Faces of Africa: Artist Victor Sitali on overcoming his disability to pursue his passion

The Zambian artists talks to us about his talent for portraiture, his work with Mawaheb from Beautiful People, and why he counts South Africa’s Lionel Smit and the United Kingdom’s Trevor Waugh among artists who have inspired him.

African women and their strength, sense of style and the important role they play in society form the focus of Victor Sitali's most recent exhibition. The 25-year-old Zambian artist, who is hearing-impaired, has lived in the UAE for 10 years. He talks to The National about his talent for portraiture, his work with Mawaheb from Beautiful People, a centre for children and adults with special needs, and why he counts South Africa's Lionel Smit and the United Kingdom's Trevor Waugh among artists who have inspired him.

Why do you choose to paint portraits?

From the day I started painting, I have had a passion for painting portraits. Currently, I am working towards a solo exhibition about African women. The vibrant colours that African women wear always caught my eye as a child in Zambia, and I felt the desire to capture this using my brush techniques and paint. African women, in my opinion, are beautiful, and through my paintings, I wanted to show their beauty.

What or who inspires you?

My main source of inspiration is Lionel Smit, a South African artist. I love the way he uses strokes on his outstanding portraits. I am always searching for inspiration, and am inspired every day by so many artists that I follow on social media, and also those showing such great works in the art galleries around Dubai.

What is your preferred medium, and how would you describe your style?

I prefer oil on canvas. I don’t have a distinct style as of yet – I am learning every day, and am a work in progress. I see my styles developing and changing constantly.

Being deaf is a social disability, but do you find that it affects your work?

Deafness does not affect my work at all. Yes, being deaf is a social disability, but it is becoming less so due to all the new technology. I am now able to communicate much better with people on WhatsApp or other social media. I don’t need to hear while I paint, so being deaf does not get in my way. People now have started recognising me as an artist and not a deaf artist. I would like to think people enjoy and buy my artwork because they really like it, and not because I am deaf. But if the fact I am deaf adds to the background story of the painting, then that is fine. Of course, I also hope to encourage the deaf community in general through my artwork.

You took lessons from Trevor Waugh in the UK. How important was that for your career?

I will be forever grateful to Trevor Waugh, as he recognised my talent and gave me the opportunity to further my skills. I have spent a few weeks with him in the UK twice, and he and his wife, Darlas, encouraged me to focus on learning new techniques and painting skills. Trevor is a master. It’s under has guidance that I have developed my passion. I can paint for hours at a time now, and even forget to eat or drink while I’m painting. I get so involved that nothing matters to me except the painting in front of me.

You worked with Mawaheb for Beautiful People – how has that helped your profile as an artist?

Mawaheb helped me become the independent, confident person I am today. I am so grateful to the founder, Wemmy de Maaker, and my art teacher and mentor, Gulshan Kavarana, for spotting my talent and guiding me throughout. Even though I am no longer an artist at Mawaheb, I still go and paint there sometimes and teach my friends at Mawaheb what I’ve learnt, because when you teach, you also learn. They encouraged me to further myself and I decided that I wanted to pursue a degree in graphic design. Mawaheb helped me find a volunteer, Marisa Dietsche, who knows sign language, and she attended my classes with me. Without her I would not have been able to complete my graphic design course. We will finish the programme this August.

• Visit www.Vsitali90.wix.com/victorsitali for more information