Insider Look: An Afternoon in Cape Town with Tony Gum
It’s a gorgeous day in Cape Town. The sun is making the sidewalks shimmer, and the afternoon is brimming with vitality. It’s one of those days that makes you thankful to be alive, black, young, and creative. Tony Gum, an acclaimed artist from Cape Town, has invited me to the studio where she’ll be shooting part II of her ‘Milked In Africa’ series– a collection of three self-portraits that brilliantly intersect history, politics and African womanhood.
When I arrive at the studio, Tony’s small body, from her hairline to her waist, is completely covered in streaks of thick green paint. (She draws inspiration from Tretchikoff’s women). Her breasts are painted a stark yellow that perfectly complements her lips coated in matte red lipstick. She’s just finished shooting the second photograph in the collection which included a taxidermic springbok. Yet, she welcomes me with a large smile, and asks me to “do [her] a huge favour” by taking a photo on her film camera. Even when posing for a simple shot on her 35mm, or on an iPhone, it’s obvious that Tony is at once a performer and her own greatest muse.
We have lunch in the studio along with her cousin and friend, who are both assisting on the shoot. Right before Tony gets back to work, to take the final photograph in the series, she excitedly suggests I put on “those trap songs” I’d played for her when we’d met up a few days before. Tony, like any other 21 year old, loves to turn up, but she’ll be the first to admit that she doesn’t know the particular names of any of “those trap songs” – an old lady, she calls herself.
Throughout the afternoon, she works diligently, quietly, carefully, taking her time to consider every aspect of her self-portraits; the portraits that have taken her to Miami Pulse Art Fair, and 1:54 New York, and sold out instantly. Yet, surprisingly, even in her most creative moments, such as when shooting for an upcoming solo exhibition at her resident gallery, Christopher Moller, Tony is eager to consider the suggestions of the people around her. It’s both flattering, and baffling, that at certain points in the afternoon, she turns to me, and asks: “so what do you think?”
Despite this, Tony is the sort of girl who knows exactly what she wants. She is extremely precise. (Her cousin, Saku, affectionately calls her “the diva”). However, it doesn’t bother her though. As an artist, her greatest task is bringing her sketches (which are minimal and accompanied with poetic vignettes) to life. “But sometimes”, she tells me, over drinks that evening, “the final product comes out much better than I anticipate.”