Manyaku Mashilo’s work encompasses mixed media painting, drawing, and collage, with a focus on themes like spiritual identity, memory, ancestry, community, and belonging. Mashilo gets inspiration from photographic archives and creates visual stories that depict imaginary characters migrating through fantastical worlds and engaging in rituals of shared belief.
One of the defining aspects of Manyaku’s art is her portraits. These portraits show the lives and stories of the subjects in a sentimental way. The people shown in her works are a mix of her friends, chosen family, and individuals who have made an impact in her life.
She also includes people she has never met but who have influenced her in various ways. Through her art, she aims to provide an accurate representation of their lineage, ancestry, and spiritual connection to their origins.
Her artistic process started with paper-based drawings and has now transitioned to painting with mixed media on canvas, which allows for more freedom in terms of space and durability.
By using existing photography from the past, including works by black South African photographers from the 1930s to 1950s, as well as personal and friends family archives, Manyaku pieces together memories and emotions to create a layered and detailed artwork. She employs striking colours and textures to tell different stories and movements.
For her, becoming an artist was a liberating experience. She felt alienated and lacked confidence in her identity while working in institutions that did not represent people who looked like her or provided opportunities to imagine futures rooted in her traditions and environments.
Each time she left these institutions and embraced what felt like home, she experienced an in-awe moment that led her to pursue art. Through her work, she aims to challenge the constraints imposed on her and give voice to her own narratives.