Zana Masombuka On Creating And Becoming Ndebele Superhero

A superhero is defined as “a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers” according to Merriam Webster. While Marvel gave us the likes of Black Panther and Thor, Zana Masombuka created “Ndebele Superhero” in 2017.

Zana is a Johannesburg based, freelance creative director, originally from Siyabuswa, KwaNdebele. Her heritage is the foundation to her work, and the lack of representation of Ndebele people in 21st century society spurned her creation of “Ndebele Superhero.”

“Ndebele Superhero” at Afropunk JHB 2017

The first Afropunk festival in Africa was where Zana formally introduced Ndebele Superhero to the world. However, Zana has been creating for years before Afropunk’s rainy Day 1. As a child, she explored different art forms to express herself. She started drawing, as most children do at young ages, then met her love for fashion years later. After the untimely passing of her oldest sister, poetry became her another medium of expression. Dancing and drama came next, she explains; but none of these forms ever stuck.

“None of it ever felt like my own. I was good at all of it, but it didn’t feel like purpose,” she explains. However her knack for poetry definitely stuck, as she uses child birth as a metaphor for her current creative process. In 2015, during her first year at Stellenbosch University, donning the role of ‘Creative Director’ gave everything about art creation a new sense of meaning.

Storytelling has always been her primary aim, and through a blend of intentional creative direction and visual art, she has been able to achieve that.

The impact of collaboration

“At the center of all that you create as an artist, there needs to be you,” Zana says when asked about how her interests made her the creative director she is today. In South Africa’s social media space, while digital has secured opportunities for some creative artists through “support culture”, it has also barred many from the “creative” discourse.

While she believes that getting a fresh pair of eyes on a particular project is beneficial, she goes on to explain that, “There’s a lot of conflict that arises when you work with someone else who might not get whatever it is that you’re trying to do.” Zana’s advice for creators who find themselves in situations where creative relationships/alliances have soured is to “let go”.

“I’ve learned to let go of the project because holding on to [it] only stifles my process.” Unfortunately, the reality is that some collaborations will be disappointments; but even that is a learning point. Taking the lesson is something that Zana has learned to do over the years, and implementing the lesson in future projects is always the saving grace.

The convergence of creative energies

ndebele superhero

Zana Masombuka pictured with her father after a photo shoot

Working with anyone is equally about uniting resources and skills to whether participants can get along. There are fans who would love to see their favorite artists work on a project together; but if their energies aren’t complimentary, it’s probably best they don’t. In general, Zana’s approach to working with people has been about determining whether they were each skilled in the practical part of producing the project, and whether their energies aligned enough.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be born into a family where you’re ‘being-ness’ is enough.” This type of childhood groomed her into believing in herself wholeheartedly. With this in mind, Zana doesn’t feel threatened by other energies because she wholly understands her own.  In an environment where aesthetic uniformity is so rife in digital art spaces, this is powerful.

South Africa’s creative arts community is fickle, to say the least, but Zana has been consistent in her search for a story. “Ndebele Superhero” is no different. As a Ndebele womxn, her interpretations of the world around her will differ to those of a Zulu or French womxn. For this reason “Ndebele Superhero is about telling the stories of the past, present, and the re-imagination of the future,” from a 21st century, Ndebele girl’s perspective.

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