In the wake of so many large-scale catastrophes, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami feels it’s important to focus on the smaller things that can be changed.
Her work touches on themes of gender, sexuality, race, and violence. They also display a wit and defiance that Hwami associates with her Zimbabwean roots.
Today, we’re following the journey of this talented artist to see how she collapses geography, time, and space into her art.
The Story of Kudzanai-Violet Hwami
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993. Her family moved to South Africa when she was nine due to political turmoil in her home country.
To come to grips with her identity, she spent a lot of time in her pre-teen years on the internet, where she found it more comfortable to escape and exist in cyberspace. In that socially awkward stage of life, she started exploring sexuality and gender identity. Her obsession allowed her to express her frustration and confusion by studying the queer body.
At age seventeen, she moved to Manchester, UK. She graduated from Wimbledon College of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Art in 2016. She received the Clyde & Co. Award and the Young Achiever of the Year Award at the Zimbabwean International Women’s Awards the same year.
In 2017, the Tyburn Gallery in London held a solo exhibition entitled, If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself.
In 2020, as Covid-19 spread around the globe, Kudzanai had little choice but to sit it out and work on her master’s degree in fine arts at Oxford University’s Ruskin School of Art. The pandemic allowed her to slow down and think about why and for whom she creates this work. This downtime also allowed her to create unhurriedly without the need to share.
The artist no longer feels confined to a singular society and simultaneously carries Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the UK with her everywhere she goes.
What Inspires Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s Art?
Hwami got her early inspiration from the Cartoon Network. She loved the alien nature of manga and would continually draw versions of her favorite shows. You can see the influence of these animations in the movement in her paintings. An early mentor encouraged her to paint, which started her journey in earnest.
Other influences include Afrobeat music, the literature of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Carl Jung, and experimenting with photography and digital collages. Her paintings draw on her family history and specific details of the different places she has lived.
Additionally, she gains inspiration from recordings of spiritual guru Alan Watts and ideas of Black individualism. Knowing that she’s looking for something yet to be discovered is also a driving force in her art.
Did Kudzanai-Violet Hwami Participate in the Venice Biennale?
The Venice Biennale is one of the largest and most influential contemporary visual art exhibitions in the world. Held annually in Venice, Italy, the biennale has taken place every year since 1895, making it the oldest of its kind. It alternates between art and architecture every other year.
In 2019, Hwami presented her work at the 58th Venice Biennale as part of the Zimbabwe Pavilion. She submitted Hole in Heaven, which she created in 2019 as oil and acrylic on canvas. An unknown person purchased the piece for a private collection after the event.
Kudzanai-Violet is the youngest artist to ever participate in the Biennale.
What Are Some of Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s Art Pieces?
Kudzanai-Violet HwamiI feels a blood link and sees herself in the people she paints. It’s a way to bring her energy to the painting without making it a self-portrait.
There’s a psychology that surrounds creating that concerns her. She’s interested in making paintings where the subject is central but not a direct thought.
Eve on Psilocybin
This piece shows a gently smiling, nude Black woman relaxing against a background of subtly psychedelic flowers. Hwami painted it in 2018 as oil on canvas.
Auctioned at Phillips in New York in December 2020, Eve on Psilocybin exceeded expectations many times over. Experts estimated it at a modest $40,000, but the final bid was more than six times as high, fetching $252,000. It now belongs to a private collection in Hong Kong.
The online publication, These Emerging Black Artists Are the Future of Figurative Painting by Isis Davis-Marks, also featured the piece in February 2020.
The Egg is a captivating example from the artist’s body of work. With a bent leg, stroking his beard with one hand and holding a mirror with the other, the subject appears at ease. He sits on his bed with bed sheets crumpled beneath him. It’s typical of Hwami’s early work.
This oil and acrylic on canvas, created in 2016, features a bold use of color and a Pop sensibility, injecting her portraits with powerful energy and humor that the artist associates with Zimbabwean culture.
Wherever You’re From
Wherever You’re From was created in 2015 using oil and oil stick on canvas. With a focus on her experiences of geographical dislocation and displacement, the piece perfectly encapsulates the characteristic themes of diaspora and identity.
It shows a boy with arms crossed, wearing only black shorts and carrying a black duffle bag. He has golden horns that Hwami uses in other pieces. On the wall is a scribbled portrait of this character, with words representing the boy’s thoughts.
Where Can I See Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s Art?
Kudzanai-Violet has an Instagram page where she posts her art. You can also follow her activities and see when and where upcoming shows are scheduled. The Tyburn Gallery in London has a beautiful online catalog but, unfortunately, closed it’s physical gallery.
Despite the postponement of her shows in 2020, she earned a place in the first Africa-focused, 40 Under 40 list produced by the global art magazine Apollo.
Hwami’s work is in collections, including Jorge Perez Museum in Miami, the Kadist Foundation in Paris, the Norval Foundation, and Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, South Africa.
We’re Keeping Our Eye On Kudzanai-Violet Hwami
Still living and working in London, Hwami is back in the studio and set to complete her Master’s of Fine Art at the University of Oxford next year. At 27, Kudzanai-Violet cannot think of her career in terms of major themes or movements.
However, her family and personal stories remain at the heart of everything she creates. Seeing her art as a journey that has much yet to discover, she refuses to be pinned down. And we’re excited to discover what’s next for her.
What do you think of Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s art? Let us know in the comments!
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!