In the bag: Artist Cinthia Sifa Mulanga, Gucci and Princess Diana

Multiple and layered stories, sultry and sensual poses inspired by women — African women created by painter, Cinthia Sifa Mulanga. In 2022, at a time when the creative sector in South Africa faces its own challenges, the young Congolese-born, South African-based artist, Cinthia Sifa Mulanga is breaking boundaries and becoming an icon on her own terms. 

In the streets, Mulanga, would be described as “dangerous” for taking on such monumental tasks and carving out a space for herself.

At only 25, Mulanga is one of the artists tapped by luxury Italian fashion brand Gucci to create an artwork inspired by its latest range of bags. She was tasked with interpreting the Diana tote, in tribute to the late princess of Wales. 

Mulanga, 25, is posed and softly spoken, and her subdued nature is strongly emphasised in the artwork she produced. One could almost liken her collaboration with Gucci to a continuation of a conversation between friends, in two different countries, taking a step into the unknown. 

Sharing a moment of reflection on what it means to continue Diana’s legacy, Mulanga says, “I am still processing things as they come.” She describes working with Gucci as a family initiative, in which her mother, older sister, actively participated in co-creating the artwork. 

In a way, this was a full-circle moment for Mulanga, because it had much to do with her upbringing in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa. In the art world, the France-based art platform, Artskop, named Mulanga as one of the three artists to look out for at the International Cape Town Art Fair this year. 

Given her growing stature, it is no surprise that Gucci collaborated with her to bring the Diana Bag to life again, through contemporary art. Mulanga soared to international success during the dark days of lockdown, from her home studio. She is a young woman with plans to create a unique narrative for black women of all shades, shapes, sizes and preferences.

 Her repertoire consists of artworks featuring women who are exposed, nuanced and complex; she immerses most of her subjects in familiar, familial contexts, common to many black women in their own safe spaces. Mulanga has made many black women feel seen with this collaboration.

 She is represented by Latitudes Online, an arts platform, founded by women, and is in the hands of curators, who understand the value of her pieces as well as how fickle the visual art space can be for a young artist. The relationship is built on trust, friendship and care, all of the qualities that Mulanga suggests in the work she produced for Gucci a couple of months ago. 

The process of producing an artwork took several feedback sessions with the brand’s team, based in Europe and one can only imagine the pressures that ensue as time goes on.

However Mulanga speaks of a concerted effort from Latitudes, Gucci and her family, in particular, to help her feel comfortable with her ideas; partnering with her to render a piece unique to her history and story. 

The title of the piece Mulanga created in tribute to Diana and Gucci’s Diana bag is Moment. As a commission, the artwork’s value is on par with the works, Mulanga has sold worldwide, rating her one of the most sought-after artists on the continent right now. 

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