When Cape Town-based artist Ana Kuni heard the news about Uyinene Mrwetyana, she could not ignore the emotions stirring inside her and decided to put them down on canvas in a tribute to the young UCT student who lost her life too soon.

“I don’t normally read news focusing on my own life and staying positive but some things cannot be ignored as it’s about all of us. Our anger is transforming into productive and constructive action and the sky is the limit for those with open hearts and open minds,” the artists writes on her Facebook page.

The artwork is unique because not only does it depict a women who has become a symbol and inspiration for other women to stand up against gender-based violence, it also contains words written by Uyinene’s fellow students.

” I paint Warrior Women who i call conscious, compassionate, creative beings living in harmony with Nature. I feature powerful Woman who owns her life and knows who she is. Recent news have shown that there is a huge problem in society and its incredibly difficult for a woman to break free as she is constantly being broken. Nene’s story affects all of us! She is all of us! I am Ukrainian but same things happen in my country. This moment shouldnt be forgotten just because president has spoken. We must remember this and check ourselves everyday if what we do daily represents what we protested for,” says Kuni

Once Kuni finished painting the work ,it was taken to the University of Cape Town for students to sign in respect and remembrance of Uyinene.

The canvas quickly filled with touching words and emotional phrases from those who knew Nene and those who wished they could have had the chance to know her, and through this process the work was truly completed.

Messages written on the canvas include, “Rest in power” and “We lost a sister.”


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In memory of Uyinene #uyinenemrwetyana

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One of the main drivers to create the piece was local photography Joshua Rubin, who encouraged Kuni to paint the work of art.

” I was sitting in my room reading all about what’s going on in South Africa and about Uyinene and I almost felt paralysed, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I just kept reading more and more and I just felt so helpless and I wanted to express myself. A few weeks earlier I met Ana at a creative program that I am running in Dunoon and she’s an incredible artist and I thought it could be amazing for us to do something together. I sent her a message about doing a painting of Uyinene and she was on board straight away,” says Rubin.

The pair met up the very next day to create the work. While Kuni painted for two hours, they discussed how they could make a difference and what they could do together. They specifically discussed gender-based violence.

After their discussion, the idea to run an educational programme in townships addressing the topic of respect across genders was born.

“I work in the townships running a creative programme and almost every time I am there, I see some form of abuse towards women or young kids and it’s out of control. We thought about possibly doing a programme around gender-based violence and opening up a platform for kids to talk about it and express themselves in a safe environment,”says Rubin.

Rubin took the painting to UCT in spite of fears that it may be negatively received.

“When I got to UCT with the painting I was extremely nervous, there were thousands of people. There was an incredible response to the painting. People approached me and immediately signed it, hundreds of people signed the painting. It was an amazing experience but very, very sad. I kind of just sat there and watched people interact with the painting.  It was very emotional, ” Rubin adds.

What will happen to the painting hasn’t yet been decided but an auction to raise money for charity or Uyinene’s family are being considered as well as an exhibition of art that addresses gender-based violence.

As we remember Uyinene and the suffering she was subjected to, we hope that as a community and a country we can truly allow her to rest in power and change the future of South Africa to one where no women has to fear for her life ever again.

Picture: Facebook/Ana Kuni

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