HER JOURNEY | Mafalda Vasconcelos

My name is: Mafalda Vasconcelos
I grew up in: Mozambique
I currently reside in: Australia
I make a living by: Being an artist
I'm passionate about: Fashion
My astrological sign is: Taurus
Current mantra: Do what feels good 


Briefly describe your childhood – the city you grew up in, hobbies?

I grew up in Maputo, Mozambique, a sleepy tropical city with a diverse population. My childhood was spent mostly around nature. Either at the beach with my family and friends or travelling through national parks, enjoying the wildlife. I always had my cousins around and had a very adventurous and active childhood. I had a lot of hobbies like sewing, which I learnt from my grandmother; I played tennis, played guitar, painted and I sold jewellery and accessories made by me at small art fairs.

When did you first discover your creative or artistic spirit? 

I was lucky to grow up in a creative environment and surrounded by creative family members. I am the youngest child and my sisters are 14 and 15 years older than me, so I spent most of my time making things either by myself or with my mother and grandmother. My grandmother was a seamstress and my mother was an interior designer and owned a store. I learnt to sew when I was 7 just to make my own clothing but also fun clothes for my Barbie. I loved drawing too. I don’t remember “discovering” my artistic spirit. Being the youngest and also an introvert, I have always found refuge in being creative.


When I look at your paintings, I’m immediately overcome with awe and admiration. You convey African women in such an empowering, vibrant and spiritual light. How or when did you decide that women or the female figure would be a main focus throughout your work?

I grew up surrounded by Mozambican women and African art, in Mozambique. 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. I create work that is inspired by these women but also as a way to connect to our culture and my ancestors. 

In addition, I draw or paint female figures as a reference to the Divine feminine that the black women in my life represent. Africa, the continent is also a feminine and nurturing figure and my work always depicts her in an allegorical way. She represents me and my ancestors.


I deeply admire how you use art as a way of exploring your biracial identity and the cultural influences in your life. A means of self-exploration and understanding. What are one or two lessons or discoveries about yourself that you have gained along your journey?

The work I make is about spiritual self-discovery, cultural exploration but also about love and admiration for ancestry and womanhood. I learnt that to me, art is not just a spiritual quest but also a way of exploring emotions and how they relate to the subconscious. I have also learnt how to I ask myself very important and existential questions that allow me to learn more about life and about living.

Briefly describe your creative process when beginning a new painting – Is there a recurring structure, or does it differ from one piece to the next?

The first step in my creative process is research. I read a lot of books about history, culture and art about different ethnic groups in Africa. I find inspiration in stories or images in these books either in terms of colour, patterns or narrative. Sometimes I find inspiration in memories of home or family members. I sketch the pieces that I have in mind until I like the overall shape and body language. I try to explore emotion and feeling through body language and I usually draw heads, faces or nudes of women. After that I explore colour. There is no formula, it depends on where the research or where the mind goes, and it isn’t always the same.  

Your vibrant colour palette is another distinct, recurring characteristic throughout your paintings. How important is each individual choice of colour in your pieces, and how do you choose them?
I grew up surrounded by a lot of bright earthy tones. My mother loves decorating and was an interior designer for a few years when I was growing up. Our house is filled with colourful African art. My father loves trees and plants. Our gardens back home are always filled with the most colourful and beautiful flowers. The colours that surrounded me growing up inform my work nowadays. I also look at books about African culture or art and find inspiration in their images.


What major aspects of Mozambican culture influence your process and work? And what do you hope viewers or clients get to know about the culture after engaging with your work?

Ancestral heritage is a very important aspect of most African cultures, including my own, which I try to honour by creating portraits based on spirits and energy rather than real human figures. 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. 

I hope that the viewer is drawn to the imagery I create but most importantly, I hope that they feel the love and emotion that I try to pour into the canvas. The interpretation of art by the viewer is personal and relates to each one of our experiences, which I find interesting. The work I create is not so much about thought but about human emotion and as long as the viewer is feeling something when looking at my portraits, I am happy.

What made you take the leap to move to Australia? What are some major ways the art scene in Australia differs from that in Mozambique?

I left Mozambique when I was 18 years old, to pursue a career in fashion design, almost 9 years ago. Before moving to Australia I lived in Spain and in the Netherlands, I moved according to job opportunities and/or study opportunities. I studied fashion design in university, I came to Australia because my partner is Australian and got a job here. I came along and decided to do my master’s degree. I became an artist out of necessity, I wasn’t happy with in the fashion industry as it wasn’t creative enough for me. Art allows me to express myself in the most authentic way. 

The major difference between Mozambican art and Australian art is that Mozambican art is either ritualistic and ethnic art or descriptive of the way of life of people. So Mozambican art is a lot more specific and an underlying part of the culture. I believe that Aboriginal art in Australia would be similar in that sense. Australian art that is non-Aboriginal is very fluid and diverse and is not particularly rooted in a culture as it is in Mozambique. The art scene in Australia is a lot more developed and commercial than in Mozambique.

Did you have any fears or doubts when first considering the career path as an artist? If so, what ultimately gave you the confidence to just go for it?

Interestingly enough, no. I have always been very spiritual, when I was 15 years old, I did an examination on my life’s purpose and it told me then that my purpose was to be creative and share visual stories. I didn’t take it seriously then but when I had an opportunity to pursue art, I started taking it seriously.

What is the most gratifying aspect of the work you do – the underlying why that drives you, daily?

Creating is absolutely essential to who I am and has been since I was a child. What drives me to keep working and doing what I do is the connection that I feel with myself and with my culture when I create. But most importantly, what drives me is my curiosity and desire to explore and experiment with paint and colour.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being a visual artist, today? Or the art industry?

I think the biggest challenge is the fact that everyone is expecting new and good work constantly. The art industry, much like all industries, has become very demanding, partly due to social media and the internet. A lot of artists feel forced to grow very quickly and produce work that people will like. In addition, another challenging aspect that probably comes as a result of this demand is the fact that other artists and/or homeware brands copy artist’s work – it is heartbreaking when this happens.

You’ve shared that the African women that raised you have been some of your greatest inspirations. Can you tell us about one of the women that have been a significant pillar and influence in your life, and what she has taught or instilled in you?

My mother. I have always been very close to her and she has now also become my spiritual guide. I admire her connection to the land and to her ancestry and she has thought me how important that is. She is the most generous and loving woman I know, and I love spending time with her. 

What has your support system been like throughout your journey? Did you always have the right people around you that supported your passion and goals as an artist in the modern era?

My family and friends have always been very supportive and gave me the wings I needed to fly and find my way. They also trusted me enough to do so. I have been very lucky; I am extremely grateful for their love and support.

When you experience a creative block, where or what do you turn to, to revive that spirit?

I turn to my books or try to find more books to read or look at, to be inspired by. I also enjoy walks in nature with my dog, they often cure any creative block.

Name one thing, upcoming, that you’re excited for, personally or professionally?

I am excited to move back home to Mozambique next year.

Let’s finish off on the topic of self-care – what rituals or activities do you consistently make time for that bring you joy, relaxation or peace of mind?

It is hard to answer that question since I have been in lockdown since March (5 months) and have been in a very strict lockdown for almost 3 weeks now. I find that what worked before doesn’t work now in terms of self-care. What brings me joy and relaxation these days is painting or drawing, and I am so lucky that I can do that from my home. I also love walking my dog when it is sunny outside. 

Connect with Mafalda Vasconcelos


(All photos in this story are courtesy of Mafalda Vasconcelos)