Ex­port­ing Sa Art

Meet NO­MAZA NONGQUNGA COUPEZ, 36, a cu­ra­tor and events co­or­di­na­tor who show­cases Mzansi art in France.

True Love - - Profile - By SISONKE LABASE

Art cu­ra­tor and events co­or­di­na­tor No­maza Nongqunga Coupez started her com­pany, Undis­cov­ered Can­vas, af­ter she mi­grated to Europe and saw how peo­ple in the south of France loved the arts and cul­tures of for­eign lands.

“In 2010, South Africa did an ex­change pro­gramme with France, and that year saw dance groups, singing and art ex­hi­bi­tions hap­pen­ing in both coun­tries. Peo­ple from all over the world vis­ited the south of France, es­pe­cially the elite. I wanted to use art as a tool to teach the French about our cul­ture,” she says. No­maza fol­lowed an un­usual path into the art world. “I was born in Ngqe­leni in Eastern Cape, but my fa­ther had to move for work. So I grew up in Free State, near Bloem­fontein, and stud­ied biomedical tech­nol­ogy at the Cen­tral Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

“I grad­u­ated in 2001 and I moved to Port El­iz­a­beth to for work. I was test­ing spec­i­mens, wear­ing pro­tec­tive gear and in­ter­act­ing with no one in a cold lab­o­ra­tory – I didn’t en­joy it all all.”

No­maza’s life changed in 2008 dur­ing an ex­otic is­land va­ca­tion. “I was a med­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive for a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm, and as a re­ward from the com­pany for a good turnover, we got a trip to Mau­ri­tius – that’s where I met my hus­band.”

Af­ter a year-long romance, No­maza mar­ried and moved with her man in the south of France. “I wanted to ex­plore, so I mi­grated in 2009,” she ex­plains. No­maza’s first year in France was a learn­ing curve. “It was hard,” she ad­mits. “I had to adapt to not know­ing what was said around me, to the cul­ture and be­ing the only black per­son in many spa­ces. I learnt French and I did a com­mu­ni­ca­tions course. It led to me work­ing in ho­tels and deal­ing with tourists, which was great be­cause I used could prac­tise my French and be­come flu­ent.”

She named her busi­ness Undis­cov­ered Can­vas, be­cause it re­flected her personal sit­u­a­tion. Like a clean can­vas, she could re­paint who she truly was. “The idea was born in 2010, but it was re­alised in 2015. I needed my French to be per­fect, and I had to put money aside. Our move to Cannes helped – it’s per­fect for my busi­ness be­cause it’s way more cos­mopoli­tan. My hus­band was very sup­port­ive, and with the money I’d saved, I re­searched South African art. I also vis­ited gal­leries in Cannes to gauge what the French mar­ket liked.”

No­maza went on to iden­tify tal­ented artists and came home in Jan­uary 2015, af­ter book­ing space for her first ex­hi­bi­tion. “I met dif­fer­ent artists and came back to France with their work. I paid for ev­ery­thing, from ship­ping, to book­ing the venue, to en­sur­ing that all pieces ex­uded high-end lux­ury. I made enough money from that ex­hi­bi­tion to carry me to the next year.”

No­maza’s hard work has paid off – Undis­cov­ered Can­vas has grown into a life­style brand and now hosts art ex­hi­bi­tions and film ex­pos in Cannes on be­half of the South African Na­tional Film and Video Foun­da­tion. Now she wants to ven­ture into fash­ion too.

“PEO­PLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD VISIT FRANCE. I USE ART AS A TOOL TO TEACH THE FRENCH ABOUT OUR CUL­TURE.”§

NO­MAZA WITH LEG­ENDARY ARTIST, ES­THER MAHLANGU.

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