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

News

A New Online Service That Designs Your Own Gallery Wall!

A new digital tool from Framefox allows you to build your own salon-style wall online, and have the final design delivered to your doorstep
Sponsored

Food

Julia's Autumnal Weeknight Rocket and Hazelnut Pesto Linguine

Julia Busuttil Nishimura's linguine with a herby rocket and hazelnut pesto is a riff on the classic weeknight family meal by adding earthy,
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Interiors

How To Nail The Bathroom Basics, According To Reece

A crash course in very excellent bathroom design, courtesy of bathrooms + kitchens merchandising leader at Reece Bathrooms, Daniella Santill...

News

An Extensive Art And Design Festival Taking Over Brisbane!

Brisbane Art Design (BAD) is a public art program bringing the Sunshine State’s exemplary creative scene to the fore throughout the month
Sponsored

Stays

Northern NSW’s Newest Holiday House, Made From Recycled Materials

Book your stay at Rockhaven at Booyong – a new holiday house made from recycled materials located 40 minutes from Byron Bay.

Creative People

Turn Your Kids' Artwork Into A Treasured Keepsake With Crumb Kids!

Local textile designer Bindi Howarth transforms kids artworks into custom made tea towels, tote bags, pencil cases and cushion covers - so C...

Stays

These New Luxury Coastal Cabins On Phillip Island Really Raise The Bar!

A tour of Fives Acres, a brand new boutique accommodation offering on Victoria's rugged South Coast.

Modernist Australia

A Modernist Mansion Fit For A 'Contemporary Goddess'!

Designed by architect Iwan Iwanoff in 1959, this incredible home in Mount Lawley, Western Australia is on the market.
Patricia Callan

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life Of Chrissy Lafian, Founder And Creative Director Of Suku

With teams in both Melbourne and Bali, Chrissy lets us in on how she runs the lifestyle brand she's built from scratch!

Design Eye

Suzanne Gorman on Modernising a Mid-Century Home

Taking into account considerations of form, function and scale, interior designer Suzanne Gorman shares her design approach for mid century

Homes

A Heartwarming Home Of A Stylist (And Family!)

Justine and Bob Murphy's warm and welcoming family home is like a slice of the country... in Northcote!

Travel

Our Guide To The Perfect Road-Trip On The NSW Central Coast

From Terrigal and Avoca beaches to the lush landscape of Bouddi National Park, here's where to eat, sleep, visit + swim!

On The Market

A Corner Store Turned Architectural Home Hits The Market In Brunswick

An 1883 shopfront turned architectural home with a pool and sauna is for sale in Brunswick!

Studio Visit

Experimental Designer Jessie French Is Shaping A Seaweed-Centric Future

The Melbourne artist shares her process of creating seaweed-based bioplastics, the beautiful resin-like homewares she makes from it + what t...

Interiors

A Crash Course In Renovating Your Own Home From Top To Bottom, With BuildHer Collective

Rebeka Morgan and Kribashini Hannon of BuildHer Collective bring us a new book containing all the info you need to embark on building or ren...
Rebeka Morgan and Kribashini Hannon

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

Modernist Australia

A Modernist Mansion Fit For A 'Contemporary Goddess'!

Designed by architect Iwan Iwanoff in 1959, this incredible home in Mount Lawley, Western Australia is on the market.
Patricia Callan

Homes

A Heartwarming Home Of A Stylist (And Family!)

Justine and Bob Murphy's warm and welcoming family home is like a slice of the country... in Northcote!

Food

Julia's Autumnal Weeknight Rocket and Hazelnut Pesto Linguine

Julia Busuttil Nishimura's linguine with a herby rocket and hazelnut pesto is a riff on the classic weeknight family meal by adding earthy,
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Design Eye

Suzanne Gorman on Modernising a Mid-Century Home

Taking into account considerations of form, function and scale, interior designer Suzanne Gorman shares her design approach for mid century

Stays

These New Luxury Coastal Cabins On Phillip Island Really Raise The Bar!

A tour of Fives Acres, a brand new boutique accommodation offering on Victoria's rugged South Coast.

News

A New Online Service That Designs Your Own Gallery Wall!

A new digital tool from Framefox allows you to build your own salon-style wall online, and have the final design delivered to your doorstep
Sponsored

Stays

Northern NSW’s Newest Holiday House, Made From Recycled Materials

Book your stay at Rockhaven at Booyong – a new holiday house made from recycled materials located 40 minutes from Byron Bay.

Creative People

Turn Your Kids' Artwork Into A Treasured Keepsake With Crumb Kids!

Local textile designer Bindi Howarth transforms kids artworks into custom made tea towels, tote bags, pencil cases and cushion covers - so C...

Travel

Our Guide To The Perfect Road-Trip On The NSW Central Coast

From Terrigal and Avoca beaches to the lush landscape of Bouddi National Park, here's where to eat, sleep, visit + swim!

News

An Extensive Art And Design Festival Taking Over Brisbane!

Brisbane Art Design (BAD) is a public art program bringing the Sunshine State’s exemplary creative scene to the fore throughout the month
Sponsored

On The Market

A Corner Store Turned Architectural Home Hits The Market In Brunswick

An 1883 shopfront turned architectural home with a pool and sauna is for sale in Brunswick!

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life Of Chrissy Lafian, Founder And Creative Director Of Suku

With teams in both Melbourne and Bali, Chrissy lets us in on how she runs the lifestyle brand she's built from scratch!

Interiors

How To Nail The Bathroom Basics, According To Reece

A crash course in very excellent bathroom design, courtesy of bathrooms + kitchens merchandising leader at Reece Bathrooms, Daniella Santill...

Interiors

A Crash Course In Renovating Your Own Home From Top To Bottom, With BuildHer Collective

Rebeka Morgan and Kribashini Hannon of BuildHer Collective bring us a new book containing all the info you need to embark on building or ren...
Rebeka Morgan and Kribashini Hannon

Studio Visit

Experimental Designer Jessie French Is Shaping A Seaweed-Centric Future

The Melbourne artist shares her process of creating seaweed-based bioplastics, the beautiful resin-like homewares she makes from it + what t...

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.