Face value

Cape Town-based 2023 Design Indaba Emerging Creative Naledi Modupi is obsessed with faces.

Multidimensional visual artist Naledi Modupi is known for her distinctive semi-abstract portraiture that highlights the beauty of black women. The versatile digital artist uses an array of vivid colours, shapes and patterns to capture the individuality and personality of each subject.

We spoke to the 2023 Design Indaba Emerging Creative about finding herself as an artist during the early days of Covid, why she gravitates towards portraiture and what she has lined up in 2023.

Tell us about your journey as an artist. Where did your passion begin?

During the early days of Covid, I found myself seeking creative outlets to keep me occupied. I had always enjoyed drawing, but it wasn't until early 2020 that I truly identified as an artist. It was during this time that I delved into different techniques and crafts, igniting a passion within me that has continued to grow.

My journey as an artist has been one of constant learning and growth, as well as a tremendous opportunity to develop both the purpose of my art and myself as an artist. I have explored a range of topics, from celebrating the history of black people to telling the stories of black women. Through my journey in art, I have found a voice and a way to express myself that I never knew existed – and I look forward to seeing it grow further.

Your chosen subject matter is portraiture, particularly of black women. Why do you gravitate towards portraits?

Growing up in a family of many women, I have always been surrounded by black women who had an immense impact on my life. This experience sparked my curiosity and led me to study – subconsciously and consciously – the role black women play in our society, and how society often perceives them and boxes them in. As an artist, I have taken on the responsibility of shining a light on black women and their unique stories. My work celebrates their beauty and diversity, while also challenging the negative narrative that society often imposes on them. By sharing these stories, I hope to contribute to a more positive and empathetic understanding of black women and to encourage each individual to see themselves in a more positive light, because I know how much I need that for myself and for other young black women in the world.

Faces have been a great fascination for me since I can remember. The unique features that are present in every face have always captivated me. Being able to create art that captures different faces and their individuality is a unique level of interaction. For me, it's all about observing faces and the intricacies that make them unique. This is why portraits remain one of the most captivating forms of art for me. 

Who are your creative inspirations?

Black women in art, such as Zanele Muholi, Sungi Mlengeya and Mary Sibande, have become a source of inspiration for many. Through their works, they have successfully raised crucial conversations on topics like identity, culture and society. These women, and others in the industry, have given a voice to many and continue to pave the way for younger generations, such as myself, to make a difference in the world through our creativity and passion. It's inspiring for me to see how they have used their art to initiate change across the world.

Explain your creative process – how do you go about choosing the particular colours and shapes for your portraits?

My creative process begins with finding interesting and inspiring faces. As an artist, my approach is to explore the intricate details of these faces through shapes, lines and vibrant colours. I usually find these faces during my everyday encounters or while photographing people around me. Once I have captured an intriguing picture, I begin to have fun creating the art pieces.

The organic and free shapes I use express joy and happiness, and the colours selected are inspired by my perception of the subject being painted. The colours often play the role of communicating the story I want to tell of the person. For example, the bright pinks I use are for young, free spirits, while browns express maturity.

My creative process is centred around having fun, exploring, and being inspired by the faces around me.

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

I think I have had quite a few career highlights, but one that stands out for me is the opportunity to take part in a show titled Constellations: Global Reflections in Bali. Collaborating with world-renowned artists such as Tony Albert, Kiki Smith and Yinka Shonibare was an incredible experience that I will always treasure. The exhibition explored themes of globalisation and cultural diversity, with each artist bringing their unique perspective to the table. Being part of the show was not only a personal achievement but a chance to showcase my work and connect with artists from all over the world.

What’s up next for you in 2023? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on new pieces to prepare for my first solo exhibition at the end of April. The year 2023 holds exciting prospects for me, as I plan to expand my horizons and explore different mediums and spaces to showcase my work. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of creating murals and experimenting with pottery-making. I’m excited by and dedicated to finding new opportunities for growth and learning this year – I’m really looking forward to that.


Read more

Body of work


Print first

Photographs: Naledi Modupi.