Born in 1973 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zemba Luzamba is an artist whose arresting oil and canvas works chronicle the multifaceted experiences of African migrants. Since leaving the DRC and moving to Cape Town where he has been based since 2000, Luzamba has quietly built a body of work that aims to explore migration and its effects on ordinary people.
Focussed on rendering scenes that depict the leisure activities of the black middle classes as well as the hardships experienced by migrants, Luzamba recreates scenes of crowded residences, border crossings, and profiles of exhausted workers and students. Inspired by photographs he’s taken and sketches he’s made over the years, Luzamba’s work stops just short of overt commentary. He provides lifelike accounts of ordinary subjects, allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions.
Now working solely with the medium that inspires his passion – oil paints – the artist used to employ acrylic but its tendency to dry too quickly was irritating and caused him to feel as if the medium was dictating the work. Using oil paints he finds gives him a greater degree of control and allows him to easily display his technical proficiency and intimate knowledge of the lives of transnational migrants.
In a 2016 interview with Between 10 and 5, Luzamba spoke of the various elements that inform his art:
“There is a bit of politics in my work, but I play with that, so it’s not too serious. If you look at my paintings, you’ll see I’ve been playing with elegance and lifestyle, with some reference to politics and social commentary.”
Cognisant of how in Congolese society there are certain topics that are seldom spoken of – “big issues are kept beneath a surface façade,” he says – his style tends to reflect that kind of surface level engagement, allowing the work to speak for itself. “I don’t speak too loud, but quietly in my way,” he explains.
Most recently Luzamba was part of Beyond Binaries, a curated exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery that also featured the work of 26 other artists. Select works of his are also on permanent public exhibition in Nando’s restaurants across South Africa and the UK.
Follow Luzamba on Instagram to keep up to date with his work.