Superglue, post-its, potato chips and matches — some of life’s best little things are coincidental discoveries, happy accidents made while trying to achieve something else. For visual storyteller Lunga Ntila, making time to practice photography led her toward a resonant art form.
Lunga’s self-portraits, often manipulated by digital collage, may surprise, delight, amuse, or even confuse at first glance. However you interact with her work — maybe through this exciting limited edition collaboration with Artclub & Friends — the exaggerated, twisted, missing or misplaced features of her captivating portraits will leave you with questions about how we view ourselves. Questions about how that perspective, true or not, shapes the stories we’re telling about who we are.
We asked Lunga about turning yourself into art, what it’s like to put your art on clothes, and looking in the proverbial mirror.
This interview has been edited for length & clarity.
You studied creative brand communication and then made a name for yourself in art photography & digital collage. How does having a commercial creative education influence your work?
I think it helped me see the importance of process and creative development.
What is your process? What's important to you in the development of your ideas?
It either starts from thoughts that are floating in my head or a feeling I'd like to capture. Trying to understand what my message could be, potentially. After having bounced from message to message I try and visualize it, then I just shoot depending what setup I'd need. Other times I work with previous images, seeing what I can put together to depict that emotion.
Has placing your art on clothing made you look at your work any differently?
It hasn’t really changed how I look at my work; if anything it has helped me realize how important multiplicity is to me, the ability to translate my ideas and thinking into different mediums and forms of expression. In fact, I would love to explore creating more limited edition pieces of clothing.
What do you think it is that draws people to art on clothing as opposed to a cliché slogan or a brand logo?
I think the fact that it's more accessible, it makes the buyer feel as though they have contributed to culture, and it makes one even happier to personally own something which is considered a collectable.
What is it about portraits and self portraits that holds your attention?
I delved into self-portraiture early on as it was an easier way for me to practice the skill of photography. It has become a habit and an easier way to explore my ideas.
Do you see yourself tackling other subject matter?
I already do; self-portraiture has just been a widely received subject matter of mine. I am grateful for it though; it has fostered a lot of opportunities and relationships for me. I really mess with mirrors right now, I am so excited about working on a new medium.
What do you hope people see or feel in your work?
I would love to leave the viewer to fill in the dots, almost frustrate them into unravelling the picture. I would like for the viewer to interact with the work by allowing them to clarify it for themselves. This creates great grounds for fostering a relationship between the viewer and the art.
I have been fortunate to have some people see the work the way I intended it to be when I created it. Maybe because its core is reflection/introspection, it makes it easier for someone to establish that same relationship with it.
Has that changed over time?
Yes! I realised that as people we have different experiences, that have left us with a multitude of ways to interact with our surroundings. Having hopes of how I want people to interact or feel my work might lead to disappointment — I would rather leave it open for now.
- Interview and words by Modupe Oloruntoba