Audemars Piguet

Tony Gum Breaks Out of Her Comfort Zone

The Cape-Town-based photographer and multimedia artist draws inspiration from South African society, in particular from the Xhosa minority and the female icons of pop culture.
Reading time 4 minutes
Linen dress, Sonia Rykiel; jewelery, Pichulik: "Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet" watch Automatic, 18-carat pink gold, 41 mm, Audemars Piguet.

Photography by Joshua Aronson

Styling by Mumbi O’Brien

You found yourself in the world of art while you were still a film student: How did that happen?

I entered this world early enough and it all happened so naturally as to make me believe that there was a hand of divine force. Furthermore, I reached this point not only thanks to my work, but also to the efforts of my parents and the community I come from: everyone encouraged me and made sure that a black girl succeeded in her purpose.


You currently have an artistic residence at The Fountainhead, in Miami. Is the city conducive to creative work?

Miami has inspired me a lot in recent weeks. It reminds me of my home and Cape Town, especially for its natural landscapes—with that lush vegetation and the ocean. The project I'm working on is about the relationship between me and my cat; it is a thorough research on this relationship and on the pain it brings, the suffering we experience as human beings. I'm trying to experiment and get out of my "comfort zone", photography. I impose the challenge of working with different means, but always according to my personal imperative: to continuously learn and discover.


You are 24. Are you proud to have become a model for young South African artists?

It means a lot to me. When I became a little older, I moved from the Langa to the residential suburb of Pinelands and my lifestyle, my psyche and my thoughts as a black girl at the time were extremely chaotic. Working with young people is particularly important for me; the Lalela organization, for example, helps children in precarious situations to find activities, to develop their spirit of initiative and their artistic side. We all have a specific voice and a story to tell and it is important to encourage children in this sense from an early age.


What is your relationship with social media?

My artistic career started on social media. I posted many images on Instagram, such as "Black Coca-Cola", a self-portrait from 2014. The ability to interact with the whole world was very important to me. These tools facilitate the exploration of the art scene, communication, resource search, and networking. In this way, collaborating with other people becomes easy. I also like to disconnect in my spare time, although it can be risky. Artists must know how to use virtual spaces and platforms responsibly because they represent the future and the present. They are fundamental tools for communicating with people.


You make frequent references to Frida Kahlo. Why?

I was fifteen when I first saw her paintings; initially, I was struck by her charisma and her physique and then I appreciated that crazy force that emanated from her as a woman. The way in which she claims her own culture has left a deep mark on me. Considering the era and the context in which she lived, her works are radical. One day she picked up a brush and said: "I will paint myself because it is what I know best". I very much appreciate the fact that she took charge of her vulnerability and that she was able to tell her story in a conscious way. You need to be able to share the intimate, the most hidden corners of your unconscious, the details of your life—even if it's not always elegant, clean and pleasant.


What is your biggest aspiration?

Return to my roots. Last year I faced many difficulties. I realized that I had to reduce everything I was working on, that I had to concentrate completely on myself. This has changed my perspective, my ambitions regarding career, my life and the future. I want to make sure I am really happy because, after all, if you are not satisfied, if you deprive yourself of the necessary "nourishment" for the psyche, that does not matter.

Cotton dress, Silvia Tcherassi; jewelry, Pichulik; watch “Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet” Automatic, in 18-carat pink gold, 41 mm, Audemars Piguet.

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