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