Who is Nomaza Nongqunga?
Born into the Amajola tribe, Nomaza is a Xhosa woman, daughter of Nonqubela Bam and Nkosinathi Nonqgunga. She was born in a small village called Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. As the middle of 5 children, she grew up in a very religious family – her parents were Apostles. As a teen, she spent her years in a township called Kutloanong in the Free State; where she attended both primary and secondary school. Before her arrival to France, Nomaza studied Biomedical Technology and spent some time working for various laboratories and pharmaceutical companies. She would later on meet her partner in life, her husband and friend, Ludovic Coupez, a French man, with who she would move to France – dating now 13 years. Nomaza is a lover of nature, people, culture, history and life. She is deeply spiritual and adventurous.
Can you tell us about your journey towards Undiscovered Canvas?
I arrived in France in 2009 with my now husband. My arrival in France was interesting in that I had the opportunity to truly discover myself. For the first time in my life, I was living and working beyond survival mode. I had the chance to explore various questions, all leading me to better identifying my life’s purpose, my north star. During this journey of self-discovery, Undiscovered Canvas was born. Undiscovered Canvas is a boutique agency that promotes young and emerging African creatives in France and globally; while the Makwande Art residency, which is adjacent, fosters creativity, research, and experimentation through its international residency program.
I realized quite early on living in France, that this country is passionate about art, culture, and tourism, and in fact, that culture is an important commodity. French cities understand the value of tourism, and as a result they have designed strong cultural programmes for the entertainment of tourists, from museums, theatres, fashion, and food.
While I would see various countries like China, UK, Canada, and Mexico promote their cultures in France, it was very rare to see African creatives especially in the visual art sector doing the same. The very few artists who had the opportunities to showcase their works were well established in their respective countries and formed a very small percentage of African artists exposed to such opportunities. Coming from South Africa, I knew that there were many more artists with amazing talent who could benefit from such cultural exchanges and exposure. I grew up in such environment, where talent abounds but resources are scarce. Seeing this, I knew I needed to create a platform that would cater to the underdogs.
Part of this journey also led me to realize that Europeans, beyond the stereotypical narratives, knew little about the African Continent. They also lacked understanding of various terrible cliches that were still prominent in their day-to-day language, and how these influenced their interactions with other Africans. For instance, they mainly expressed thoughts on topics such as war, poverty, under development, corruption, and all of this came with a sense of misplaced and uninformed pity seasoned with a sense of doom. The Africa I know is young, vibrant, talented, innovative and contains great opportunities looking to be explored. I wanted to show this side of my continent.
The #MBOKAWOMAN, The Journal is all about highlighting talented women who are carving out paths for themselves and doing so intentionally. What are your top 3 motivators, as a woman, a creative, and a business owner. And how do you stay grounded in them through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship?
I am a South African woman living in France, creating a business model that has never been done before; where you see the promotion of emerging African Artists in the global market through dynamic marketplace. Undiscovered Canvas serves as both an art residency and dynamic marketplace catering specifically to female African artists. The fact that I am embarking on such a journey, challenging dominant practices in the Art space, motivates me to see it through. Interestingly, I am also motivated by lack. The fact that as a business owner, financial resources are scarce motivates me to remain creative and innovative in how I execute on the business. This also encourages me to think outside the box and innovate within those constrains. Other motivators for me include culture and education – both go hand in hand. I love different cultures, and more so exploring and interacting with people of diverse cultures. This motivates me to make connections where others might only see differences. The possibility of creating a culturally diverse community, comprised of multiple languages, ways of seeing, being, with a shared understanding of humanity at its core, also motivates me deeply. I use art as the tool that binds us all.
Tell us a bit more about your work with Undiscovered Canvas. How do you approach your work in terms of engaging with both the pieces and the artists?
For me it starts with the artists more than the actual artwork; as the artwork is an extension of the artist. I look for intension, for conceptualization, for depth, curiosity, and a hunger to learn and grow in the artist I work with. When I find these characteristics in an artist, I know the artworks will be great without even looking at them.
I like to explore the notion of objects, including adornments, accessories, as living things with memory. This idea encourages us to reflect on behaviors, norms around which these products are produced and consumed. Do you engage with such idea at all in your interaction with the art pieces? Please elaborate.
Art in the African context was made from necessity. Creativity in general in Africa has been necessary. From indigenous sacrificial practices towards our ancestors to help cure diseases, to women marking their homes with designs that identified their tribe, their social status, to women creating various hairstyles that also communicated their social and economic status within the community. Today, our contemporary artists are taking inspiration from the source, bringing to modern times the conversations our ancestors engaged in – showing that nothing is ever really lost.
We created art for healing, identity, and spirituality. The art object played a key instrument in our socialization and experience of all three points.
As a woman, growing into the different layers of who you are can be quite challenging. What would you say to that woman who is trying to carve out a path that speaks to all layers of herself?
Haha! I am laughing because I too am still carving my path as a multi-dimensional being. I am not only focused on my business and family, but also on myself as an individual – who am I without my husband? This is not an easy thing to do for sure. I have to say, however, that spirituality seems to be the one thing that remains very personal to me and continues to guide me to all other versions of myself. I work on that aspect a lot, and it gives me more understanding; particularly when I feel lost or overwhelmed. To a woman carving out her own path, I would tell her to have regular and honest conversations with herself in the mirror. To be brave when the little voice in her head gives her directions, and to seek wisdom in all of life’s challenges; because that is where true growth lies.