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Joburg-based artist collaborates with Gucci as they commemorate the iconic Diana tote bag

Cinthia Sifa Mulanga with one of her Moment pieces which features the Gucci Diana tote bag. Supplied image.

Cinthia Sifa Mulanga with one of her Moment pieces which features the Gucci Diana tote bag. Supplied image.

Published Apr 23, 2022

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Johannesburg - Fashion and art are once again set to merge as Johannesburg-based artist Cinthia Sifa Mulanga has been chosen by Gucci to create artwork in celebration of the Italian fashion house’s iconic Diana tote bag.

First introduced in 1991, the bag was popularised by and later named after Diana, Princess of Wales.

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The original design over three decades ago already featured sleek and bold elements but now Mulanga has been commissioned by the internationally renowned fashion label to give the quintessential and now notorious 90s tote bag a modern twist through her art.

The artist, who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and rose to prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic, admitted that she was initially shocked at Gucci’s invitation to be featured in their latest campaign, but she is up for this exciting challenge.

“It has definitely been surprising and I was really taken aback,” the 25-year-old said.

"I’m only now digesting what has happened and starting to understand the impact of my work and how different it is.”

Johannesburg-based artist Cinthia Sifa Mulanga. Supplied image.

While Mulanga is relatively new to the international art scene, interest in her work skyrocketed during the global health crisis as her pieces were featured by her agency Latitudes Online, an online curated marketplace for contemporary art from Africa.

Her determination to redefine the notion of beauty as well as her signature paintings of female subjects trapped in interior spaces resonated with art enthusiasts during an era of isolation and confinement as the world battled the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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"My work explores beauty constructs as well as their psychological and physical impact on African women through the search for my own identity as a Congolese young woman, raised in South Africa,” she told Latitudes Online.

“I create moments within domestic spaces by using different mediums such as acrylic with oil paint, charcoal, ink, collage from personal photographs, fabric, history books, newspapers and magazines.”

But as lockdown measures meant the cancellation of live exhibitions, fairs and gatherings, Mulanga used the time to create artwork which spoke to the sentiments of the times, something that women in particular could relate to.

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Her work has now been acknowledged by the likes of Gucci as they look to commemorate the iconic Diana tote bag.

The collaborative process between Mulanga and the international fashion house has since resulted in many versions of the bag’s design being sent back and forth between Johannesburg and Milan.

This has resulted in Mulanga creating a new series of artwork titled Moment.

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The female-centric series is populated by black women and collaged images of representations of them as well as her representation of the Gucci tote bag.

Cinthia Sifa Mulanga with one of her Moment pieces which features the Gucci Diana tote bag. Supplied image.

This was an important theme for the African artist as she looks to drive a focused engagement with black female identity and ideals of beauty as depicted in popular culture and Western art.

And her collaboration with Gucci provides her with an international platform to redefine ideals around femininity, race and beauty.

This is as her artwork often provides the sense that her female subjects are in a waiting room, biding their time until they are granted entry into a painting or portrait.

Her Moment series also features the use of perspective and the visual planes and windows she introduces through the use of other images, collaged or painted, which decorate the interior spaces that form the backdrop in her works, bringing to mind early Renaissance painting and portraiture.

While Mulanga admits that her work is influenced by art from this era, she is determined to redefine how female subjects have been portrayed in Western art.

She is also intent on including black women in her artwork as she hopes to create a narrative for black subjectivity and the ideals of beauty.

“The (traditional) Barbie doll was my primary (point of) reference and growing up there were few references of black women, so we had no role models to look up to that allowed us to feel beautiful.”

“I wasn’t able to see someone in popular culture that looked like me and it made me aware that more black women needed to be represented.”

She added that she was interested in how black women try to be beautiful or what measures are used to determine this, whether it is through their hair or the tone of their skin.

Mulanga is interested in exploring the different layers informing constructs of beauty.

“It is used to defend the fantasies of men, but it is also determined by women – they often look down on each other.”

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Luxury fashionArtists

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