Visual artist, writer and filmmaker Kenyaa Mzee, also known as Stephanie Mzee, was part of Design Indaba’s class of 2018 Emerging Creatives. The Cape Town-based artist’s latest exhibition, named “When Water Covers Your Head - Breathe Sis, You Won’t Drown” after a poem written by the artist herself, opened at Youngblood Gallery on Bree Street, Cape Town on 6 October 2022 where it will remain until the end of October.
Kenyaa Mzee, who studied film and television production at City Varsity, has been awarded various accolades over her years as an artist – including being nominated by The Young Independents as one of SADC’s Top 100 Leaders in the category Trailblazer, and representing South Africa at Art Connects Women in 2020, the world’s largest female artist exhibition hosted in Dubai, UAE.
The exhibition, consisting of seven large-scale artworks, each detailing different parts of her story, narrates Mzee’s personal journey and relationship with mental health. Spanning themes from religious trauma, sexuality and self image to sadness and global insecurity, “When Water Covers Your Head - Breathe Sis, You Won’t Drown” provides a visual exploration into the experience of falling apart and putting yourself back together again. The exhibition at Youngblood also includes personal audio files, where visitors are invited into the artist's mind as she pours out her thoughts and reads excerpts from her personal notes from the past decade.
In her artist’s statement, Mzee confirms that her portrayal of "Not waving but neither drowning; somewhere in between'' acts as both a visual study of mental health and a reminder to “breathe through it all”. At a time of intense global instability and with the fallout of the pandemic, Mzee’s offering opens up conversations surrounding coping mechanisms with sadness, anxiety, depression and stagnation.
For the final offering in the collection, an installation titled “Where I Laid My Head and Prayed For the End”, Mzee posits her personal bed as an altar. Here, as described in her artist statement, she embraces the idea that “the hours, days, weeks, months and years she spent in her bed unable to stay afloat are not only sacred, but holy. That even in your darkest hour, the stigma and shame of mental illness is not your portion, rather the opposite.”
As is the case with all her works, Mzee aims to spark constructive dialogue surrounding the themes at play, with an end goal of lobbying for positive change and a recognition of shared experiences in society.
Credits: Kenyaa Mzee