The earliest form of illustration would have to be paintings on caves and rocks. I imagine these weren’t created for mere decorative purposes. The art was for posterity. They were passing on knowledge. I also imagine that such an undertaking was a spiritually-laden one, whether the illustrator was aware of this or not.
Queue Nkosana Nkomo. The boy must be his ancestors’ wildest dreams come to life. His work might not be etched on caverns, but his old Wacom Bamboo tablet which he uses to illustrate is sufficient to carry the sacred works he makes. Again my imagination informs me, that he creates with the spirit kindred to that which led the cave illustrator. “My work is heavily inspired by African spirituality,” Nkosana tells me.
“When I first began it was for a purpose of putting black fantasies in the light it deserves, but as time went it became clear that it wasn’t a case of a black fantasies, but was more spiritually inclined work. This became clear to me when I saw majority of my audience being spiritual individuals who took a great liking to my work and some even said they receive messages from their elders from my work. What I thought was imagination was actually me being guided. The significance at play here is that my artwork just doesn’t reflect me and my “imagination” or that place I get taken to, but many others that can relate to the sacredness and magic in spirituality. I didn’t know the greater purpose of my art, until spiritual healers commented on my artwork and the more I created, the clearer things became.”
He goes by the moniker Nkosana The Art and the devilish algorithms brought me to his work while I was loitering them Instagram caves. The composition of Nkosana’s work is attractive but I was more enchanted by what he describes as the “spiritual realm dwelling beings” he depicts. They are surreal, undeniably African and are portrayed with an enlightened meticulousness.
“Commission based artwork is where I deal with real life people, they send me their photos and tell me to do what I do, and I do what I do. Surprisingly some even think I am a divine, because of the outcome of the art. One time I created for this lady and I just went in and placed in all sorts of elements according to how I felt she should be represented, like a crown made of corn cobs and Protea flowers and after she saw her piece she asked me why did I place all those elements in there and I really had no idea, so I made up some reasons as to what they each represent and she gave me a description of how each of those elements relate to her growing up and till present. Crazy right?”
Born in Heilbron in the Free State, but grew up in the Vaal in Sebokeng, he describes himself as an old soul, young at heart in a body of an artist. “Isintu is everything to me and my work. Abantu is everything to me and my work. Amadlozi is [sic] everything to me and my work.”
“I grew up in a Christian family and a lot of isintu wasn’t taught in the household, my grandmother who was a sangoma lived far, but I picked up a lot in the little best time I had with her. The elders who made rituals every year passed on when I was at a young age and as I grew up, I drifted away from isintu and got involved in cosmetic churches in my teen years. All of that didn’t make sense or relate to me as time went and I withdrew from being a Christian and am now learning more of isintu. Can you believe it? I am 30 years old and only knew izithakazelo zam four years ago by asking what they are. But ever since I have been on this path, isintu has been working wonders for me and with every chance, I am learning,” says the now Ranburg based artist.
It’s a generational thing; the infatuation with spirituality be it heeding the calling yok’thwasa, the fascination with astrology and numerology- the peoples is tryna find themselves. In finding self, this generation draws strength from owning and telling their stories. As much as Black Panther brought excitement on the continent and in Africans in the diaspora, the story was originally created by white men who aren’t from here. There’s a growing number of comics or graphic novels created by Africans.
Nkosana has a skeleton of a graphic novel which he’s working on together with two writers and an illustrator, but won’t say much about the project. “The story [is] about African mythology and is based in ancient times. I will end that there,” he says laughing out loud.
Music artists have utilized Nkosana’s skill for the album covers. “Some of these artists are from the United States and Europe, but most are from home. I worked with Piff James, Liqwa, Masta Roach, Vic Mover, Dominque Ivory, Lilow NTK, Fnote and Mandingo Bay Warriors. There are more who enquire and tell me they will be back for the art cover when the music is ready.”
I imagine the fella from the cave smiles to know that Nkosana sees everything as a canvass to impart messages from the other realm. “…T- shirts, billboards, carpets… I would love my work to be received by anyone out there in the world who sees it for what it is and fulfilled by it. The space I wish my art to occupy is the heart, mind and spirit, even if it is for a second, it will have served its purpose.”