/ 6 May 2022

Nomaza Nongqunga Coupez shines the artists’ light in France

©m.chatonnier Lulama Allday V3 104
Opportunity: Nomaza Nongqunga Coupez, the founder of Undiscovered Canvas, welcomes Lulama Wolf (above right) to the Undiscovered Canvas Art Residency. (Mathieu Chatonnier/Undiscovered Canvas)

Lulama Wolf is a young creative whose eyes are set on conquering the visual arts scene with her figurative interpretations of black expressionism. 

In her first solo show in London, in February this year, Wolf presented work created to illustrate the depth of her heritage and familial connections. 

This step was the brainchild of Undiscovered Canvas founder Nomaza Nongqunga Coupez, who started the Undiscovered Canvas Art Residency in 2019 in the French city of Antibes. 

Nongqunga Coupez welcomed artists from South Africa to tap into their artistic genius. The residency emphasises the importance of self-care and advocates for artists to take time to learn how to balance work and restoration. 

The first recipient of the residency was Giggs Kgole, who spent six months in France learning about the history of ceramic design, art and building networks in the European market. Nongqunga Coupez invited Wolf into the fold this year and the Makwande Artist Residency took shape.

Makwande was established as a nonprofit organisation in France focusing on the emerging contemporary art scene. It supports emerging African female artists in establishing their work on an international scale. 

“I realised how limiting it was to run the residency under a private company. Raising funds was not easy and the residency only catered for artists by Undiscovered Canvas,” Nongqunga Coupez said.

The south of France is revered for its luxurious lifestyle and lending to this idea of invoking her ancestry, Wolf collaborated with Undiscovered Canvas to serve a greater purpose beyond her fashion background.

Inspired by the landscapes of the French Riviera and remembering the essence of the maternal intellect and indigenous histories, she wove this knowledge into her paintings. As a culmination of her time in Antibes, Wolf named her exhibition Ndizalwa Nge Ngubo eMhlophe (I Was Born Wrapped In a White Blanket).

The collection was an example of black women-owned businesses crafting a centre for partnerships to take place, bolstering the notion of black female brilliance. 

“I realised that my vision for the residency was changing. I no longer wanted to cater for Undiscovered Canvas artists only, but I wanted to work with female artists across the African continent. I wanted to create a powerful community of women artists, collectors, gallerists, investors who would consciously support each other.”

Makwande Artist Residency is the big sister to Undiscovered Canvas Artist Residency, a place for artistic respite, inspiration and enlightenment. 

As the founder of the residency and after five years of running Undiscovered Canvas, Nongqunga Coupez resists the temptation of answering the call to create a similar space in South Africa, where she was born and raised. 

“I am based in France for the past 12 years, and I have been running Undiscovered Canvas (promoting global investment in and profiling of African Art). My strongest impact has been to identify young and emerging artists from Southern Africa and introduce them directly into a mature market,” she said. 

The south of France was a space of imagination and creativity for Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and many more. They journeyed to the area for the “light of the south of France”.

The Undiscovered Canvas Art Residency in Antibes on the French Riviera. (Soshiro Gallery)

As a biomedical technology graduate from the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, Nongqunga Coupez worked for laboratories and pharmaceutical companies before going to France. 

When she arrived in France in 2009, she had the opportunity to discover who she really was. 

Her journey from South Africa to France was important to her growth in the visual arts arena. She said she was not in survival mode but she had time to ask herself the important question about her purpose in life.

In discovering her passion, her attraction to the visual arts became clearer when she lived in a village called Gordes in the south of France. Here she delved into a mixture of culturally nuanced tastes and objects coming from all over the world. 

She realised quickly that the artists were mostly European, Asian, Mexican, American and Australian, but few were African. This moulded a desire in Nongqunga Coupez to insert herself in the story of the artistic brilliance on the French Riviera.

This journey of self-discovery gave birth to Undiscovered Canvas. 

On May 1, Undiscovered Canvas welcomed its third artist-in-residence, Lesego Seoketsa, through the Makwande Artist Residency.

Makwande in isiXhosa means “Let there be light”. And surely, Makwande!