Some years ago, I sold clothes and products from around the world at many different markets around Perth. These were fantastic, creative and fun years!
At one of these markets, the vibrant and colourful South Fremantle Farmer’s Markets, a gorgeous couple were selling the most beautiful African baskets. The exotic looking, beautiful woman, Wajipha Chongwe, and her wonderful man, Freddy Poncin, stood out not just with their amazing baskets, but with the love that was always glowing between them! One of these couples that you will always remember! Suddenly they were gone and I often wondered what happened to them as they were such a nice part of the Fremantle vibe….
Then a few months ago, out of the blue, Wajipha began following Devi Living on Instagram and I got to know where they had gone to live – in Amsterdam, where Freddy is from!
Turns out that Wajipha did not just sell African baskets at markets – she is a multi talented and diverse artist – painter, performer, singer, poet, storyteller and activist. And so, so much more.
She now lives in Amsterdam with her husband Freddy Poncin, a well known and established Percussionist and Music Producer.
When we discussed the outline of this interview, it became obvious that we needed at least a 3 part series to make Wajipha’s creative life justice! There is so much that we are not covering here – Wajipha’s strong connection to her ancestors, her psychic abilitites, her performances, music and books of poetry to name a few – but the interview is rich with life’s joys and sorrows and with her colourful creations!
Enjoy getting to know the wonderful Wajipha Chongwe.
Devi Living – You live in Amsterdam – what do you love most about this diverse European city?
Wajipha – What I love most about Amsterdam is its multicultural environment! It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. In 2016 Amsterdam recorded people from 180 countries living there, making it even more culturally diverse than New York!
A common occurrence in Amsterdam is that people will naturally speak Dutch to you, assuming you are Dutch. This has been such a welcoming gesture to someone like me who has always been seen as a foreigner in both of my countries of origin.
Devi Living – Your Instagram account bio describes you as a Zambian/Australian in Amsterdam – tell us a bit about the journey that took you from Zambia to Australia and then lead you to Holland and Amsterdam?
Wajipha – I was born in Zambia and moved to Australia when I was 19. My father was one of the first Africans to study law at the University of Western Australia in the early 60’s. He met my Australian mother while he was studying there.
Together they moved to Zambia when my father finished his law degree. My mother was 6 months pregnant with me. I grew up in Zambia and regularly visited my grandparents in Australia.
When I finished high school, I wanted to spend more time in Australia and went to live there. I had intended on going back to Zambia after a few years, but life took over and I stayed for 27 years!
I met my Dutch husband 9 years ago. We were doing a show together in Fremantle, Western Australia, where we both lived at the time. A year later he introduced me to his home, Amsterdam. Five and half years ago we decided to leave Fremantle and move here.
Devi Living – Where do you draw inspiration from and what guides your artistic process?
Wajipha – My artistic expression coincided with the awakening of my spiritual practice which began 20 years ago. My art is something that I create without any thought or restriction. This expression has been the most natural process for me and a constant source of satisfaction.
The inspiration for my artwork has always been a journey into the unspoken and unknown dreamlike world where we originate from. Creating my art works is my form of meditation.
The themes generally revolve around the incarnation of souls, the movement of life force and our connections to each other. There also seems to be a strong presence of the Divine Feminine and her various incarnations.
Devi Living – Yes, you have a strong connection to Mary Magdalene and the Divine Feminine. The energy of this really comes through in some of your art. How did this connection with Mary Magdalene come about?
Wajipha – I heard the story of Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus who was also known as the Black Madonna, for the first time when I visited a town called Rocamadour in the South of France in 2014. When I visited her church, I found that I felt a great ease being there.
When I returned to Australia, I created a series of drawings depicting the Black Madonna. The drawings, when grouped together, form the three aspects of the Divine Feminine.
The message I got while I was creating these works was that we were entering a phase where the Divine Feminine in all of us was being activated.
At that time, I had never heard of the Divine Feminine. Imagine my surprise when I googled ‘Divine Feminine’ some years later just to find out that it was/is a huge movement!
Devi Living – You have faced many obstacles to pursue and express your creativity. What was the reason for this and how did you become the artist you are today despite of this?
Wajipha – Any form of my artistic expression was ridiculed and belittled by my ex-husband. I believed him when he called me dumb and unable to draw or sing.
He resented me and when he left me and our three children, he convinced both his family of origin and my own family of origin to turn away from me through manipulation, gas lighting and a relentless obsession with causing me pain and grief. The result of this was that I became ostracised from both my families!
My brother, himself an artist, saw my artistic expression as a threat and quickly embraced my ex-husband to the exclusion of me. This has had a detrimental impact on our family of origin.
It has taken many years for me to believe in myself and have the courage to explore the true essence and diversity within my own creativity. This process took 18 years! When an opportunity to exhibit in Zambia in 2019 came, it felt like a huge accomplishment and recognition of how far I had come. I had come full circle.
Devi Living – That’s right, you were asked to exhibit your art at the prestigious Lusaka Gallery 37D in Zambia in 2019. After a successful Go Fund Me fundraiser you were able to travel from Amsterdam to Zambia for the exhibition.
A few days before the opening of this once-in-a-lifetime art exhibition, you fell ill and were taken to hospital and diagnosed with stomach cancer.
There is something profound and strong with the timing of the diagnose and you being back in your home country, invited as an acknowledged Zambian artist. Two vastly different experiences happening simultaneously. How has this experience shaped you?
Wajipha – It began in 2018 when I was in Lusaka in Zambia for a visit to see my father for his 80th birthday. I had not been to Zambia for 10 years. My Dutch husband had surprised me with a ticket to go!
While I was there, I asked my mother to show me the different galleries in Lusaka. The gallery 37D was one of the galleries we visited.
Fast forward to 2019. The 37D gallery invited me to exhibit my art there!
The original date for the exhibition changed and I found myself with no time to save up the money needed to go to Lusaka. Some friends suggested I do a Go Fund Me fundraiser to raise the funds.
I was initially hesitant. I did not think anyone would donate to support me and I had never asked for money for myself before. I was pleasantly surprised and humbled by the donations and the comments that people made. Someone said that I needed to go as my work needed to be seen!
I really learnt the blessings of being publicly vulnerable and receiving the generosity of strangers. The money was raised, and I flew to Zambia.
Four days after I arrived in Zambia for the exhibition, I ended up in hospital. I was in extreme pain which was due to an intestinal obstruction. It had to be corrected immediately or it could explode.
Once this was done the surgeon discovered the cause of the obstruction. A five cm large tumour!
I managed to leave the hospital the day before the art exhibition to attend the opening. I then returned to the hospital two weeks later to have the tumour removed.
It was so dramatic and crazy, like something out of a movie. Before the tumour was removed, a biopsy was taken. I was diagnosed with stage 3 intestinal cancer. It felt as though I had gone back to Zambia to die.
The doctor was surprised by the tumour. I did not fit the usual profile of someone who would have intestinal cancer.
When I asked the surgeon how long I had had the tumour, I was told it had been slowly growing for 10 years. This was quite significant for me to hear. I am a firm believer that cancer, or any other diseases, are triggered by a strong emotional response. This was how I was able to pinpoint when my body had allowed the tumour to creep in.
I was able to go back exactly 10 years to when I was isolated by my family of origin. It was when my niece turned 18 and my ex-husband and all my family of origin were invited to her celebration, except me. It was at this exact point that I conceded that I was totally alone and that my ex- husband’s behaviour and treatment of me was condoned by all members of my family. I remembered the intense sadness and general helplessness I felt within that situation.
That was when I subconsciously allowed the cancer to manifest within my reality.
Understanding this and the fact that this happened while I was in Zambia during my exhibition, allowed me the opportunity to release and let go of all the sadness and the separation that my family of origin had created.
For many years I had been in a flight or fright situation when it came to my family of origin so even though it was a horrendous diagnosis, I was able to receive the blessing of the disease and to release the sadness that was stored in my body.
I returned to Amsterdam where I quickly began a 4 month cycle of intense chemotherapy which was an experience and story all unto its own. I am now in remission!
Devi Living – One of your many artistic projects has been to print your art on fabric in the most ethical and sustainable way possible to create a stunning women’s clothing collection – tell us about this!
Wajipha – I grew up in Lusaka, Zambia, around ethical artists and craft practices. My mother and her business partner set up the first handicraft shop there. They supplied handmade crafts made by local and regional artisans. This formed a strong basis in my own decisions on how I would participate in the fashion industry.
For many years people had suggested that I print my artwork on fabric. This was never possible until recently when digital fabric printing became more accessible to the average person like me.
The idea had always excited me. It seemed now was the perfect time to do it.
While I was exploring this idea, I wanted to know exactly how much fabric I would need to make a garment. This was important to me. I knew the fashion industry to be a big contributor to environmental degradation, not to mention the huge exploitation of factory workers that is so prevalent in this industry.
I found a way that I could get my art printed ethically through two companies, one in America and one in Australia. They offer designers the opportunity to print their designs on fabric or home décor products. There is no wastage when the products are made. These suppliers have been vetted and there is transparency between the lines of production. They work closely with different out-sourcing companies around the world and make sure their carbon footprint is reduced.
For me, the best way when producing or selling anything, is to teach myself how to do it. I learned how to sew and through this process I have developed a small clothing line based on sustainable practices.
Devi Living – You were going to launch this collection when Covid hit. How did you deal with this unexpected turn of events?
Wajipha – I had tested the market to see if there was an interest in my dresses and was selling them at a local weekend market in Amsterdam. The dresses were made from fabric that I had bought in Zambia. The dresses turned out to be a success.
In 2019 whilst I was in Zambia exhibiting my art, I had dresses made by a local professional dressmaker. These were copies of my designs. They were to be used in a fashion show in Amsterdam where I was to launch my own clothing brand MmC.
Unfortunately, the year for the launch of my clothing brand was 2020. Covid hit and everything collapsed. My launch was cancelled. Covid completely impacted every aspect of my life.
Devi Living – What is the biggest challenge or obstacle you face when it comes to making a living out of your art?
Wajipha – It is particularly difficult marketing work like mine because it is not generic. It has been hard to find my own niche. But that does not mean that the niche does not exist.
Thinking outside of conventional ideas has created the possibility that there are many more ways to market my art. To be able to make a living from my art is the ultimate dream yet making a living from my art has never been the primary motivation behind the creation of it.
Devi Living- What would your message be to women who are faced with barriers and lack of support for their creative expressions?
Wajipha – My best advice is – focus on your art practice. Really connect with it, allowing your authenticity to come through and allow the journey to present itself to you.
I have never had direct support, financial or emotional, for my art so it is difficult for me to advise anyone apart from saying – believe in yourself and trust the process and allow it to flow.
Most of the time it does not go the way we expect it to go, and that is what creates the beauty and the diversity of the journey!
Devi Living – What excites you most about your art, your projects, and the direction of your art?
Wajipha – What excites me is to just keep exploring, growing, creating and allowing new ideas to keep flowing.
The latest metaphysical downloads that I have been receiving are about the calibration of our consciousness and physical body. I feel that this is going to influence my paintings and poetry.
I have been working on my third poetry artbook, titled Authentic Self, which has been taking a bit of time but I am hoping to finish it later this year!
As I floated through the weeks being told what to do
Everyone in a panic
One that I caused
Removed from distraction
Enveloped in love
Witness to compassion as my silence crept in
From the observer I became the focus
My lifeline the marker
Would I make it through today, for there to be a tomorrow
Every breath that I drew was uncertain and not claimed
Do this Do that, my body not my own
Sins of the past came to haunt me with song
Had I really been disconnected and not really cared
10 years you grew in me
Lovingly hating me
Feeling my sadness growing through my hurt
Feeding into my insecurity rejoicing in my loss
Waiting for me to find happiness
Then exposing your existence
Floating through your removal
Understanding your relevance
Being saved by a warrior, a peace maker, a surgeon
Being promised more time, For the ones that I love
More time to comprehend and put an end to your mission
I observed this from above, just above not below.
If you want to know more about Wajipha’s work, have a look at her beautiful website wajihphachongwe.com
Here is a fabulous clip of Wajipha singing Malasha Man, about the destruction of the environment.
And here is a link to Freddy Poncin’s website.
Thank you so much Wajipha for the generous sharing of yourself and your art!
These interviews give me so much and I hope it is the same for you who read them! These women are inspiring on so many levels. If reading about them, their lives, and their work in the world motivates you to live your life more in Love, with Purpose and in Joy – then they are a huge success!
It is also something so wonderful for me to highlight women’s lives and creativity and I hope it rubs off on you!
I used to have my own clothing brand, VivaShakti – My passion for creative clothing was reignited through this interview and new ideas are brewing thanks to Wajipha! In what ways did you get inspired? Write a comment below!
I am also so very grateful for the reminder about how important our health is so take care of yourself, always.
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