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Visual artist Tamary Kudita depicts black females in empowering light

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ZIMBABWEAN visual artist Tamary Kudita has scooped the top prize in the creative category of the Sony World Photography Awards. The prize includes US$5 000 cash, Sony digital equipment and global art exposure.

Kudita was born in Harare in 1994 and studied fine art at the University of Cape Town. Kudita won for her outstanding portrait titled African Victorian II.

The  photograph depicts a young black woman dressed in a Victorian dress and holding traditional Shona cooking utensils. Sony says the image probes at stereotypical contextualising of the black female body.

The 26-year-old Harare-based Kudita says when she created the image she was inspired by a quest to portray intangible heritage through photography.

She says the African woman is the embodiment of strength, wonder and complexity. In this connection, she created a visual language which brings together aspects of tradition and modernity in a manner in which they coexist. Kudita (TK) speaks to The Newshawks’ Jonathan Mbiriyamveka (JM) about this milestone. Read the excerpt.

JM: Tell us your background as a photographer. How did it all start?

TK: My photography journey started about three years ago when I was at university. I studied Bachelor of Fine Arts at Michaelis School of Fine Art. My degree included fine art disciplines such as printmaking, sculpture, animation, painting and photography.

Our very first project was a type of photography called pinhole photography which involved using a pinhole handmade camera. (a camera with a pinhole as an aperture instead of a lens). 
Unlike digital photography, this technique involved a great deal of manual skill.

The aesthetic of the images made with this type of equipment harmonized perfectly with the old photographic processes, I decided to use this as a stepping stone to branch out into film photography

JM: Most people only got to know you after you won the award. Why is this so?

TK: I believe it’s called bamboo growth. I believe bamboo takes about five years underground to develop its strength and in the last year it shoots right up. For five years, it’s underground, nobody can see it but it’s building strength and resilience unnoticed so that, by the time it gets to the surface, it’s ready.

Bamboo growth is necessary in our life and a lot of us might be going through that. My artistic career went through bamboo growth. The first few years I was overlooked, but whilst this was happening, I was fine-tuning my brand and building resilience. A lot of us are working towards our dreams and doing the best while we can.

We might think we are not seeing results, but there is something special about your growth going unnoticed because you have to believe in what you do even when no one is giving you the affirmation. I didn’t expect people to believe in what I was doing because I was doing something that’s never been done before locally (fine art photography). Belief is an amazing tool and faith is an amazing energy we can apply to everything we are doing.

JM: What are some of your renowned works to date?

TK: African Victorian II, which has been featured on major international media outlets around the world, for example CNN International News, BBC News, YRT USA News. This piece has also received notable features in Forbes Magazine, The Guardian, The Independent UK, Huffington Post and The Telegraph UK.

JM: Besides photography, what else do you do?

TK: Apart from being a visual artist, I’m a proud business owner of Tammy’s Antiques, which is a framing company that specialises in locally made hand-crafted frames whilst providing the widest range of frame styles and colours.

JM: What are some of the amazing photographs you have taken so far?

TK: My African Victorian series which started in 2019.

JM: What inspires your work?

TK: Being a black female photographer, I believe that the history of photography for black women is still being written and I needed to ask myself ‘What am I adding to the history? What Am I doing to tell the stories of black women and photography within the larger context of fine art and photojournalism?’ Photography is likened to perception, therefore the image is to be seen as a composite of signs. Its meanings are multiple and, most importantly, constructed. With this in mind, I conceived the idea to depict black females in an empowering light.

JM:  As a woman photographer, what are the challenges you face?

TK: Although I have not faced any gender bias issues, it does remain a challenge. Aside from that, I’m sure my fellow photographers reading this can relate to having high-profile clients who feel entitled to have your services done for free under the guise of getting you publicity for your business.

I have always had good faith in people but the situation put things into perspective and I learnt that you have to detach your emotions from your business, purpose, or whatever it is you are pursuing.
To be successful in your business or profession, your decisions must be based on facts and your intuition.

JM: What can we expect from you in the near future?

TK: One of my long-term goals is to exhibit at the Venice Biennale and this is something I’m working towards day in day out.

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