The Portfolio: Phumlani Pikoli

There’s something to be said about how our interests affect the way that we view the world. The moment I started skating as a kid, something changed in the way I looked at buildings, streets, ledges, railings, stairs, pipes and even pavements. I couldn’t look at anything without imagining trying to skate it.

I imagine that photographers and videographers feel the same thing when they walk the planet. There’s an obsessive streak for the need to capture and create, and for street artists to add colour to. My writing process falls under the obsession side of things.

I’m never not writing and often am lost in one story or another even when I’m interacting with people, watching series or making something that doesn’t look like it’s related to writing in any way. My stories eat me from the inside out and, by the time I’m sitting down to write any of them, it’s been a long time coming. They start as tiny fractures of glass underfoot, constantly pricking while remaining invisible to the eye. Then they grow into larger chunks, ready to be placed. Often, they’ll haunt my showers, falling through the steamed rivulets and clearing the path for themselves to be written. By the time I get to the desk, it’s already been decided which medium I’ll be writing in.

My computer is used to writing well-formulated ideas that I can share almost immediately once I’ve finished. It’s where I can feel everything that my characters are going through and can commiserate with them if need be. This is where the black words go to work on a white screen, waiting to absorb and take credit for my imagination.

The stories that aren’t guided by my handwriting are ideas that have been so patient that they can no longer wait and almost get sent as emails, wanting to skip the document phase of their existence. They want their time of day and they want it right there and then.


If my hand needs to do the work, it means that it’s all still rather playful and juvenile. That I’m still being asked questions of my character formations. That they’ve only come for a visit and not to stay, to keep me aware that they’re inside me and will need to leave and walk about at some point. My hand with paper and pen allows me to still enjoy the idea of telling a story that has yet to come of age, reminding me of the smell of wooden school desks covered in profanities we were still learning how to use appropriately. The pen and paper are often opportunities for me to still read aloud these unripe ideas and accept the critical thoughts of others. Like school, this is still when they are learning how to get along with others. The process of writing in solitude is still puzzling. How am I alone when I have so many people inside me? What better way to get them out?

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Phumlani Pikoli
Phumlani Pikoli is a multidisciplinary artist. He had his multi-sensory exhibition with the British Council in South Africa and Tmrw Mixed Reality Workshop, based on his acclaimed debut collection of short stories, The Fatuous State of Severity In January 2020. His debut novel Born Freeloaders was released in 2019 and published by Pan Macmillan.

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