Mafalda Vasconcelos uses art as a way of exploring identity and the cultural influences in her life. Born in South Africa and growing up in Mozambique, there’s evidence of Mafalda’s cultural background throughout her visual work. Through learning about her culture, the artist developed a unique artistic style which has a contemporary theme and aesthetic. Now residing in Melbourne, Mafalda continues to explore the female figure and soul, through a mystical concept. We chat with Mafalda to learn more about her process, inspirations and aspirations…
1. Pleasantries first… Tell us about who you are and what you do?
My name is Mafalda Vasconcelos, I am an African artist born in South Africa, to Mozambican and Portuguese parents. I have lived most of my life in my home country, Mozambique where I developed a strong sense of cultural identity.
My academic background is a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design from the University of Westminster and a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship form the RMIT University here in Melbourne. However, I became an artist out of necessity, a necessity to explore other avenues of expression that were more meaningful and freeing. Fashion made me feel trapped and painting gave me a sense of belonging.
I paint portraits of women of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, referencing back to my cultural heritage and to my connection with my ancestry.
2. What’s something you do every day?
I read a lot of books, mostly about history, culture and/or African novels. I believe that reading is a way of escaping and finding new realities that allow us to connect to each other’s stories.
3. What’s been your favourite moment so far in your career?
Being an artist is a dream come true, I love every minute of it. My favourite moments are when I get to see people identify and connect with my work.
4. What’s the most treasured belonging/item in your own home?
I have a few treasured items in my home. They are mostly handmade artisanal pieces that represent a meaningful aspect of my culture and identity. Items like ritual masks from Mozambique, wooden sculptures, handmade jewellery and pieces of art. My other treasured items are my collection of vintage art books and catalogues, they are my source of inspiration.
5. What does your average work day look like?
Not all work days are the same, it depends on the time of the year and on what kind of projects I have on at the time. Usually, I wake up at 7am and meditate for 30 mins; after that I have my coffee and I get to work in my home studio. My morning tasks include replying to emails and general admin work. After that, I paint, or I pack orders. Then, I have lunch at around 12:30 pm and paint the whole afternoon until 7pm.
When preparing for a show, I usually set aside other tasks for the weekend and paint during the week for longer hours, until late at night. I get lost in time when I paint, it is a dream come true to do it every day.
6. Can you pinpoint the moment what you do turned into a profession for you?
I started illustrating professionally for clients in 2017. I started as a freelance artist, mainly creating textile prints and fashion illustrations for brands, as a way to support my masters degree. By the end of 2018 I started portraiture as an escape from the usual work I did and began to get commission requests. That’s when I saw that I could be an independent artist, working independently from fashion, and worked towards that.
7. What’s a skill you want to accomplish in 2021?
I’d love to be better at making short videos. I love the medium and I love watching other people do what they love. It is something that I have learnt to value during covid times; it one of the only mediums that allows us to connect to friends and family with whom we can’t share a physical space.
8. If you could collaborate with anyone (brand or individual) who would it be?
Roberto Chichorro is an artist whom I have admired for many years. I would love to work with him in a collection of paintings and learn more about his life and his artistic practice. I absolutely love his work; his use of colour is mesmerising, and his fantastical visual stories are fascinating. It would be an honour to escape into his world.
9. If you could see your work displayed absolutely anywhere, where would it be?
My dream is to have my work displayed in my home country, Mozambique. An exhibition in Maputo, the capital and at Ilha de Moçambique, Mozambique’s first capital city – one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.
10. You’ve got a week off… where are you headed?
Back home to Mozambique! Right now, with the borders closed, it is not possible to go but I am hoping I can be there soon to see my family. I miss them dearly.
11. What’s your favourite project/design so far and why?
My favourite projects to date were two collections of small portrait paintings I made for Partnership Editions in March and in May of 2021. Working on different portraits is exciting, I get to experiment with different emotions and facial expressions, and I also get to assume different identities. Seeing the completed collections together was joyous.
Another project I have loved is my T-shirt collaboration with Collective Closets. I have become good friends with the founders Fatuma and Laurinda, and it made me realise how important it is to work with women with whom I share the same values. The T-shirts look beautiful too.
12. What’s next for you? Any exciting new projects in the pipeline…
I am very excited to have a solo exhibition at No Vacancy Gallery from the 13th to the 26th of September 2021 – “The Mask Was Never Completely Unmasked“. I will be showing a collection of small to large scale portrait paintings with colourful abstract backgrounds, exploring the idea of identity and the significance our cultural background in the formation of the self.
Meet the Artist Radio
Chega de Saudade
“A playlist of nostalgia, music that transports me to a different time, when everything felt new. These are some of the songs I listen to when I work, they give me a rhythm that is essential to my process. The multi-genre and multi-culture essence of this playlist is a reflection of my own cultural background.” Mafalda Vasconcelos
Where to find Mafalda
Photography: Mafalda Vasconcelos