Biker Mice from Mars and Animal Farm were two major influences behind the career of Lwandile Fikeni.
The comic book rodents and talking pigs combined to show Fikeni how works of fiction can provoke political discourse, and that’s something he carries forward in his own writing.
Fikeni is a culture writer and art critic who won the Arts Journalist of the Year award in 2015 from the National Arts Festival and Business and Arts South Africa. He also won a gold award for features writing and a silver award for his reviews.
“My interest in art stemmed from my love of comics and cartoons,” he says. “I used to draw and trace comic books and I watched X-Men and Biker Mice from Mars quite a lot. When I stumbled on George Orwell’s Animal Farm in my dad’s collection of literature, I became really intrigued with imaginative works. These talking animals seemed to be engaged in something I could vaguely make out as political discourse.”
The metaphors and allegories in the writing piqued his interest in how works of art or fiction are constructed, and what they have to say about the society and the time in which they were created, he says.
Writing about art only came after he spent four years in advertising, winning an award for a TV advert in 2011. But he grew frustrated by how advertising revolves around promoting stereotypes, so he switched to arts journalism. He describes his work as “critical dialogue on art and politics or the politics of art, image and image making, in fine art, literature, pop culture and media”.
“I was frightened by the thought of being a full-time writer, without the cushion of a monthly salary,” he admits, but winning the Arts Journalist of the Year award has confirmed he made the right move.
Fikeni also writes about pop and youth culture, intermingled with discourses on politics and society. He contributes regularly to City Press #Trending and has been published by the Mail & Guardian and many other publications.
“I don’t have very clear goals except, perhaps, to try write art out of privileged spaces and privileged situations into the realm of the everyday; that art becomes synonymous with culture in South Africa.” — Lesley Stones