Artists We Love: Lungiswa Gqunta


It’s unusual for a young Port Elizabeth-born art student to bag a solo show at WHATIFTHEWORLD, one of Cape Town’s foremost galleries. You have to be special to pull that off, like Lungiswa Gqunta.

In 2012, this feisty and outspoken young woman completed her art studies at Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, before she left for Cape Town to do her post grad diploma and Fine Art masters degree at Michaelis.

We caught up with Lungiswa to tell us more about herself, her art practice, and the meaning behind Qokobe, her solo show at WHATIFTHEWORLD.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

It wasn’t one defining moment but rather a natural progression. I grew up surrounded by art, music and fashion. My grandfather, Mike Ngxokolo, was a visual artist and music composer, so it was inevitable really.

How would you describe your work?

As urgent. I try to be as honest to the idea, message or emotion I’m trying to articulate whenever I make work, and right now, more than anything, I would describe my work as unapologetic. I can never predict what kind of work I will be making with each project/idea and that’s both scary and exciting. It is an experience, one that I hope will continue to evolve and progress.

How is your current exhibition, Qokobe, different from The Home of Residue, your Michaelis post grad show?

Apart from the visuals in terms of materials used and the finishing, The Home of Residue was more personal in protecting memory and self in an unfamiliar environment. It is this unfamiliar environment that Qokobe seeks to interrogate with regards to spatial legacies and modes of exclusion through an approach that is more subtle and slightly less personal, but more aggressive in its urgency. The frustrations of how homes were, and still are, structured and placed in townships is something that is further explored in Qokobe; where I look at segregation and the tools that were used to further implement and control this structural form of violence.

In your new show, why did you decide to depart from working in wood, your medium of choice in The Home of Residue?

It wasn’t a conscious decision nor was it a complete departure but more of an inclusion of other materials that could better visually articulate the concept. Wood is my starting point when I think of how to make a structure or an object but ultimately the work chooses its own materials in a way. It’s a very fluid process, hence in the beginning I mentioned that I never really know what my next body of work will look like.

Tell us more about the title, Qokobe.

iQokobe is loosely translated to mean an empty container, a shell in isiXhosa, but my immediate association with iQokobe is an empty matchbox. I’m sure you are familiar with the term “matchbox houses” which was used to describe the houses built in the townships, and so I am speaking of these empty houses we were forced to occupy and call home. Furthermore, a matchbox is a key tool in creating a weapon such as a petrol bomb, and to me iQokobe in that sense would mean we have been fighting this fight, we have been protesting for basic human rights (emhlabeni wethu phof – on our land). It’s a sign of endurance and persistence in a way and so it made perfect sense that iQokobe be the title.

What does being an artist mean to you?

It means I have another way of dealing with this thing called life, it’s a form of self medication that I can indulge in really. Then again, it means I am baring my emotions and intellectual capacity for people to comment on, but it’s all part of the game.

What does it take a young artist to make a living out of his/her work today?

When I find the answer to that magic formula I will share it with you and the world but until then it’s a matter of trial and error.

What is important to you?

To remain Lungi through it all. To not be changed easily by people and experiences but to be critical and continue to trust in myself and the decisions I make ’cause people will show you flames out here. Furthermore, I want to continue learning and making, and hopefully all that will result in work that challenges itself and continues to get better and crazier in every way.

What’s next?

Work, work, work, work, work, work! More experiments and experiences that challenge and engage everything I find messed up in this life. I guess we’ll all see at the same time what’s next because I sure as hell can’t predict the future, but I can tell you one thing I’m sure of… it’s going to be lit!

Qokobe is on at WHATIFTHEWORLD until 8 October 2016.