate as:
“Immortal children of the stars
Watch, future secret generation in our land
We sow, or desire day,
generation emerge in great years, great peace.”
“Our ancestors are watching over a future and enigmatic generation in our land. We the spiritual beings all desire the day our children will emerge into a great day of great peace. So, it speaks of the past. the future and time and our ancestors instilling a great future through their works and knowledge and traditions.”
TW: The world is very focused on African Artists and Designers, with many winning international prizes and being sought after by big Designer Brands to collaborate. What do you think is the main reason for this?
AT: Africa is made of many countries, so we offer so much in terms of diversity and richness in culture as well as history. African art traditionally has not been viewed in serious and credible light, with Western Art dominating the standard. There is now a fresh eye turned to African Art and African Art creators. This is beyond the “craft” paradigm but as Fine Art, in its own right. Africa is creating new ways of looking at art and it is our unorthodox fashion of creating that produces unexpected and surprising art.
TW: What is your message for young, up and coming creatives to be in a position where they can practice their passion but also earn good money?
AT: Be authentic – the right audience will find your work. Even when I take on a commission, I always think what is the best artwork that I can create; what is that I’m passionate about.
TW: Are there any new projects we can expect to see in the near future?
AT: There is a special project coming up in November. I created two chairs for an Afro-Futuristic themed show and will be shown for the first time in at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I’m also working on a villa in Cape Town, on some group shows and book projects.
C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.
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