AP Art of the Week

Spotlight on Artist Maisha Nganga

Welcome to The Elective’s digital art museum, dedicated to the incredible work of AP Arts students. This week we feature a photograph made by Maisha Nganga from American International School of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa.

Welcome to The Elective’s digital art museum, dedicated to the incredible work of AP Arts students. Each week we highlight a work or series created in one of the AP Arts concentrationsAP 2-D Art and Design, 3-D Art and Design, and AP Drawing (the AP Program also offers Art History and Music Theory)—as well as a statement from the artist (and, occasionally, their teacher).

From the first cave paintings to contemporary breakthroughs in virtually reality, art, in all its forms, has been a crucial way for people to process, make sense of, comment on, and grapple with the world around them. After more than a year of life in a pandemic, AP Art students have risen to the challenge of processing and making sense of the challenges—and opportunities—that have come from this perilous time. The work they submitted in their final portfolios is explicitly of the moment. It’s often challenging and provocative, but always insightful, inspiring, and expansive.

This week we feature a photograph made by Maisha Nganga from American International School of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa

Photo of a young woman, her arms covering her face so only her eyes are visible, with bandaids on her arms with epithets about her hair written on them

Here's Maisha's statement on the work:

"A large part of my sustained investigation was about exploring racism from a personal perspective. I wanted to create a final piece of work that displayed a black woman blocking away all of the pain (with regards to skin tone discrimination, body image etc.) as well as highlighting her beauty behind it all.

"I took a lot of inspiration from my own life and everything that has been going on in the world with regards to the Black Lives Matter movement. I started the year wanting to create beautiful art, but art that makes a statement about the harsh political climate we are currently living in.

"The process of the photoshoot involved a lot of revision. I first placed the band-aids on my sister's face and took a few photos of her in various positions, but transferring the band-aids to her arms required a lot of care and precision that I didn’t anticipate in my planning process. It took a lot to get the correct lighting and poses I had envisioned.

"I used my sister as a model, bandaids and a black permanent marker as my materials. The process involved a lot of lighting adjustments and the idea came from trying to display that there is beauty behind all pain. As well as showing that it takes black women an incredible amount of strength and resilience to overcome the pain they receive from society on a daily basis.

"I learned that very few projects go 100% according to plan, there will always be revision no matter how meticulously you have been planning."

Process shots of photos with bandaids on models arms and face

Here’s Maisha’s teacher Heidi Mouret on Maisha’s work:

“I'm incredibly fortunate to have a small AP class, so I'm able to have proper in-depth discussions with individual students often.

“Although the students work at their own pace, we have regular check-ins, and I really enjoy it when students are able to run critiques informally amongst themselves. I can also set up the studio space in whatever way suits individual student needs, and my students document their thinking processes throughout the year. I teach at a school where students are very diverse and I like to begin the AP year with students creating visual brainstorms that explore their own culture, their heritage, their identity. We look at artworks and that they find inspirational and we search for topics that spark a strong reaction. We take a long time going over these starting points to find possible ideas for sustained investigations. Maisha was quite clear from the beginning that she wanted to somehow address Black Lives Matter and racial injustices that at the time we were seeing heavily reported in the news from America. Her work evolved into a very personal portfolio of pieces that engaged with the colorism and racism she personally has experienced.

“She has an intense love and appreciation for a twin sister who luckily agreed to model for much of her preparatory studies. Maisha was always game to try different techniques and she planned with great care as can be seen in her workbook. In this artwork, Maisha photographed her sister posed staring directly at the viewer while her forearms covered with band-aids shield much of her face from each word. word phrase written on the band-aids is something Maisha personally had addressed to her, some from way back in elementary school, yet still unforgotten and still hurtful. The contact page for this particular photoshoot is large and it speaks to how she experimented, repositioned, and tweaked her model that lighting the props and the band-aids to achieve exactly what she was looking for.

“When I think back to the time when she was working on this, I remember her excitement and enthusiasm and seeing her final images. She planned for it really very well and then she had a lot of fun taking photographs and I was really pleased with her maturity and engaging with her subject matter and the courage it took to speak visually from her heart. I was also pleased with the lengthy discussions her work evokes both within the AP class and also among non-AP students. Very well done Maisha.”

And here are a few other works from Maisha’s portfolio:

Photo of a young woman with bandaids on her face with body image epithets written on them

Photographed sister with intense stare, emphasizing the emotion behind the photograph.

Painting of an old woman against a burnt orange background, on left, looking at a young woman against a blue background with a white bar between them

Two portrait paintings of my proud mother looking down in pride as on her daughter embraces herself

Black and white illustration of a face with epithets writing in the background

Drew sister using positive words inside her face and negative words around her. Text creates value.

Student and teacher statements are lightly edited for length and clarity.