'I depict mundane images because the life of a Black woman is just like any other': Billie Zangewa on anatomy, Kusama and celebrating imperfections

The South African artist tells us about her favourite books, music and artists on the A brush with… podcast

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Billie Zangewa. Photo: Andrew Thomas Berry. © Art basel

Billie Zangewa. Photo: Andrew Thomas Berry. © Art basel

Billie Zangewa, Domestic Scene (2016). Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin

Billie Zangewa on... her fascination with the human form

"When I was at art school I loved life drawing. My son once asked me: 'Mom, how come when you do bodies, you can see the bones and muscles?'. And I replied: 'When I was at university I was completely thrilled by that little bit of science in art.' We would draw bones by themselves, under flesh, and then muscles by themselves and then under the flesh. So that really stuck with me and now when I look at the human form, I'm always seeing the nuance of the light and the protruding shapes that are coming from inside the body."

Billlie Zangewa's Serious, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

... why she depicts mundane images in her work

"I knew from my childhood that being Black and female was going to be a very difficult journey for me. And that a lot of people were going to project their fantasies and desires onto me and that they would not see me as a person, they wouldn't be able to empathise with my daily struggles, or even to understand that I had feelings. That is one of the reasons why I choose to depict such mundane daily images, because what I am trying to say is that a Black woman is just like any other person. We go through the same routine every day, we go through the same struggles. We're all human."

Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010 © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London/Venice; David Zwirner, New York

... her favourite contemporary artist

"Yayoi Kusama is incredible—I honestly don't think that anybody can equal her.There are lots of brilliant artists, but I think she in particular has an incredible focus and her work just gels together. She doesn't seem like she's going off over there and then going in a different direction. It always seems like she's expanding on a theme, and I think that's what makes her really incredible."

Installation view of Billie Zangewa: Flesh and Blood at Lehmann Maupin, Seoul. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

... the process behind her cut out silk works

"Those kind of uneven, even edges are really works speaking to each other. So I would have cut out a piece [of silk] for a previous work, which would have created a negative space. [...] But it's only until the work reveals itself to me that I think that piece of fabric is going to be perfect for what I'm trying to say. So I do keep it quite spontaneous. I'm not trying to force any thing into anything. I really enjoy those irregular edges because it speaks to society and to individuals, about how we have wounds, scars and certain thought patterns that don't serve us well. I'm speaking to everyone's combination of the perfect and the imperfect."

• For the full interview with the artist, listen to our podcast, A brush with... Billie Zangewa, which is available on the usual podcast platforms. A brush with… series 7 runs from 17 November-15 December 2021, with episodes released on Wednesdays. This episode is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.

Billie Zangewa: Running Water, Lehmann Maupin London, until 8 January 2022; Flesh and Blood, Lehmann Maupin Seoul, from 18 November-15 January 2022; Thread for a Web Begun, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, until 27 February.

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