Featured Artist Zsudayka Nzinga considers her studio practice to be cultural anthropology of the history and culture of Black Americans.
This multidisciplinary artist explores what happens when Black American artists' work is included alongside American art without requiring the Black artist to center their identity in trauma or politics. "I'm very interested whether the sight and existence of Black faces is enough to make our work, voice, and existence inherently political," Nzinga explains.
Zsudayka Nzinga works to normalize and celebrate the day-to-day of Black Americans while simultaneously highlighting moments shared by all humans. "We all sit in the house; we all water our plants. We are all living an existence with more similarities than differences," she says.
Told through the lens of personal experience, Zsudayka Nzinga's work challenges viewers to include Black stories in American stories.
Artwork Archive got the chance to chat with Zsudayka Nzinga about her creative process, use of materials, and the importance of archiving artwork. You can see more of her work on Discovery and learn more about her art practice below.
Zsudayka Nzinga, 'Levar Burton', 31 x 50 in, 2021
Has your work changed over time—do you find yourself understanding your art career through different periods of expression?
My work definitely evolves over time. I’ve always had a number of art practices, and now I’m experiencing creating work that merges them all together. I feel like I'm becoming one superpower of my version of artistry.
I sit with my work every other year or so, and I think about what I’m striving to create and what I have learned over the years.
I also listen to my spirit about which direction to go—what new things to try and ways to push myself. I learned a lot from creating a series of works with the pieces I painted from 2020-2022 during quarantine and how all those paintings relate to each other and tell a story.
The story isn't just in the art, but it's in my technique and approach. Seeing a series of pieces installed can really shift how you approach things. Because of this, I've changed how I go about creating—from conception to completion.
Do you have a favorite or most satisfying part of your creative process?
I love when I’m working on a piece that feels magical and perfect—when the sketch comes out perfect, and I feel that the piece is going to flow in my gut.
I love the moments after completing something when I think it's pushed me to the next level. I stare at the works a lot, and then I try to recreate that feeling. I try to understand what went so well with the piece—is it the composition, or color, or concept? Is it technique? How do I do it again for another piece?
Can you speak more about how your use of different materials helps propel the narrative of celebrating Black culture while also “highlighting moments shared by all humans?”
A lot of my more recent works take the most basic part of all of us—like a room in the house—and create a setting that tells a story of culture and tradition.
We all have a living room, have had a living room, or have been in a living room. But, if I use a piece of African fabric to show the upholstery of the couch, it tells us something about whose room this is. It could be as simple as they like lots of colors or as complex as they are connecting to an identity once denied to them through the complicated nature of the diaspora.
We all have art on our walls, but is that art Black art or is it Chinese art? Is it abstract or figurative? My work challenges viewers to say I have this same space—and within it, I tell my story. And, so does anybody else. It allows us to tell stories that first emphasize the sameness and then celebrate the individual cultures that appear in how we decorate our spaces, how we dress, how we look, or how we sound.
Zsudayka Nzinga, 'Thunder Meet Lightening', 49 x 65 in, 2023
What has your artistic education consisted of (formal or not)? If you did receive a formal education like an MFA, did you find it necessary for your artistic growth, or did you find that elsewhere?
I am self-taught. I went to school for journalism, planning to be a sports attorney. Then, I dropped out and began creating art programming for schools and nonprofits. I also started an art festival.
Those experiences led me to begin studying art. I got a lot of jobs teaching art and building curriculums that helped expose me to the basics. I started out as an oil painter and had always been good at collage and drawing with charcoal.
In 2012, I decided to paint for 10,000 hours and become a master painter. Over the years, I ended up transitioning into acrylic painting. From peers, mentors, and Youtube, I learned to dye paper and fabrics, use Photoshop, carve linocuts and make prints, spray paint letters and portraits, make paper, sew, weave, reupholster furniture, and build furniture. I also learned about sublimation print, metalsmith jewelry, and airbrushing.
My mentors have been my foundation—challenging me and critiquing my work with deep care and responsibility so that I can grow as an artist.
How does your continued work in art education relate to your current art practice?
I love to teach. Teaching gives me a lot of energy to create. I love talking with young people about my work and listening! They see things in such a unique way, and often they share insights about my work that expand the ways I create—and the ways in which I talk about my work as well.
Teaching also keeps me rooted in fundamentals. I coached basketball for years, and at every practice, we would spend at least a little time on the fundamentals, just working on dribbling or shot form. Art is the same. Teaching and creating lesson plans has me constantly revisiting color theory, line, and shade. It has me studying artists and their styles. Doing workshops based on those styles allows me to experiment.
Sometimes those experiments teach me things that I apply to my own practice. They give me additional skills and insights as to how to approach my own work. My work's message is very important to me and the study and preparation to teach really make me check into my message more.
You mention that you consider your studio practice to be a cultural anthropology of Black Americans. How does the act of archiving help you with this practice?
When I was a child, I would go to museums and look at hundreds of pieces of beautiful work. I would see the daily moments of far-off places, and far-off times but I rarely saw people who looked like me and their daily lives.
When I started to discover more Black American artists, I was amazed at the ways our culture comes through in our work—the celebration of skin tones and hairstyles, the use of bright colors, and the confrontation and politics in many of our works. We are literally capturing history with each piece we create. Our artwork reflects our experience and identity.
As a culture of people, archiving is one of the most powerful social and political tools we have.
Making sure that these moments are captured and gathered in one place where they can be accessed, seen, collected and shown, ensures that my story is told—and it is told by me. It cements my experience in history and allows the nuance of whatever timeframe I’m creating within to be pinpointed. The artwork created by Black American artists in the summer of 2020 is some of the most historically significant work in American history. Archiving protects that legacy and voice.
Zsudayka Nzinga, 'All the Pieces We Leave Behind', 39 x 25 in, 2021
Why did you decide to use Artwork Archive to inventory/manage your artwork?
I originally began working with Artwork Archive to help an elder archive his artworks. As I was entering his works, I was impressed with how much information Artwork Archive allowed to be entered. There are things I need to keep track of that impact the value of my work: how much it sold for, how many places it’s shown, and who collected it, for example.
It has organized and changed the way I keep track of my work.
How do you use Artwork Archive on a daily basis?
Anytime I finish a painting, it is immediately entered into Artwork Archive. This is helping me keep better track of dates of creation. I also link my Artwork Archive Public Profile on my website, so collectors can see what’s available.
Having the work so readily available helps when companies want to hire me to do commercial work. It also helps when gallery owners and museums are interested in my work, and they can easily see what I have available and make their own selections.
The ease and the professional look of the site has completely shifted my business. It also exposed me to a network of collectors that I wouldn't have had before.
What advice would you give an emerging artist during this time?
If you want to be an artist, study and don’t just study art. If you post on social media, watch videos about how to use social media.
Revisit your art statement at least once a year, and think about if you still create the same things or have the same message.
Read other people’s artist statements. Go to galleries and museums, and look closely at the artists who have work you love and work that is similar to yours.
Study the artists while you are there! Who and what are they going to show? Where are they showing? And, who is buying their work?
Place yourself in the right places. I spend two hours a day watching and listening to instructional videos about business. Don’t forget that business is also an art.
Zsudayka Nzinga, 'Watermelon #2', 36 x 40 in, 2022
Zsudayka Nzinga uses Artwork Archive to track her artwork, store important information, and build her legacy and voice as a Black American artist.
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