This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Painting Mozambique From Melbourne, With Mafalda Vasconcelos

Studio Visit

Artist Mafalda Vasconcelos was born in South Africa, grew up in Mozambique, studied in Europe, and now lives in Melbourne. She moved here three years ago with her partner, who is originally from Perth, pursuing her full-time art practice out of a sunny studio in the home they bought together.

Mafalda’s home in Mozambique, her ancestors, and their strong yet fragmented culture motivates her work. Painting is how she puts together pieces of the past, to gain a deeper understanding of who she is, and where she has come from.

6th October, 2020

Mafalda’s home sunny studio in Melbourne. Photo – Mafalda Vasconcelos

‘Where is my bird’ by Mafalda Vasconcelos

Mafalda at home in her studio. Photo – Mafalda Vasconcelos

‘Nolwandle’ by Mafalda Vasconcelos

Mafalda’s work explores the history of her African ancestors. Photo – Mafalda Vasconcelos

Works on paper strewn around the studio. Photo – Mafalda Vasconcelos

A selection of works in the studio. Photo – Mafalda Vasconcelos

‘My studio has a lot of books and objects that I love and am inspired by’, says Mafalda. Photo – Mafalda Vasconcelos

Sally Tabart
Tuesday 6th October 2020

‘By creating portraits, I try to fill in the gaps of who my ancestors were and what they believed in, and inform my identity on this narrative.’ – Mafalda Vasconcelos.

Mafalda Vasconcelos‘ artistic process is personal and spiritual. Initially trained in fashion design, an aesthetic influence you can see clearly in her paintings and drawings, the Melbourne-based artist grew up in Mozambique, Africa, surrounded by strong women and rich culture. It’s these women and her homeland that inspire her striking portraits, often pictured in silhouette, adorned with bright, colourful shapes, patterns and symbols referencing African masks and fabric patterns.

Identity, emotions, memory and spirituality are inherently imbued in Mafalda’s practice. After finding out that her family had such little knowledge of their original culture due to the devastating effects of cultural assimilation, she has made it her work to explore the beliefs of her ancestors, and in turn, find her place in the narrative.

Impressively, Mafalda had already shown two exhibitions of her paintings this year before lockdown in Melbourne, but the last 6 months have allowed her to slow down and create more spontaneously. We chatted with Mafalda from her beautiful Melbourne home studio to learn more about her deeply personal practice.

Hey Mafalda! To start off, could you briefly outline your background, and how this brought you to working as a full-time artist?

I was born in South Africa, but my family is from Mozambique in Africa. I grew up in Mozambique with a very rich culture and strong female figures around me. I lived in Mozambique until I was 18 years old and moved to Europe for university. After graduating from a BA in fashion design I pursued a MA in entrepreneurship.

I absolutely love fashion, but I couldn’t see myself designing just clothes or accessories – I recognised a need for more freedom to create other objects and to paint. After a few years of working in fashion both as a designer and illustrator, I decided to pursue art full-time.

My work has evolved greatly the last few years. It has become introspective, a way of exploring emotions and memories but also my identity. I have found a lot of meaning in what I create.

Can you tell us a little about the space you create from?

I create from my home studio in Melbourne. My partner and I bought a house two years ago which we have been living in and renovating since. We made one of the rooms my home office and studio. The studio has large, beautiful paned windows facing west which allow the mid-day and afternoon sun in. The house is quite minimal, but my studio has a lot of books and objects that I love and am inspired by.

There is a built-in daybed on my studio window, overlooking the street, where my dog sits, and watches people walk by, and where I sit if I need a break. It looks wonderful when the sun sets, we can see the beautiful cotton candy Melbourne skies which always amaze me.

You mention that you use art as a way to explore your identity. Can you tell us a little more about the different cultural identities in your life, and what you’ve learned about who you are from your painting?

I am biracial. My mother and her whole family are native Mozambican, my father is Mozambican but white, born in Portugal of a Portuguese family. Growing up in Mozambique I was always surrounded by all kinds of people from different ethnicities, but mostly mixed-race or black family members.

My mother and her family are from the Nharinga ethnic group from the north of Mozambique. This was a very small ethnic group and due to assimilation, most of their culture was lost and not documented. After finding out that my family has no knowledge of their culture (apart from a few beliefs and spiritual practices), exploring this became my motivation for creating art. By creating portraits, I try to fill in the gaps of who my ancestors were, and what they believed in and inform my identity on this narrative.

My work is based on the theory behind masks. In my culture, each mask represents a soul and spirit of an ancestor, and is called upon during a ritual to bring a specific energy to the land. When I create, I follow the same principle – the act of painting or drawing a head or face is an allegory to wearing that face or mask during a ritual.

My process is about spiritual self-discovery, identity, cultural exploration but also about love and admiration for ancestry and womanhood. To me, art is not just a spiritual quest but also a way of exploring emotions and how they relate to identity.

What are your key points of reference or inspiration in this exploration of self and culture?

My parents are art collectors and have a very unique relationship with objects, which I have inherited. My Dad also works in agriculture and is very invested in gardening – his gardens yield the most beautiful flowers which he keeps sending me photos of and inspiring me greatly. The patterns and symbolism in my work are also inspired by African art, mainly African masks and fabric patterns.

One of my favorite artists is Roberto Chichorro, a wonderful Mozambican artist that explored color and symbolism in a beautiful and poetic way. I hope that one day, my work has a similar impact on others as his work has on me.

How has the year that has been 2020 affected your work, or your approach to your work?

2020 has made me become obsessed with painting, and with being productive and working at a higher pace. Living in Melbourne, we have basically been in lockdown since March. I am lucky to have a home studio, but it has also meant that I spend a lot more time creating or working, instead of living. I have a lot of fun and I love it, but I wonder if I will be able to go back to normal. I am sure many people feel the same way.

On the other hand, this time has allowed me to research and explore more about our humanity and learn more about others, which has been brilliant.

Shop Mafalda’s original works and fine art prints here and keep up with her on Instagram.

This Week

On The Market

The Perfect Architect-Designed Family Home Is On The Market

The Kingsville House by Olaver Architecture is potentially the closest thing there is to a perfect family house. And it could be yours!
Sasha Aarons

Interiors

How To Make Wallpaper Work!

Lauren Li of Sisällä Interior Design shares her tips and tricks for wallpaper that really works - and where to get it!
Lauren Li

Gardens

A Beautiful New Life For A Generous Family Garden

The Haberfield Garden by Fieldwork Associates in Sydney unites multiple green zones under a canopy of excitement + abundance!

Architecture

The Australian Architects Designing New Houses For An Affordable Flat Fee

Purchase environmentally-friendly, architectural house plans for an affordable flat fee by new Australian business, Architopia.

Stays

A Contemporary Reimagining of Robin Boyd’s Fenner House

Las Palmas by DUO Architects in association with Davis Architects is a Byron Bay hinterland home inspired by the owner's upbringing in Robin...
44:00

Podcast

The Unconventional Career Path Of Interior Designer Yasmine Ghoniem Of YSG Studio, On TDF Talks

In this podcast conversation, host Lucy Feagins talks to the founder of YSG Studio and so-hot-right-now visionary leading the Australian int...
15.15

Food

Julia's Pillowy Ricotta Tortelli With Butter And Asparagus

It's asparagus season and Julia Busuttil Nishimura has the best pasta recipe for this sweet, seasonal stalk!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

News

A Delicious New Book For Living A Kinder, More Gentle Life

Chef Annie Smithers shares wisdom, memories and recipes in her new book, ‘Recipe for a Kinder Life’.

Creative People

Building A Family Legacy On Local Manufacturing, With Abode Living

Creative director Amelia Marasco Adair takes us on a tour of the company's Camberwell HQ - featuring their production warehouse, offices +

On The Market

A Historic Italianate Mansion Hits The Market In Kew

Built in 1889, Ross House (formerly called Charleville), is a heritage-protected Italianate mansion in Kew designed by local architect Henry...

Studio Visit

This Cheerful New Textile + Homewares Label Brings The Sunshine We Need Right now!

Hannah Veikkanen used Melbourne's extended lockdowns to develop and launch her own textile label, creating handtufted cushions and artwork f...

Building Better

Everything You Need To Know About Working With A Builder

Where do you find a good builder? How long will it take them to build my house? How much will it cost? We answer these FAQs more.

Creative People

The Earthy, Abstract Art Of Asha Holmes

Inside the textured, tonal and intuitive practice of a Northern Beaches-based painter whose star is well and truly on the rise!

Architecture

A Spacious Renovation That Makes The Most Of Every Inch

Built-in furniture has unlocked the potential of this Victorian home renovation in Fitzroy North by Architecture Architecture.

Homes

Poppy Garbin + Scott Gibson Of Pop And Scott’s Dromana Dream Home

The renovated '80s home of Scott Gibson and Poppy Garbin, founders of Pop and Scott.

View Comments

Similar Stories

Studio Visit

Charlotte Alldis Is Making Art To Strengthen A Sense Of Belonging

Unexpected colour combos and kooky characters crowd the canvas of this Melbourne-based painter!
Sasha Gattermayr

Studio Visit

The Bright, Beautiful World Of Atong Atem

Meet the award-winning young Melbourne artist creating distinctive photographic artworks inspired by her South Sudanese heritage.

Art

The Art Of Abstraction With Emma Currie

In the lead up to our Art&Artefact exhibition, we visit the studio of one incredibly talented emerging Melbourne painter.

This Week

Architecture

A Spacious Renovation That Makes The Most Of Every Inch

Built-in furniture has unlocked the potential of this Victorian home renovation in Fitzroy North by Architecture Architecture.

Homes

Poppy Garbin + Scott Gibson Of Pop And Scott’s Dromana Dream Home

The renovated '80s home of Scott Gibson and Poppy Garbin, founders of Pop and Scott.

Stays

A Contemporary Reimagining of Robin Boyd’s Fenner House

Las Palmas by DUO Architects in association with Davis Architects is a Byron Bay hinterland home inspired by the owner's upbringing in Robin...

Gardens

A Beautiful New Life For A Generous Family Garden

The Haberfield Garden by Fieldwork Associates in Sydney unites multiple green zones under a canopy of excitement + abundance!

Studio Visit

This Cheerful New Textile + Homewares Label Brings The Sunshine We Need Right now!

Hannah Veikkanen used Melbourne's extended lockdowns to develop and launch her own textile label, creating handtufted cushions and artwork f...

Creative People

Building A Family Legacy On Local Manufacturing, With Abode Living

Creative director Amelia Marasco Adair takes us on a tour of the company's Camberwell HQ - featuring their production warehouse, offices +

On The Market

A Historic Italianate Mansion Hits The Market In Kew

Built in 1889, Ross House (formerly called Charleville), is a heritage-protected Italianate mansion in Kew designed by local architect Henry...
15.15

Food

Julia's Pillowy Ricotta Tortelli With Butter And Asparagus

It's asparagus season and Julia Busuttil Nishimura has the best pasta recipe for this sweet, seasonal stalk!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Architecture

The Australian Architects Designing New Houses For An Affordable Flat Fee

Purchase environmentally-friendly, architectural house plans for an affordable flat fee by new Australian business, Architopia.

Interiors

How To Make Wallpaper Work!

Lauren Li of Sisällä Interior Design shares her tips and tricks for wallpaper that really works - and where to get it!
Lauren Li

Building Better

Everything You Need To Know About Working With A Builder

Where do you find a good builder? How long will it take them to build my house? How much will it cost? We answer these FAQs more.

News

A Delicious New Book For Living A Kinder, More Gentle Life

Chef Annie Smithers shares wisdom, memories and recipes in her new book, ‘Recipe for a Kinder Life’.

On The Market

The Perfect Architect-Designed Family Home Is On The Market

The Kingsville House by Olaver Architecture is potentially the closest thing there is to a perfect family house. And it could be yours!
Sasha Aarons

Creative People

The Earthy, Abstract Art Of Asha Holmes

Inside the textured, tonal and intuitive practice of a Northern Beaches-based painter whose star is well and truly on the rise!
44:00

Podcast

The Unconventional Career Path Of Interior Designer Yasmine Ghoniem Of YSG Studio, On TDF Talks

In this podcast conversation, host Lucy Feagins talks to the founder of YSG Studio and so-hot-right-now visionary leading the Australian int...

Similar Stories

Studio Visit

Charlotte Alldis Is Making Art To Strengthen A Sense Of Belonging

Unexpected colour combos and kooky characters crowd the canvas of this Melbourne-based painter!
Sasha Gattermayr

Studio Visit

The Bright, Beautiful World Of Atong Atem

Meet the award-winning young Melbourne artist creating distinctive photographic artworks inspired by her South Sudanese heritage.

Art

The Art Of Abstraction With Emma Currie

In the lead up to our Art&Artefact exhibition, we visit the studio of one incredibly talented emerging Melbourne painter.

The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.