30.06.17 by Aneeqah Samsodien
We had the pleasure of having local artist Dada Khanyisa at the studio to chat about her art, the culture and her love of sneakers.
Originally from West Rand Johannesburg, Dada recently graduated from Michaeli’s School of Art in Cape Town. She majored in Sculpture and recently had her grad show exhibition titled iNkosi iBenathi. The exhibition revolves around her experiences across the country; the Father Figure installation bringing a feeling of nostalgia along with it. It portrays her family structure, with the TV taking the role of guiding the young mind in the life of someone that doesn’t have a father figure.
Before she started art school Dada studied animation, claiming it helped her draw people, position them and tell a visual story. She felt the course lacked depth and she wanted growth; she was drawn to art school when she had a friend that did art and loved the way he perceived things differently.
It is hard not to notice the intricacies that were involved in creating her pieces; a bag of potatoes dangling off the vendor’s hand, a plate of food with each grain of rice visibly noticeable, and the sneakers.
Her interest in sneakers becomes apparent in all forms of work she produces. She remembers buying her first pair of Air Force 1s from a second hand informal vendor in Downtown Johannesburg for R180.
“It was the first pair of real kicks I got”.
She grew up with a few pairs of Converse All Stars, changing the colours every few months because they were such versatile sneakers and easy to customise. This was how she made money through high school. Dada had a big masculine influence growing up, surrounded by her boy cousins and uncles. Receiving hand me downs in the form of men’s clothing had transformed the way she dresses and perceives the role of a woman.
“Whenever there was a soccer ball, I’d play with it. I’d be with my cousins and we’d make wire cars and mouse traps. My brother was brilliant at making these things and that’s how I took to working with my hands. There was no female figure to follow or look up to and it influenced how I behave and how I saw life. I realised that boys have the freedom to create; I didn’t want to be in the kitchen making food. It was more subconsciously deciding that this is how you get the freedom to do what you want” – Dada
She created miniature sneaker sculptures that eventually got picked up by Nike. She was commissioned to create these sculptures for a few events they hosted, to be given as gifts, one of them being Air Max day.
So how did you get to work with Converse?
At that time I was already based in Cape Town and had landed a few jobs doing customising. I found out that Converse was looking for customisers and I did what I had to do to get in. And I think since that time, we’ve built a good relationship. One of the jobs I landed required me to paint stiletto heels on 70 pairs of Converse and that was hard labour and spit.
The sneakers tell a story; each foot is not identical to the other. She says that they do not match intentionally and this is because the eye blends colours on it’s own if the balance is right. Dada customised a pair for the Cornerstore that is proudly displayed in the store.
When asked if she’s going to stay in Cape Town, she says: “I’m here. I’m going to make it work here. We live in a capitalistic and eurocentric society, so it’s better to learn at the source. If you’re planning on branching out, this is a good starting point. I also like the politeness”.
What are your thoughts on the sneaker culture now that it’s become commercial, compared to the intimate hook ups of the first few Sneaker Exchange events?
Well that’s why I’m wearing All Stars now as they never change. Other brands release the same shoe 20 times over and it loses relevance. I think their marketing strategy was to give it some cultural reference and nostalgic feels; it came out in a retro version but released 10 other styles over an eight month period. It loses the value.
What is nice though is that people are wearing all kinds of things now, not just certain running shoes or certain canvas shoes; brand loyalty is just not worth it. I can now learn about your sneakers because you’re wearing a different brand. It’s nice culturally, but it is an object after all so I just resorted to keeping it simple with Converse and I don’t mind getting them dirty.
I’d like to be so established that I can have 10 truckloads of sand dumped off at a gallery, filling the floor, and call it art. – You have to be so financially secure to do that; are you selling a grain of sand, a handful of sand or are you selling the installation? So I’d like to be comfortable enough to grow grass, as another artist did for an exhibition. (Dada on becoming successful)
Social media is Dada’s biggest marketing channel; she has a tattoo kit that she carries in her bag and takes it everywhere. She bought the kit and started practicing on herself and friends that were keen. Since posting the photos, the requests have not stopped.
Where to from here for Dada Khanyisa?
I would like to be able to provide employment under The Mighty Whale, versus having people work under Dada Khanyisa. The name came when I was helping a friend move and noticed something in a newspaper regarding ‘the mighty whale’, and it was love at first sight. I went home that night and created the logo; it’s very random but it makes me happy. I have a studio in town that I currently work from. so I’m trying to put together a few paintings to eventually host an exhibition.