After a hiatus during the hard lockdown last year, street artist and photographer Zizo Bongekile Manona will showcase a new body of work at a photography exhibition at Six Spin Street gallery later this year.
The exhibition, called Life as we Know It, is a series of black and white images showcasing people and families in vulnerable and intimate settings.
“I love learning about people through observations. This exhibition has a lot of portraits and faces, and shows families eating together and people living life in the spirit of Ubuntu – speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation.”
Zizo was born in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, and moved to Cape Town in 1999 for better opportunities. They moved to Mitchell’s Plain, then Khayelitsha and Brackenfell, and eventually settled in Kuils River.
Zizo said she was always the creative, “out of the box” child. When she was about 5 years old, she spent time with her cousins, who were into drawing.
“It was either drawing or playing outside. I was influenced by my cousins and unbeknownst to me, I was starting my career path.”
At school, she excelled in the arts. “I used to enter drawing competitions and always came in the top 3 on the occasion that I didn’t win. I realised this was a pattern, and I became more enthusiastic about my art skills. I think the universe was paving the way for me.”
Zizo went to a predominantly academic high school, so she had limited time to be creative. “I was the kid at the back of the class drawing in all my academic books.” When she was allowed to choose subjects in Grade 10, she chose visual art, and did well in it.
She attended an art institution in the city centre where she completed her diploma in graphic design, photography and drawing.
After a year of freelancing and being unemployed, Zizo landed a job as a media assistant at a company in neighbouring Woodstock. “It was difficult to do the odd job here and there, because the industry is so compact – when people don’t know you or your work, they don’t really give you the time of day.”
As a media assistant, her creative side was not stimulated as she did a lot of administration and the occasional designing of a project. Six months later she was offered a job as editor of the staff newsletter, but she declined.
Another year of freelancing went by, and Zizo started a job as a desk top publishing artist and a photographer.
Photography and street art became a hobby and side hustle, and Zizo found herself immersed in many projects outside of her day job, including photography exhibitions with other artists at the then Knobs & Tassels gallery in Woodstock, and doing murals in communities as a street artist.
Over the years, she showed her photography work in galleries around the CBD, including Young Blood in Bree Street, Knext Art Gallery in Harrington Street, and Six Spin Street, AVA gallery and the Artscape Theatre Centre.
During a street art stint in Khayelitsha, she met Paul Garton, from America, who wanted to invest in the arts. After a few meetings, Zizo said she showed a lot of interest in Mr Garton’s approach to arts, and his work in communities.
Thereafter he invited Zizo to assist in his vision for making art more accessible in Cape Town.
“He asked me if I was interested in being an art director, and sent me on many assignments and research projects.
“In November 2019, we started an NPO, Inkcubeko Nezobugcisa (isiXhosa: Culture and Art), aimed at developing and promoting isiXhosa-language arts and culture, showcase Xhosa creativity, and support artists as they create sustainable livelihoods.”
Two months later, Mr Garton would come back to Cape Town and, along with Zizo, liaise with marginalised communities, and start working with Xhosa artists to promote their work.
Upon returning to America, he appointed Zizo as the director and left her to run Inkcubeko Nezobugcisa, with his support from over the waters.
“I am lucky in the sense that I have had stability in my work during a tough time in the world, and with hard lockdown. I feel for freelance artists, the ones trying to make ends meet, because we don’t know what the future holds.”
During hard lockdown, Zizo decided to take a back seat with her photography career, and focus on running the NPO.
“Last year was the first year I didn’t have a photography exhibition. I was’nt developing a lot of art in the hard lockdown and focused my energy in the organisation. The world had come to a complacent stage – there was no urgency to produce art and this gave me some time to think about how I want to approach my next exhibitions.”
Zizo took part in the International Public Arts Festival this year, where she painted a mural under the theme creativity, sustainability and safety. She focused on the importance of water, and incorporated photography and drawing into her mural.
Life as we Know It is her next project, with a launch date yet to be confirmed as they are trying to comply with Covid-19 regulations.
Asked about her journey so far, Zizo said up and coming artists need to grow a thick skin to operate in the city centre. “It’s very intimidating and there is something unwelcoming about getting your foot in the door at some galleries – it’s not easy.”
She said galleries will have to adapt to the “new normal” as artists can now host their own exhibitions online. However, as long as people still want to engage with art, galleries are still needed, she said.