Spotlight: Charmaine Chanakira’s Colorful Journey To Self. We talked with the Zimbabwean painter about her artistic path towards self-expression and discovering her identity.
Our ‘Spotlight’ series showcases photographers, visual artists, multimedia creators, and other creatives generating vivid and unique works.
Zimbabwean artist Charmaine Chanakira, who lives and works in London, has chosen painting as her medium for expression as she strives for self-acceptance in a changing world. The self-described “Afro-expressionist,” who was reared in the United Kingdom, has remained connected to her heritage via her love of African art and culture and her creative spirit. In 2015, Chanakira graduated with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, and 2023, she obtained a master’s degree in art psychotherapy.
Because growing up in Africa often lacks a safe location to talk about vulnerabilities, the young artist spent a large portion of her life moving about and experiencing mental instability. Art helped her manage her mental health and assist others in doing the same for themselves.
The self-trained painter’s attraction to vivid hues and strange characters comes from her unease with being extremely expressive. She told OkayAfrica, “Color is the best way I can express myself. I use Color to let people know I am in the room.” “I try not to be the life of the party, and I’m not the loudest person in the room. However, I let the colors speak for themselves when I paint or do art. I identify my presence in a room by using Color. I express myself with Color when I can’t talk. Her artistic inspiration comes from worldwide; she frequently mentions the works of Ghanaian artist Kojo Marfu and 18th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, citing them as influences that helped her discover her niche.
Using the phrase “a synergy of the unconscious mind and the tumultuous rollercoaster of existence” to characterize her work, Chanakira disregards any boundaries within her expressionist perspective and embarks on her path. The artist’s knowledge of how beautifully human emotions may be directed in healthy ways is expressed in every stroke. Each layer and crevice of Chanakira’s artwork conveys a distinct facet of her life, providing a rare window into the thoughts of those attempting to quiet their own.
Although Chanakira is still very young in her developing career, her work can be purchased through the UK art gallery Clarendon Fine Art Gallery. She is also a nominee for several Zimbabwe Achievers Awards, such as the Young Achiever of the Year Award.
We discussed the wonder of African creativity and how to create your sense of normality with the painter from Zimbabwe.
For brevity and clarity, the interview below has been shortened and modified.
OkayAfrica: Were you always interested in creating art?
Charmaine Chanakira: I had no intention of being an artist; it just so occurred. I spent some time working in graphic design before determining I wouldn’t say I liked it. My next step was into the IT industry, and I soon realized that I was not cut out for the ‘Tech Bro’ lifestyle. I decided to return to school to become an art psychotherapist, and part of the curriculum required me to work with and experiment with different art mediums.
I was a graphic designer for a while, so I was used to handling pens, pencils, and other easily manipulable materials. I decided to give the painting a try and take up a paintbrush. Painting was frustrating for me at first since I could never seem to get the paint under control. It wasn’t until I embraced the turmoil that I could be entirely and artistically free. It felt pretty liberating. Painting was the most excellent method I knew to communicate my tales and experiences with others, and it was also how I wanted to connect with others and bring attention to the social concerns I care about.
Which themes run through your work?
Politics, recollections from childhood, mental health, and the Black experience are frequently the main subjects in my writing. My political enthusiasm and deep commitment to social problems are evident in much of my work.
How does inspiration come to you, or where does it come from?
My artwork often reflects my emotional response to happenings in the world. Rather than making conscious judgments, I let my subconscious guide what I make. I occasionally listen to music expressing my feelings, which tends to magnify particular sentiments and encourage creativity.
My Zimbabwean roots have greatly influenced my artwork. My art is also inspired by my experiences as a Black immigrant woman since they have shaped my worldview. In addition, Japanese comics, animation, Jungian psychoanalysis, and philosophy, motivate me.
What distinguishes African artists from those throughout the globe, in your opinion?
The wonders of African craftsmanship! African musicians are distinguished by their unique blend of colorful traditions, pulsing rhythms, and an unyielding spirit. Their work is outstanding internationally because it evokes a complex tapestry of historical and modern expression and connects with a strong sense of cultural storytelling. In my opinion, it’s ancestral and spiritual, and it bridges the gap between ancient and contemporary life. It has a generational feel to it.