Spotlight on young artist Tony Gum

Last weekend saw artists, curators, creatives and art lovers from across Africa gather for the 2015 FNB Joburg Art Fair, and Tony Gum caught everyone’s attention

The event featured over fifty exhibitors from seven countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.

One of the youngest exhibitors was the 20-year-old Cape Town-born creative who was also the official face of the fair – Zipho Gum.

Gum is affectionately known as ‘Tony Gum’ by her peers and the online world and was recently dubbed “the coolest girl in Cape Town” by Vogue UK. She uses her Instagram feed as her gallery to reach out to big corporate brands like Coca-Cola and Adidas to encourage dialogue about race, women, art and pop culture.

Last weekend she had her first solo exhibition at the art fair under the Christopher Moller Gallery. Moller was amazed by Tony’s work and approached her to exhibit at the show.

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Flower girl/ Tony Gum/ Sibahle Magazine

Gum, who is currently a first-year film and production student at CPUT (the Cape Peninsula University of Technology), began her career as a blogger and over the years discovered her love of art, photography and film before transitioning into a visual artist, vlogger, model and occasional brand ambassador.

Gum references American film producer and director Wes Anderson in her work. She fuses fashion and film, while a greater part of her work is more closely allied aestheically as much as ideologically to pop culture and Africa as a whole.

“My work revolves around Africa, its people, the culture, African identity, the way people live and do things. I relate to. For example, a person can carry a child on their back, and you’re not only going to see it in South Africa, but in the rest Africa too,” she says.

In her ‘Coca-Cola Series’, as seen on her Instagram account, Gum re-imagines the brand with an array of projected identities, ranging from the matriarch in traditional Xhosa costume to the West End Playboy Bunny, marking a newly minted ironic and playful take on the ubiquitous and morbid preoccupation with identity politics.

“In Gum’s case it is the fusion of the African exotic, the ethnic traditional, the Afropolitan urban chic, and the iconic Bunny Girl which allows for a new framework, or prism, through which to see contemporary African art,” explains Moller.

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Tony Gum/ Black Cola-Cola

“Tony Gum seems to have freed herself from a history of oppression – be it racial, cultural, or sexual – and, seemingly single-handedly, recreated herself as a mercurial aesthetic intelligence,” he adds.

Tony defines herself as an “artist in learning”.

“I want to tell young people to continue doing what they do. There’s no need to be angry, I am not trying to fight anyone, I’m trying to do me – there’s nothing wrong with being proud of who you are. It is important, when it comes to your indentity, to take ownership of your country and the resources available to you,” she says.

When asked about her future projects, Tony excitedly shares that she’s looking forward to collaborating with other African artists. “I’m keen to collaborate with underground artists from Africa, and people need to start investing in young people because they are the future.”

Follow Tony Gum on Instagram at Tony Gum / Christopher Moller Gallery