QUEEN OF self­ies

CityPress - - Front Page - BIÉNNE HUIS­MAN bi­enne.huis­man@city­press.co.za

SHE IS AFRICA

Self-por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher Zipho Gum, AKA Tony Gum, spoke to City Press dur­ing her ex­hi­bi­tion at the Cape Town Art Fair at the Cape Town ICC this week­end. She is in­flu­enced by well-known and pop­u­lar artists such as Frida Kahlo and Vladimir Tretchikoff.

Zipho Gum was 15 and a lit­tle bored on an over­cast sum­mer’s day when she first lifted a red crate of empty coke bot­tles on to her head. It matched her white and red striped top and cherry-painted lips. Her cousin Sipho, who was 12 then, cap­tured the mo­ment on her mother’s point-and-shoot cam­era. Gum’s fam­ily had just moved from Langa to Pinelands in Cape Town. She was miss­ing her friends in the town­ship and look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive means to amuse her­self.

She re­calls: “So you put the pho­to­graph on the in­ter­net, and peo­ple like it. You take an­other pic­ture, put it on the in­ter­net too, and, oh my word, they like that too!”

And so, self-por­traitist Tony Gum was born – Zipho Gum’s flam­boy­ant, cre­ative per­sona. She’s now 20 and has built up a fol­low­ing world­wide of peo­ple who love her stylised on­line pho­to­graphs that com­bine iconic brands, pat­terns and colours, rang­ing from the bold to the whim­si­cal.

Some of her pic­tures pay homage to Mex­i­can artist Frida Kahlo, show­ing Gum with flow­ers in her hair and a uni­brow; an­other has her on a cast iron bal­cony at the five-star Mount Nelson Ho­tel, and a few show her play­ing around with Coke bot­tles. She has her own blog and 18 400 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram. City Press in­ter­viewed Gum at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town on Fri­day af­ter she de­liv­ered a speech at De­sign Ind­aba 2016. Gum’s speech was one of 41 De­sign Ind­aba sem­i­nars de­liv­ered to 2 500 del­e­gates by top cre­ative speak­ers, in­clud­ing Bri­tish singer-song­writer Imo­gen Jen­nifer Heap of pop­u­lar band Frou Frou and star ar­chi­tect Chris­tian Ben­i­mana from Rwanda, who learnt Man­darin to study at Tongji Univer­sity in Shang­hai.

Born to Winkie, a nurse at the Nom­pumelelo Spe­cial School in Gugulethu, and Frank Gum, a bak­ery owner, Gum was de­scribed as per­haps “the coolest girl in Cape Town” by in­ter­na­tional style guide Vogue mag­a­zine in Au­gust.

Now rep­re­sented by Cape Town’s Christo­pher Moller Gallery, four of her pho­to­graphs can still be viewed at the Cape Town Art Fair at the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre un­til 4pm to­day.

In the first week of March, she will ex­hibit in New York at the Pulse Con­tem­po­rary Art Fair, where she is one of 15 artists nom­i­nated for The Prize – a jury-awarded cash grant for an artist at the fair.

Gum has pre­vi­ously said her sources of in­spi­ra­tion in­clude the work of Amer­i­can film di­rec­tor Wes An­der­son – par­tic­u­larly the in­tri­cate com­po­si­tions in his 2014 movie The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel; Rus­sian pop painter Vladimir Tretchikoff; and Sene­galese pho­tog­ra­pher Omar Vic­tor, known for his use of flow­ers.

As Gum started read­ing more widely – par­tic­u­larly the works of Steve Biko – her fash­ion shoots ac­quired a political edge.

Her pic­tures elicit ques­tions around gen­der stereo­types, women’s bod­ies, pop cul­ture and race.

“As I read about black con­scious­ness, I started to steer away from strictly fash­ion. I wanted there to be a mes­sage,” she told City Press.

“Once I started learn­ing about be­ing con­scious, about be­ing proud of be­ing black, I was like: ‘Woah, that’s amaz­ing, that’s what I want to do with my work.’”

Gum is a se­cond-year film and video pro­duc­tion stu­dent at the Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and some of her re­cent work re­lates to the Fees Must Fall protests.

“I sup­port Fees Must Fall 100%. Fight­ing for education is worth ev­ery scream and scratch. I was pleased to see no in­crease [of ter­tiary fees], but ul­ti­mately the goal is free education,” she says. Sur­pris­ingly pe­tite, Gum is ev­ery bit as beau­ti­ful in real life. Cre­at­ing a strik­ing sil­hou­ette in cream embroidered heels, which be­long to her mother, a red pen­cil skirt, which is a handme-down from a church friend, and a favourite striped jersey, her smile glowed across the theatre foyer.

Gum is not en­tirely com­fort­able with the ti­tle “artist”, say­ing she prefers to think of her­self as an “artist in learn­ing”.

She told the Artscape au­di­ence: “Per­son­ally, I could not ac­cept the ti­tle ... I was scared of cel­e­brat­ing my­self. I didn’t want to seem self-cen­tred, which is ironic, as I take self­ies as my art. This whole thing is a jour­ney and I be­lieve I am an artist in learn­ing.”

Gum ma­tric­u­lated at Pinelands High School and worked at a call cen­tre and in retail be­fore turn­ing to art. She cred­its her cre­ative fam­ily for her own artis­tic knack.

“My mother used to want to paint, but she be­came a nurse to earn a liv­ing, you know.”

She says she has learnt to plan each pho­to­graph care­fully, draw­ing sketches and mulling over the finer de­tails for hours.

Where does she find the re­solve to jug­gle her art, ex­hi­bi­tion dead­lines and stu­dent ex­ams? Gum says US au­thor Spencer John­son’s self-help book Who Moved My Cheese? helped her to learn self-dis­ci­pline.

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