Getting to Know Fhatuwani Mukheli
Fhatuwani is a man of many talents who began his creative journey well over a decade ago. He co-founded I See a Different You which stretched open the creative playing field and influenced menswear in South Africa. The creative has collaborated with the world’s biggest brands in a decade span career and has inspired up and comers with his signature Afro-modern aesthetic.
Recently, Fhatuwani partnered with the most awarded cognac, Courvoisier, where he gets to appreciate the joys of life. In this exclusive GQ interview, photographer, filmmaker, art director and co-founder of I See A Different You, Fhatuwani Mukheli shares how he’s been rekindling his passion for art, having #CourvoisierMoments, giving back and redefining what it means to be a modern man.
GQ: Take us through your partnership with Courvoisier?
Fhatuwani Mukheli: It was an honour to be approached and considered as one of the artists they would like to partner with. The partnership was organic, you know most brands come in and make you do things that are not naturally you. With Courvoisier the partnership came from a place of mutual respect and their intent was just to provide me with a supportive structure/platform that will assist me with whatever project/s I will be working on or involved in during the duration of our collaboration.
GQ: The #CourvoisierMoments you host. What is your intention and how do you use that platform to further enhance others or build one another as creatives in the same field as you?
FM: The #CourvoisierMoments event was hosted at our new studio, The Mills in Newtown Johannesburg. The studio is co-owned by myself, my twin brother Justice and Sthu Manaka who is our childhood best friend. The studios’ main purpose is for collaboration – it’s a place where we all meet, come up with ideas and turn them into tangible things. We want to use that space to bring in younger artists who like ourselves, never had an opportunity to come to the space, explore, play, conceptualize and create art with us. And in the future, we could also make it a residency, where we will bring in friends from abroad, to host talks, exhibitions and whatever artistic/creative idea they may have. What’s important is that I want that space to be accessible to everyone. We aim for the space to not imitate your typical art gallery and it’s not intentionally but galleries just have this aura of making you feel like you shouldn’t be in that space if you don’t look a certain way. But more than anything we want the space to be accessible for everyone.
GQ: As an artist, you are quite famous for portraiture. What is the secret to capturing such intimate, honest and compelling images/videos?
FM: Firstly, it’s the years of experience. I’ve mentioned in other interviews that I got into art, at the age of seven, I discovered that I’m an artist at that age. What captures the essence of the portrait or the soul of a person you are capturing is the eyes. If the eyes are captured well, they draw you in. It’s also technique and I try my best to always be unique in what I am capturing.
GQ: You use the hashtag #arttherapy with your posts on Instagram. Do you think that is a form of healing? Does it bring joy? Or does it bring healing into the person who’s engaging with it at that time?
FM: I started painting, again, I think during the height of lockdown when we were on level 5. At first, it was boredom, and frustration because I couldn’t do anything, I See A Different You was on pause because we couldn’t produce anything. I had just moved into my new place and it’s beautiful. I have all these nice things around me, but there was, there was a feeling of unhappiness inside me, and that is when I started having an intervention and asked myself ‘’Fhatuwani, what makes you happy?’’ and the response was painting. From when I was a kid I would enjoy painting, which was something I stopped doing six or seven years ago. I started painting again during level 5 of lockdown and that felt therapeutic for me. I felt like I was reconnecting with my younger self again and that brought a sense of joy that you can’t buy. The more I did it, the better I felt about myself and the mindset I was in. It was such a therapeutic process for me that when I’m painting, I want that same energy I feel to translate into the work I’m working on. And whoever buys that piece of painting can get that energy transferred to them.
GQ: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
FM: Inspiration is all around us. For me, it’s simple. It’s the people I’m hanging with, from my childhood, and I also get it from my mother who is an amazing person, because I can’t believe how kind she is. She has moulded me to be the man that I am. As much as I’m a man who was born from a woman and I am very much aware that I am this strong because of the women that are in my life.
GQ: Who’s your favourite artist/s besides yourself?
FM: A lot. I have a lot I’ll name a few. My brother Justice is my favourite, Sthu Manaka, and then I love a lot of graffiti artists, there’s a guy in Germany called Dime, he does a lot of 3D work. Another friend of mine Osmic, Wanda Buhle, Harmonia Rosales, Ibe Ananaba and Linsey Levendall.
GQ: Let’s talk about your other venture, the restaurant. What inspired the name ‘Even After All’?
FM: Even After All is a restaurant I co-own with amazing people. We all sat together and were thinking, we were in the heaviest lockdown, it made it seem like things were gone, there was no more life, no more fun. But we thought no man even after all of this stuff, even after all as people we still have ourselves and we can still celebrate what we have achieved. Even during the pandemic, we are still here and who would’ve thought a kid from Soweto would own a restaurant in the prime of Johannesburg. This is just a way to show what positivity looks like. It’s a constant reminder that Even After All of this stuff happening out there, there is hope and there is still light.
GQ: We are starting to see more modern men for instance you get guys who enjoy having a cocktail, are not shy at displaying their vulnerability and are able to express love. Do you think as a GQ guy we are in that place where we have men that are dismantling toxic masculinity and are able to express their vulnerable side without questioning who they are?
FM: I am a pro-believer of kindness and love. I am able to showcase my lows and highs, I am also able to be vulnerable and show compassion to my male friends, and I think that what is coming out of the world now is that hard or tough is not necessarily a cool thing. You know, the reason why I and my twin brother, and our best friends call ourselves my love is because we are using that to challenge toxic masculinity. We need to know that as men you can be soft and you are allowed to call your friend my love and love them and that is okay. That should be a way of living and be known that is okay to be vulnerable as a man. Another thing we need to know is that it’s okay to express love for another man and that does not mean you want to be with them and even if you want to be with them that is still okay. What I feel is amazing and what is important is that we need to be able to take off our guard and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And by doing that we end up becoming stronger, and strong does not mean you must be mean-mugging or be emotionless but being strong means that you can go to your friends and express what you are feeling and know it’s also okay to cry on your friends’ shoulder.
GQ: What are you most looking forward to with your partnership with Courvoisier?
FM: I’m looking forward to doing greater things, participating in things that will give back to the community as well and that’s been something we have been talking about with Courvoisier. I enjoy highlighting how a cognac can be actually a day drink as well, it can be a cocktail that you can enjoy with friends, not just at events, but also just to show that you can enjoy such moments at home with friends and family. I am in a time in my life where I am transitioning into adulthood, I am 36 turning 37, I’m now completely focused, I have a partner that I am serious with and things are becoming a full circle. I am buying a standalone house and planning things around family and I feel that Courvoisier is at the pinnacle of that for me where it’s encouraging me to enjoy #CourvoisierMoments with friends and family. But most importantly is to enjoy these #CourvoisierMoments beautifully in a responsible way.
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