Personality: Xolani Sivunda

Spotlight on ART 180’s first international Artist in Residence

5/23/2024, 6 p.m.
Xolani Sivunda doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t honing his art skills. His joy of art strengthened at age …

Xolani Sivunda doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t honing his art skills. His joy of art strengthened at age 10 when he would replicate images of soccer players he saw in sports magazines. Ever since he hasn’t stopped pursuing his dreams and using anything he had to channel his artistic talent.

“You’ll have a small stick and you can draw on the ground. You can have charcoal from the fireplace and draw on the walls,” Mr. Sivunda said. “If you have this thing that is inside you that wants you to express or there’s this thing that you want to say using pictures, you will use whatever you have to put that out.”

During his childhood, Mr. Sivunda recalls a woman giving him an art history book and some paint. He said the knowledge he gained from the book and the paint to work with provided allowed him more freedom of expression, he said.

Mr. Sivunda has been a full-time artist for eight years, with a focus on visual arts. He’s looking forward to creating art before an audience at Art 180 at an event called “The Easel.” The artist believes this is a good opportunity for artists to show the step-by-step process of creation.

“Us as artists, we’re always indoors in our studios, hiding from the community,” Mr. Sivunda said. “People don’t know how we go about (things) when we create these beautiful pictures, when we tell these beautiful stories. They don’t know the transition.”

Mr. Sivunda always knew he would travel abroad to showcase his art. He believes his Art180 residency will help him get his name and artistry out to a broader audience.

“For me to be here, I’m very happy,” Mr. Sivunda said. “It’s like I’m still in a dream, I haven’t woken up yet.”

After his residency ends, Mr. Sivunda plans to return to South Africa to continue his work with Open Heart Studios, a nonprofit organization he co-founded with mosaic artist Michele Knecht. The organization is a community art center with the mission to educate and empower budding artists and preserve and promote traditional and contemporary art through participant art sales.

Mr. Sivunda plans to share his experiences from his trip to Richmond with his “fellow people of South Africa.”

“I’m not here to give only. I’m here also to take something that I must take home,” Mr. Sivunda said.

Meet ART 180’s first international Artist in Residence and this week’s Personality, Xolani Sivunda:

Top honor: ART 180’s first international Artist in Residence.

Occupation: Artist.

Date and place of birth: May 20, 1985, in South Africa.

Where I live now: Mfuleni, Cape Town, South Africa.

Education: Spier Arts Academy.

Family: Married, two children, Elethu + Sinoxolo.

How does it feel to be selected as ART 180’s first international Artist in Residence: It feels so good. I think it is a dream of every artist from Africa to come to the USA and showcase and exchange what he knows about art, and also to impact youths. It also feels good because that has been part of my life. So even back at home, I do work with young visual artists to take them away from the streets and teaching them that you can make a living out of using art.

ART 180 is: A Richmond non-profit organization, gallery and community art space creating spaces for creative exploration for young people and the community.

Process of applying to be considered an artist in residence: Hwan Hill, commissioner of the Sister Cities commission was visiting Cape Town and discovered my work, and wanted to bring me to the U.S. as a visiting artist. Hwan shared my work with Nicole Jones, deputy director, of ART 180, and then with Maurice Leoni-Osion, program director for ART 180.

Working with an artist from outside the U.S., it aligned with where ART 180 wanted to go with the residency. All of this was really a referral process and very organic.

How I learned I was named ART 180’s first international artist in residence: An email!

Reaction when I finally knew I could pack my bags and head to Richmond: Overwhelmed. Because with a visa, it’s not easy to apply for. They will ask for a lot of documents. Then if you make a mistake, you are out. So I was like, now I’m going. I’m good. God is great.

Length of my tenure: Residency runs June through August; I arrived April 26.

What is my role as artist in residence: To teach and introduce kids to how to use found objects in their art and to open their mind. They must think like artists. Someone might not have paint, but they want to create something. So with found objects, a creative person will be able to create an artwork.

That’s what I believe. So it’s creating something from nothing; redefining what we call art.

How my background will influence my work with young Richmond artists: I think young Richmond artists will learn something different from me. Let’s see what Africa has for us. They can pick some things from me and use them maybe forever. Then one day they will say, I’ve learned this from an artist from Africa, and now I’m moving with it. And also I think my culture.

How I envision this first-time visit to the United States will impact me personally and creatively: I’m here, I’m learning a lot, and in my art, I already see change in my artworks as I’m here. It’s like now I stepped out of Africa, so now I see the value of Africa and the value of the United States. So putting together those values and respecting two countries, South Africa and the U.S., it brings me something different. So I’ve got this space as an artist in residency. I respect the time that I’ve been given in the USA to create. So I can’t just create, I must think, I must have fresh ideas. I must not repeat things that I was doing in South Africa. I must show that I’m here for a reason and my artwork must speak to that.

Who I hope to inspire in Richmond and back at home: For here, I’m going to inspire a lot of artists. Some of them, they can look back at when they were at ART 180 and say, “Yo man, the artist that you had during this time changed the way I look at visual art.” I think ART 180 is going to bring more change to my people and the people that I’m working with in South Africa because I’ll be sharing and educating them about new ways to do things. It is all about art and cultivating the artist and creating curriculum.

Where Richmonders can engage with my work online: Instagram @xolani_sivunda and on Facebook at xolani.sivunda

When Richmonders can see my work: We are planning to have a show, but we don’t have an actual date but, I’m working on it. Also, at The Easel, a monthly event at ART 180, on June 20.

How I start the day: Just a cup of coffee. Then I will take a pen and paper and sketch. After sketching, I do research about what I’m gonna paint, and then I will prime my canvases. After the canvas is dry, then I will start to paint.

The three words that best describe me: Artist at heart.

Best late-night snack: You see in Africa we don’t have this late-night snack. We just have a dish, a plate of warmmeal, and after, you go to bed. I don’t wanna lie! (laughs)

My music playlist consists of: Sol, Hugh Masekela, Pro Kid.

A quote that inspires me: The saying that inspires me is to “Always show audacity in the face of adversity.”

The best thing my parent or guardian ever taught me: Never give up, and pray.

The person who influenced me the most: I’m a self-taught visual artist. But to speak the truth, there’s this local guy called Mzimasi Funo. The way he used his palette knife and his palette of colors is very amazing.

Favorite artist and why: It’s me. I don’t wanna lie. First, it was a guy from Italy, Caravaggio, because of the way he paints the shadows from dark to light. If you can look now at my artworks, it’s him, but in a very contemporary way. But now, I love what I’m doing so now I can say, oh man, it’s me.

Book that influenced me the most: “George Pemba: Painter of the People.” I feel like I’ve been living the life of George Pemba. He was recognized in South Africa when he was 40-something. He was a teacher, then he dropped teaching. I used to work in the mines then I went to Spier Arts Academy. And I dropped the mines because I wanted to become a full-time artist. And there was a time when he wanted to give up.Then he moved from Eastern Cape at the age of 40. Now I’m here, closer to the age of 40. I was reading his struggle and by that time, it also was part of my struggles.

Next goal: Go back home and change the name of my organization. It’s gonna be ART 360. And also try to teach artists about the importance of teaching artists and curriculum.

Knowing what you want to do, knowing the beginning and the ending of it. And having more exhibitions, and keep on collaborating with many visual artists because I believe in collaboration.