The painting that blinks


The portrait of Mama Africa is bewildering in its beauty, so life-like it’s almost breathing. Suddenly, the image blinks. This is the art incarnate of Turkish artist Burcu Cunneen. Instead of creating impressions of people, Cunneen brushes colour over skin and clothing, making each person appear as if they were an oil painting. The results are striking, blurring lines of fantasy. Using her unusual depiction of the iconic image of an African woman, this artist is showing off local beauty in unexpected ways.

Born in Turkey, Cunneen graduated in fine art and worked as an art teacher. Having specialised in charcoal and oil paintings, she sought a way to carry her vision into the world. After meeting experimental artist Eser Afacan, Cunneen began to piece together ideas of her own expression. She started creating what she calls ‘Life Art,’ a technique of brushing colourful impressions on people to compose portraits of real life. Her work is then captured in a series of photographs, which play with the perceptions of each subject. The concept developed after she worked with cancer patients to portray them in a new light. “We are a reflection of all that we experience,” Cunneen says. “Why not make it positive?”

Upon relocating to South Africa, Cunneen gathered a group of students with whom she teaches and practises her craft. Her mentees carry this unique perspective with them, using her shared techniques to tell their own stories. While Cunneen first struggled to find her means of expression, she now sees that it’s everywhere. “There are living portraits of beauty in South Africa,” Cunneen says. Through her work, she enables our country to see the bounty it holds. “Nothing is of more value than a good piece of art,” she says. “So maybe if we become art, we can learn to value each other.”