The art of Inka Kendzia: Storytelling and world-making, in abstraction and of immersion


By Mamelodi Marakalala

“I am a visual artist playing in many fields and flowing between many industries,” says Inka Kendzia. Inka Kendzia’s artistic practice is a play in the fields of visualisation, direction, projection, and illustration. It also flows between industries of visual arts, film, animation, motion design, and extended reality. 

With much international acclaim, her art practice is grounded in collaboration with numerous artists, creatives, people and organisations from across the globe whose wonderful work she does not hesitate to show admiration and respect for. Kendzia acknowledges and values their contributions at every turn while reflecting on her career and talking about the larger-than-life works discussed in this article. 

“My work is based on different elements of the world and various journeys in life, which we know is so vast. We encounter many things but also we extend ourselves and our inner thoughts. It’s really about building experiences and connections, getting in touch with what’s beyond us, and creating or being in spaces of healing. I love working with light, which does wonders with visualising our interconnectedness with nature and revealing our shared humanity,” says Kendzia.  


Every piece of art is trusted to tell a story with cultural weight and a significant impact. Inka Kendzia’s artistic skills can be counted on to bring a story to life, through captivating arrangements. She is responsible for the visual effects in The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016) directed by Ron Howard. Her work on the film brought on the animation in the typographic elements we see on screen, the delivery of the infographics, the movements of the band’s photographs, as well as the emotive shifts from one moment to the next. 

Kendzia says, “It was such a humbling experience and an honour to have worked on this film. What was impactful was not making it about the motion design, not allowing the technique to be distracting, but about bringing a story to life from the various images in their archive and giving people an experience of those times. The Beatles were so well-documented, that there were even some photographs that I had never seen before. So it was incredible to engage with their history knowing part of it and learning more about them.”

The film was meant to present the evolution of The Beatles’ music career and scenes from their tours that took place in the 1960s. A fan of the band herself, Kendzia encapsulated the aura of the spectacle through her mode of storytelling that reflects on The Beatles during their time in music history and affords the audience a better introduction to or refamiliarisation with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as part of that unit. Each frame is stitched together with the apparent consideration of the band’s timelessness and the transitions have a sense of the whirl of their celebrated history. 


Every story that Kendzia tells must be located in some geography and history, rooted in a culture and inhabited by explicable characters. Considering the intent and purpose of live music, Kendzia’s art has the ability to turn locations into fulfilling adventures. Her creation of live visuals has the quality of world-building – the making of worlds people can escape to for a few hours to be surrounded by, connected to, and engaged in their favourite music and with/within their community. Kendzia was the creator and director of the live visuals for the award-winning and internationally acclaimed DJ Black Coffee’s Music Is King show from 2019. 

Viewing stills from the show, it’s easy to imagine being in that space with streams of lights flickering in rapid motion to create different shapes. With beams landing on the audience’s faces, music blasting, the crowd enchanted and cheering, and music history being made. She says, “The visuals were meant to create an experience for people that was unforgettable and had a sense of community. The way the lights moved and landed on people’s bodies and the projections and terrain were made to give people a sense of being part of the show, as if on the stage with Black Coffee and everyone who performed in the show.”

In abstraction 

Abstract art has moved away from giving us a precise representation of the reality we see and, in doing so, moves us closer to ideologies and beliefs that are often founded in realms we can only imagine. In the African context, abstract art has offered visual imaginings of the spirituality and heritage that make up many of the cultures but cannot be reached ordinarily through sense. 

The Chosi Chosi (2021) video that was projected at the Church of Saint-Eustache in Paris, as part of the NEWIMAGES Festival, is an example of this. This multi-media work presents the spoken word and poem by Xabiso Vili as well as the direction, visualisation, 2D animation, compositing, creative production, and projection by Inka Kendzia, along with Jason Stapleton’s data processing, Elise Wessels’ illustration and frame-by-frame animation, Faith XLVII’s additional artwork, and Yoyouno’s music. It contains imagery and symbols inspired by iintsomi (isiXhosa for “African folktales”) and occupying that space of abstraction created by African knowledge systems, modes of thinking and storytelling. 

Some of the imagery in Chosi Chosi is the portrait of an elderly woman smoking a pipe with the galaxy in the background, the presence of natural elements like wild animals and trees, the ghostly figuration of a man rotating clockwise with a compass on the torso, and one vibrantly coloured imagery resembling those stained glass windows often seen on churches featuring symbols such as African traditional masks, the sun, fire flames, doves, the tree of life and the side of the globe showing Africa. 

Kwasukasukela (2023), which is isiZulu for “In the Beginning”,  is a series of abstract immersive and digital artworks by Kendzia and Vili, and following the poems of Belita Andre, Nomashenge Dlamini, Modise Sekgothe, and Xabiso Vili. The body of work is an embodiment of African spiritual deities reimagined through contemporary mediums and positioned in contemporary Africa. One of the artworks portrays one such being’s head with a star on the forehead and a starry outer space path coming out from its mouth as a few planetary bodies, each with a human figuration on it, orbit in the space. The elements, arrangements, and even the artistic process tell a bigger story that would perhaps not be as properly articulated through representational works or singular mediums.  

“The four poets delved deep into researching myths from across Africa to begin creating the works for Kwasukasukela, bringing them to life with their words. We wanted to bring in everyone’s story and perspective, being very careful with the narratives and very respectful of the heritage. We had to also understand the space we were bringing people into. For instance, Kwasukasukela at Creation Africa in Paris was so grand. Then in Cape Town [for Reimagining Heritage, Archives and Museums: Today/Tomorrow], the immersive installation was a smaller and more intimate space. For Chosi Chosi the scale of the church was so large, so we wanted for the visuals to not be overwhelming, to tell a meaningful story. All the poets’ words and weaving of worlds were so inspiring. Everyone who worked with us was incredible,” Kendzia says. 

Of immersion 

Every immersive project is about putting the audience within the art and not simply before it, allowing them a full experience of the art that goes beyond observation. Kendzia has created multiple virtual reality artworks, including THE FOREST INHALES YOU (2019) collaborative work showcased at the second edition of Playtopia Festival. The artwork comes as an immersive installation in which viewers enter to see an illuminant tree that reflects on their bodies as they enter a dark forest using VR headsets. 

The title itself echoes this idea of the forest inhaling people who enter its space, considering that the immersion is both around the body and in the mind. This makes the viewer a presence of this forest rather than being from their sole perspective of being surrounded by the forest and inhaling the air within it. Kendzia touches on the dynamics of being and on the relationships we have with the spaces we inhabit or visit. “I embrace new technologies like VR, AI, and generative visuals. It is very exciting to use these tools to further inspire connection and self-reflection,” she says. 


In the grand scheme of things, these elements of storytelling, world-making, being abstract and immersive are conveyed to varying degrees in all of Kendzia’s art. She says, “I feel as if in all my works, all these elements converge and are consolidated over each other. Hence I often use the word interdisciplinary to describe the practice, each artwork brings in different branches of knowledge and different artistic processes. I like to think of all of them as moments or parts of one big story. If you look at Chosi Chosi and Kwasukasukela, there is a direct continuation of a bigger story, but a sense of the continuation is carried throughout.”

Kendzia is fresh off a two-week art residency by Tankwa Artscape at the Tankwa Karoo. Held annually since 2017, the residency connects artists and their work to site and land and allows them to appreciate and reflect on their relationships with the natural environment. She is also working on a magical realism and animation short film on dance. Titled The Dream, this film is scheduled to begin filming around August 2024. It presents the story of internationally acclaimed choreographer and dancer Gregory Maqoma, exploring what it looks like to have a dream and the fears of making it a reality.

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