Mbakisi Sibanda Championing Digital Art in the City

September 2020

By Emmanuel KaNdlovu

Dexterous graphic designer, Mbakisi Sibanda, is steadily making remarkable strides in the digital art sector following his debut as the only Bulawayo artist part of the POWERPLAY exhibition, a collaborative project by the arebyte Gallery-London, National Gallery of Zimbabwe and the British Council, currently running in London.

In a recent sit-down, Sibanda revealed how he strives to always live up to his name which can be loosely translated to, “the one that helps to build” from the Kalanga language.

“I strongly believe I have to leave a mark wherever I go, it is not necessarily about myself, but purpose. Whatever I am doing has to have a purpose and this is what I am aspiring for,” Sibanda said.

“Among all the other things that I do, I am also working closely with an NGO that is helping feed and take care of the vulnerable during these hard times. Purpose is a very big part of my life,” he continued.

With daily experiences in the advertising and graphic designing worlds, Sibanda is avid about digital art and its properties that are reinforcing the relevance of art today. He firmly believes technology has broken down barriers around art as we know it.

“I have never been really good at drawing, but the computer has helped me a great deal. I now create art and it has become my way of escaping the real word. It’s my way of taking a different route from design and exploring my abilities,” Sibanda said.

The 25-year old had no prior experience with exhibitions with formal and public institutions. His involvement in the POWERPLAY exhibition came as a result of a nudge by Butholezwe Nyathi, the National Gallery in Bulawayo (NGB) Regional Director, who informed him about the project.

“Since I am not really an artist, I thought long and hard about the essence of an exhibition and replied showing interest that was inspired by adventure. I was then linked to Rebecca Edwards, the Curator at the arebyte Gallery who sent me a brief with the rest of the details. I then followed the necessary procedures and started working on my piece and they were satisfied with the results,” he revealed.

His artwork, dubbed Isolation, is a still portrayal of feeling isolated whilst hyper-connected online and the dark nature of how the internet is a huge contributor to mental and physical health ills among other social strains such as disintegration.

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The eloquent creative broke down his work revealing he did some introspection on how the internet has affected him as an individual and although he has never been a victim, he quickly thought of the hackings and stalking he has seen being experienced by those around him. These were the points he ran with in coming up with his artwork.

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“We often shut the outside world just to be confined to our phones on social media where we think we will find all the happiness we need but instead, we are gradually destroying ourselves by seeking validation from strangers and projecting some euphoria and this was my starting point. I immersed myself in this scenario and my feelings came through in the artwork,” Sibanda said.

Despite producing a solid polysemic work of art, the perfectionist in him felt he could have taken his piece a notch higher.

Beyond creating, Sibanda finds pleasure in the little things life has to offer. He listens to a lot of music and enjoys a good time at the movies. He also appreciates some time to himself, a space that helps him think clearly and come up with even better ideas.

His recommendations for aspiring digital artists are to work hard and to learn as many different things as possible.

“Use tools you are most comfortable with in terms of software. Know your strengths and weaknesses, that way you find your feet quickly, digital art, like fine art I guess is all about finding your style.”

“Travel a lot, that opens up your mind and helps you appreciate different perspectives. Don’t make the world as big as it seems, know yourself and be yourself,” he advised.

Going forward, the driven virtuoso looks forward to exploring different avenues with his art. He has a series around human nature that he will be showcasing on Instagram or Behance soon. He also looks forward to showcasing more of his works with the Gallery.

As digital art is fast picking up pace globally, the NGB is not far off behind as it is actively involved in promoting the practice.

“Digital art has always been on our agenda, the Covid-19 pandemic has just accelerated the momentum. Besides promoting new artforms through digital art, we are working towards bringing in new artists that have never exhibited in formal institutions,” the Director shared.

PowerPlay is set to open at the National Gallery in Bulawayo before the end of the year. Exact dates to be confirmed.