Belinda Blignaut: On Exploding, Imploding, and Starting Over

 By Emma Alvarez Gibson

Belinda and I met on Twitter and bonded over old punk songs, science fiction, and the fact that we’re “tough chicks who are softies on the inside,” as she puts it. And then I got a look at her art and was blown away. Stark, raw, sometimes mocking, sometimes painful, it all retains an essential sort of feminine, musical spirit. It’s very, very good. And the world is, for the second time in Belinda’s life, taking notice.

Photo by Bo Duvenage

 

EAG: Tell me about how you got your start.

BB: I just started. I came from a really poor family. I didn’t study; I left home the first day I could, and just fell into art, not knowing what I was doing, but just knowing that I really wanted to do it. I was about 23, which is late to emerge, but young to have had the success that I had in the ‘90s—which terrified me. I was too young; and not having studied, I hadn’t had time to think, even, about what I was doing. So the first year I was really successful and booked my first solo, which was even more successful. And things kind of exploded, and I imploded. And I went into television for about 15 years. I did investigative journalism, social current affairs—in a way, all the same stuff that feeds my art. Content-wise, probably exactly the same. It’s just that art is a very different way of expressing my view of the world.

You say you imploded; what happened?

It was completely amazing. There were very few female artists in South Africa. Contemporary arts here haven’t actually been taken seriously. There’d been a recent suicide of a very amazing local South African artist because he thought he would never sell his work. He just thought, It’s a black hole. At that time the political situation was really tough, and art’s always been the thing we use to fight. I say we; I’m speaking about my generation and my circles of friends. Art’s been the one thing where we could have a voice. So I kind of emerged a little young; rude, cheeky, and kind of subtle in some ways. It was just the right thing at the right time. My shows sold out and I got international shows and there was just demand, from gallery and dealers, and connectors. And I was so fucking hardheaded and stubborn, and I just went no, no, I’ll do something else to earn money—I’m not going to put out ten of these works because ten people want them. So, I soon started in TV. I love television. It was great, so I carried on. And about four years ago I started moving back towards finding a place in art again, but independently. Without galleries or fellow artists all grabbing, pushing and pulling.

What precipitated the return to making art?

I got shot.

Oh, my God!

It’s life in South Africa. Though I know it’s violent everywhere. I was just finishing a documentary and I got home late. I undid my gate. The motor on it wasn’t working, so I had to get out to manually open it. And two guys, obviously from one of the gangs [shot me]. I got shot, and all they did was take the stuff out of my car. I was living in Johannesburg at the time and I decided to get out—fuck it. It was obviously a really intense experience, and I thought, I’m now going to change every single thing to move closer to where I actually want my life to be. So I did. I left Joburg and went back to the coast. My one promise that I made myself was that I would return to art, which I’d desperately been wanting to do. I was at that point so far removed from the art world, and the politics of the art world, that to even think of starting to network back into that felt miles away. And it’s taken a long time, like three years.

An experience like that obviously changes your life.

Completely changes your life. But it’s not necessarily in a bad way. Even though it’s a bad thing. It can bring about a lot of good changes.

In a very real way, that’s what an artist does, though, isn’t it? You take an experience, and you sublimate it, and you present the world with something else altogether.

Exactly. Yes.

What was the first thing you did after you moved back and thought, well, okay, now I’ve got to start this upward climb all over again?

My old art dealer had left Joburg long ago and he lived in the same town as my mum. It’s a tiny little coastal town. He’d always said to my mum, “Tell her just to move here and come and work.” So I thought, Okay, cool, I’ll take the opportunity to make the move. At least it was some sort of job closer to the art world. So I did that. But the small town gallery didn’t really work, so I moved closer to Cape Town. Cape Town and Johannesburg are the largest cities in South Africa, so it made sense.

How do you juggle everything you’re doing? It’s the age-old question for women, right?

I don’t know! I can’t answer that. I just keep going. Sometimes one day at a time. Sometimes [I’m] a puddle of tears. Sometimes when I have a child-free night I just go and dance for a night and that kind of fuels me for a month or so. And my friends. Fuck, my friends. A large reason why I get by, just the most amazing people in my life. Also, I’m a single mum. I’ve just come out of a five-year relationship, like a month ago. I’ve always been a single mum. I was never really with my kid’s dad. It’s always been me and him. And it’s made it difficult for relationships. I think it’s really hard for people. So, I had a relationship for the last five years, which just wasn’t happy anymore. Now I just want to raise my kid and not focus too much on other stuff. Kid and career, I think, is enough.

It’s a lot. Either one by itself can be all-encompassing.

This [motherhood] experience of something so unconditional—unconditional love—has for me been the most mind-blowing. It softens one.

Which is hard for tough chicks who are softies on the inside!

I know! You can’t actually help those fucking tears anymore.

[We move on to the topic of Twitter.]

It’s so weird how much you know about each other through Twitter. I mean you could probably write this whole interview with me just from what you know on Twitter and it would probably be totally accurate.

How long have you been on?

A year. My brother eventually forced me. I’ve made contact with projects and people…it’s been so amazing. Twitter’s just fucking fantastic.

It strips away most of the bullshit and everybody’s equal.

You strip away all the physical and material shit. It’s been really, really fantastic.

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For more on Belinda’s work, check out belinda.co.za

 

 

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