'My work is constantly paying tributes to my roots': Pauline Boyenga Bofala on how spirituality drives her creativity

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Pauline Boyenga Bofala is a sustainable artist whose spirituality is central to her work. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Pauline Boyenga Bofala is a sensitive, conscientious and mystical artist who is passionate about art history, history, ethnology, culture and spirituality. She is inspired by different forms of art, with care for the environment being absolutely central to her work. In a conversation with Bolanle Tajudeen, founder of Black Blossoms School of Art, Pauline talks about sustainability and spirituality.

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Bolanle Tajudeen: You describe the way you make art as sustainable. Can you explain what this means?

Pauline Boyenga Bofala: I was working in the fashion industry for a few years, and I am not anymore as I have seen the damage the industry is doing to our planet, and I refuse to be part of that disruption. For my artwork, I do not buy any new materials which will cause more negative effects on nature. I gather as much reused and recycled paper and cardboard as I can, even things that people throw away. The paints I use are made with natural pigment and water. I'm just trying to be as responsible as possible.

Read more: Four Black women on beauty, business and identity

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'I have seen the damage the industry is doing to our planet, and I refuse to be part of that disruption.' (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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'My father's spiritual philosophy is flourishing through and with wildlife – and we must protect it.' (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: Have you always felt this responsibility to Earth and nature?

Pauline: Being responsible has always been part of my life. When I was little, my parents were really into protecting nature; it is part of their tribe. My father's spiritual philosophy is flourishing through and with wildlife – and we must protect it. And it is the same for my mother. She always had plants around my sister and me and gave us knowledge about the properties of the plants. We were taught to respect even the tiniest of animals and not even kill a bug. One day my father saw me peeling the skin of a tree; I still have his voice in my head telling me I was causing the tree to suffer, so looking after our Earth is part of me.

Bolanle: Have your parents' teachings influenced any other areas of your art?

Pauline: My parents have taught me about the spiritual practices of our ancestors; my father is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Mongo tribe, and my mother is from northern France, and her ancestry tribe is Celtic. The Mongo tribe is mystical. We pray to our ancestors, not gods, and we are highly protective of our traditions - we do not share them. For example, when the Belgians invaded Congo, the Mongo people did not want these evil men to take their knowledge; they decided to burn every sculpture, every mask, every statue, everything that would explain our tradition. Since then, information has only been passed down orally to those who are within the tribe.

Read more: Black History Month: London Underground map reimagined to honour the Black people who shaped Britain

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'We pray to our ancestors, not gods, and we are highly protective of our traditions - we do not share them' (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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'When I look at my artwork, I can see some references to my childhood home.' (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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Pauline likes to represent women with very wide hips and curls, as a symbol of Mother Nature. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: How does spiritualism and mysticism show up in your artwork?

Pauline: When I look at my artwork, I can see some references to my childhood home. My father brought home masks from Congo, and I have been surrounded by them all my life. So from a young age, it has always been natural to draw them and represent them in my artworks. You know, because some people could be afraid of an African mask. But I was not because they are like a family member. In most Congolese tribes, the mask represents the dead ancestor's spirits. Usually, we do not represent gods or divinities via masks, but more via statues. So I guess I am trying to reach the spirits of my ancestors when I am creating, which is a very spiritual process. It is like a meditation, and I have to go deeply into what type of spirits and souls I want to put in my artwork, especially those linked to my roots. I am also making sculptures that honour my European roots and represent women with very wide hips and curls; these are usually a symbol of Mother Nature. So my work is constantly paying tributes to my roots.

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'It is like a meditation, and I have to go deeply into what type of spirits and souls I want to put in my artwork, especially those linked to my roots.' (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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'I grew up with parents who instilled so much confidence in me.' (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: How do you find navigating the arts as a woman of mixed heritage?

Pauline: I grew up with parents who instilled so much confidence in me. They created a profound sense of culture that I bring into all my artwork. There are no hierarchies of race or culture within my immediate family. My parents had many cultural visual artefacts in our home. They told my sister and me about their traditions and beliefs, and fine art books surrounded us from all different periods from across the world. As I started to spend time with people in the world I realised there was this idea that because I am multiracial I should choose a side, and I will never. I have decided to be myself, and myself is 100% Black and 100% white, which means I am 100% multiracial!

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Bolanle: What is it like to be part of Disrupt Space?

Pauline: It is very flourishing for me, because we are like family. It is gentle, and I feel heard when they surround me. When I speak about my roots, heritage, and spirituality, the other artists are listening to understand and that allows me to be who I am, and I am very grateful.

Bolanle: How has the process of creating a non-fungible token (NFT) been for you?

Pauline: It has been a little intense. I have never created digital work before. I have always used my hands. It has been great, and I am looking forward to sharing my creation with NFT audiences.

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