WORDS Cheri Morris IMAGES Earl Abrahams
Latitudes artist Cinthia Sifa Mulanga catapulted to international recognition when her representations of Black women trapped in interior spaces struck a chord when all we knew was abrupt isolation. Now, Gucci has commissioned her to pay homage to the iconic Gucci Diana tote bag in a new piece titled Moment.
Embers of Renaissance romance, Teresa Firmino’s collage paintings and Sam Nthlengethwa’s interior scenes glow through Cinthia’s works, but it’s her strong Black protagonists that make her narrative distinct.
Inspired by her own life and the multidimensionality of her mother’s, Cinthia’s subjects speak to Black female identities in flux amidst the push-pull of beauty ideals as dictated by popular culture and Western art. There is the sense that her subjects are in a waiting room; a limbo between the comfort-discomfort of home and a prized chance to gain entry into a Somewhere Else – perhaps a portrait, like the ones often pictured on the walls around them.
These themes continue in her latest work, Moment, for Italian fashion house Gucci – a celebration of the 1991-released tote bag first popularised by and then named after Diana, Princess of Wales. The final result is a product of a collaborative process that saw many versions of the work-in-progress sent back and forth between Johannesburg and Milan. Its two subjects continue the dialogue between Blackness, femininity, freedom, identity and beauty.
“The (traditional) Barbie doll was my primary (point of) reference. Growing up there were few references of Black women, so we had no role models to look up to that allowed us to feel beautiful. I wasn’t able to see someone in popular culture that looked like me. It made me aware that more Black women needed to be represented. I was interested in how they try to be beautiful or what measures are used to determine this, whether it is through their hair or the tone of their skin,” explains Cinthia.