Behind Tamary Kudita’s Lens: Creating Powerful Visual Narratives That Tell A Thousand Words…

Stories are told in many ways; the two most common being written and verbal. But, arguably, what better way to truly tell and capture a story than through Visual Art? Enter Fine Art Photographer, Tamary Kudita, a creative that views and brilliantly captures the world through her lens. Driven by the need to showcase Africa’s excluded narratives, the untold stories of the African Culture and using various themes to evoke emotion, Tamary’s works can only be described as Masterpieces. As the first ever African winner in the Sony Open Competition, her goal is to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale and there isn’t a doubt she’s already on her way there. This is Tamary’s story……..

Tell us briefly about your background?

I’m Tamary Kudita, a fine art photographer based in Harare,Zimbabwe.  I am a product of dual heritage and my ancestry can be traced back to The Orange Free State in South Africa. I discovered my passion for art at an early age and I decided to pursue it long term when I was exposed to the endless possibilities an art career could offer at university.

And is that where your career in Fine Photography begin?

Yes, my fine art photography career began at university. I studied a bachelor of Fine Arts at Michaelis school of Fine Art. My degree included fine art disciplines such as printmaking, sculpture, animation, painting and photography. Our very first project was a type of photography called pinhole photography which involved using a pinhole handmade camera. (a camera with a pinhole as an aperture instead of a lens). Unlike digital photography this technique involved a great deal of manual skill. The aesthetic of the images made with this type of equipment harmonized perfectly with the old photographic processes, I decided to use this as a stepping stone to branch out into film photography.

Why did you choose Fine Photography?

From a theoretical point of view I was first introduced to photography through Duggin Cronin’s invention of daguerreotypes. Not only was I fascinated by the style but also the fact that he used photography as a mode of documentation. I wanted to do quite the opposite and use photography as an art form. The field of representation is a site of ongoing struggle and in my work, I attempt to draw awareness to the fact that history can be narrated in many different ways.

As a creative, what does photography mean to you?

Being a creative affords me the ability to view the world through an equalizing lens. I believe that photography oscillates between the documentary and the artistic: on the one hand, it is a snapshot of reality; and on the other hand, it is an aestheticized construction of reality, or a metaphor. Working within those parameters grants me a sense of authorship which I use as a tool to tell narratives which would otherwise go unseen.

How would you describe your photography style?

I would say that my style plays on the dualities that exist in the world. Contemporary versus historical, fantasy versus reality, modernity versus tradition and endings versus beginnings. Reflecting on these polarities and creating a visual language where they coexist allows me to constantly push the boundaries in my image making.

Among your works, which one is your favourite and why?

The artwork I enjoyed creating was the first ever piece for my African Victorian series. Initially I had not envisioned creating a series but as the artwork unfolded I saw potential development for an African women themed series that could be stretched cross-culturally, each showing unique points of view. African Victorian was created in direct response to one of Rembrandt’s paintings titled ‘Saskia as Flora.’ In this image, I wanted to portray the women in Rembrandt’s life. In approaching this complex theme in the artist’s private life, I chose to use one model to play the role of the woman. In an attempt to demythologize my recreations of Rembrandts work, I decided to borrow local African elements such as African print material and domestic tools such as a sweeper (mutsvairo), to add a layer of complexity whilst maintaining relatability. I thought about the image of the black female in western art and what it would mean to place an African woman in the realm of mainstream art history. Creating the outfit was the most exciting part. I drew sketches of the model’s costume then I worked with a local designer to make these designs come to life. Reconfiguring the African dress into Victorian attire was the most significant part because in doing this I inverted the power indexed by Victorian dress, whilst using clothing to unpick inherited binaries affecting our understanding of differences of the post-colonial identity.

In your works, how do you set the mood and the tone?

When I’m coming up with a story line I like to look at what’s missing in history. Every time we represent something we alter it and slightly change it. I ask myself questions like what might have been understood at that time or what might have been hidden at that time. Why certain narratives are deemed as more important than others? Once I have a storyline with a precise shooting location in my head I create sketches of what I would want my model’s costume to look like then I work with a local designer to make these designs come to life. The costumes are very much integrated into the narrative so this part of the process takes the most time. When it comes to choosing my models, I like to work with women because my story can only be told through the eyes of African women.

This year, you became the first African to have won the Sony Award photographer of the year in the Open Competition for the best single, African Victorian image(Congratulations!!!!) What does such an achievement mean to you?

It feels wonderful and surreal. I feel a great deal of responsibility to continue telling truthful narratives about our culture. This win serves as a testament to the fact that more people are watching and listening and I am going to make the most of it. By using my culture as a vehicle through which I foreground the personal, the self and the collective, I will continue to highlight bodies that have been overlooked. Through portraiture I hope to show what we hope a future society, based on a critical understanding of our past, can look like. I’m trying to move the frame of photography to things it has excluded in the past.

Your winning image was featured on CNN International. How does it feel to be given such recognition?

It truly is an answered prayer. What I’ve come to realize is that God is a giver of dreams. When he puts a big dream in your heart don’t ignore it. It may take longer than you desire but character building is part of the process. Don’t get swallowed up by what’s around you. You might think that the limitations of where you live will hold you back but hold on to your dream and aspirations because that’s what’s going to get you on the other side.

What inspired the African Victorian?

I believe that to photograph is to frame and to frame is to exclude. I decided to look at excluded narratives, the narratives that you wouldn’t normally see in academic text books. There was no visual record for the narratives that we were told by our grandparents. In African culture, most things were not written down; they were spoken and as a result I would say that ‘African Victorian’ is a visual depiction of oral history. Furthermore, when I created this image I wanted to create a visual language that pays tribute to the contemporary being who is also rooted in history. I intentionally used African elements that had been filtered through a western medium. This symbolism illustrated an affiliation to a multifaceted identity. I also brought forward old century poses into the present as a way of allowing my model to assert her rightful place in history. African Victorian is an environmental portrait captured as a frozen moment from a series of images which explore a broader narrative. The idea behind the photo was to create a visual narrative about an individual and encourage a dialogue of who the individual is beyond their physical appearance. I wanted to create a short biography by incorporating real African elements. This vignette was further elaborated by the individual’s attire which is woven seamlessly into the larger context of her identity. I also incorporated a minimalistic scene in the background which allowed the African hut and the individual to become one with the frame. All these distinctive choices were part of the tale that establishes the mood and creates a backdrop for the narrative to begin.

Out of all your works, which image is your favourite and why do you love it?(Besides the African Victorian)

One of my other favourite images came from a series I did entitled Maintaining Memories. I loved this image in particular because it embodied my family story which I will be revisiting in future projects.

Do you have other passions besides photography? If so, what are they?

I love sculpture! It’s a discipline that I want to learn and perfect.

If you were to go back in time, which era would you love to visit and why?

I believe human history is commonly divided into three main eras – Ancient, Post-classical and Modern. I would have loved to visit the late modern period (1750- 1945) which encompassed the Victorian Era. I am extremely fascinated by the dynamic, elaborate fashion because the general dress etiquette translated as a form of armour, which is something I like to explore in my work.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Having become the first ever winner from Africa in the Sony Open Competition, in 5 years’ time, I see myself inspiring millions of people. I think it’s important to be fulfilled by your line of work and that’s why I’m working towards becoming a household name in the art industry. My top career goal is to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale.

 Can you leave us with an inspiring quote in three words?

Practice makes permanent


Tamary’s marvelous work is found on Instagram @africatotheworldzw and @tammysantiques 


By: Chido Kakora


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