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A feature by Mila Crewe-Brown for Lifestyling

She’s 23 years old and this emerging artist has just sold out of her first Latitudes Online body of work.

In the spirit of Women’s Month, we’d like to raise a glass to Cinthia Binene Sifa, the emerging artist whose maiden body of work on the site unexpectedly sold out within weeks of Latitudes Online’s launch. Not bad at 23, we say. The new online platform is bringing accessibility to the African art world in several rule-breaking ways, one of which is by supporting independent artists like Cinthia, allowing them to sell their work year-round through the site. The democratisation of what can sometimes be a stiff industry has ruffled a few tail feathers but heralds the dawn of a new era for art and artists.

Cinthia’s work explores the constructs of beauty through her own lived experience as an African woman, by both challenging perceptions and embracing traditions. In less than a month of the site launch, Cinthia sold all eight artworks and has since loaded more. We sat down with her to talk about her news and her journey as a female artist.

Tell us about your journey as a career artist. I had wanted to be a fashion designer growing up and then later wanted to pursue journalism, but couldn’t due to financial reasons. I worked part-time while attending the Little Artist School Project. I then studied part-time at Artist Proof Studio and finally, at the end of 2017, I decided to study printmaking full time. I’m in my third year now.

What has your own experience as a woman making it in the art world been like? Rather complex. I had to find my mark before my voice, learning the basics of art from my brother and then later through a school project in a male dominated environment. My brother would say ” you weren’t born with the gift, you made it your passion” and so I had to work hard to prove that I could paint, not to mention sell my work at group exhibitions. Beyond just dealing with the perceptions of beauty around women, I’ve been told “you’re too pretty to be an artist” or “you’re not just a pretty face”.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your work? From the Barbie doll that I grew up playing with and the notion of her ‘lifestyle’ in relation to my identity as an African woman. Barbie inspired other aspects of beauty in social media, magazines, music videos and TV shows like The Real Housewives and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

How did you come to focus on this subject? As an artist, the creation of day-to-day experiences is important. In addition to that, the female body is a point of popular culture in our society today, how women are represented, how that changes over time and how we talk about it is really interesting to me. It made sense to create a space within my 3rd year work to talk about these constantly evolving perceptions and misconceptions.

Deluxe by Cinthia Binene Sifa, 2020, Acrylic paint, charcoal, oil paint with collage on unstretched canvas

What are your personal thoughts on African female beauty? I was born in Congo, where beauty is more reserved due to religious and marital factors amongst others. But I grew up in South Africa where beauty is more exposed and modern; this exposed me to different African female narratives. Diversity is the most common one, whether it be in hair, skin tone or body type. Originality is another, in terms of knowing yourself, where you come from, your name- all of this contributes strongly to African female beauty.

How does it feel to have sold out of your entire body of work with Latitudes Online so quickly? It feels promising, not only because I’ve sold my works, but also because my voice is being heard. Being able to share not only my thoughts, but also my stories gives the process and purpose more depth. I am very optimistic about other avenues for future work.

What message do you hope your work will convey to the public? I hope that my work ignites introspection, not only for those who idealise beauty on us women, but within the female community as well. I hope it brings understanding of the symbolism of an object and idea, rather than just its function or impact, because this contributes to what we think of ourselves and others.

What are you busy with right now? I am currently working on my 3rd year body of work that will later be translated into etching, it’s a work responding to climate change. I’m also producing personal work and finally trying to finish a sculpture I started three weeks ago.

This article was first published in Lifestyling

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