Upon first viewings, Sungi Mlengeya’s paintings don’t look out of the ordinary. She frequently depicts women in groups and positioned as if they are in any normal photoshoot session. A closer look reveals that these portraits are not what they seem to be. Mlengenya did not paint these African women wearing white dresses in front of a white background. What she has created is an omission of the dress and the background, focusing entirely on the physical attributes of the women themselves. By painting these Black women in shades of black and brown on top of a stark white canvas, she highlights these women and brought them onto another, ethereal stage.
Hailing from Tanzania, Mlengeya is inspired by what’s around her, namely the strong African women she surrounds herself with. She often works with negative space, where she considers it to be a calm space, devoid of societal pressure and expectation. In turn, the empty space lets the viewers’ imagination runs wild and automatically fill the blanks in, further questioning our own expectations of Black women.