At Home with Amy Ayanda

Mom, musician and artist Amy Ayanda shows us around her space

Amy Ayanda

Words: Zia-ul-haq Haffejee|Photography: Mandy Nash

"Home has always been super important to me."  Stepping into Amy Ayanda's charmingly chaotic world, this becomes apparent quite quickly: the multidisciplinary artist and mother's space reveals the melding of her worlds as parent and creative. The Way of Us visited her at her home in Plumstead, a modest two-bedroom that she and her partner Dean managed to nab at a good rate. Amy's father is a priest – the arch-deacon of the area at one point – and would bring communion to elderly folks in the area who couldn't make it to the church services themselves. Her current residence belonged to one such old lady, and when she passed, Amy and Dean housesat for her family shortly after their almost-two-year-old daughter, Francis, was born. 

"Back then", Amy accounts, "the place was packed with old people stuff." There wasn't much by way of a kitchen and they slept on two single beds pushed together. It was a decidedly simpler time – one that Amy fondly looks back on as being the best of her life to date. The family then offered them the place to rent indefinitely, a decision made easy by perks like the surprisingly spacious garden and back-room that Amy uses as her cramped-but-quaint workspace.

Amy Ayanda

Reflectiveness shaped Amy's free, chatty responses to questions about her home, family life and work. Frank exclamations of gratitude for the privileges in her life peppered her infrequent dips into the challenges she's faced. It hasn't exactly been an easy ride, having fought resilient depression since her teenage years. But in the short space of time we spent together, it seems Amy's views on her own life's struggles are framed in her mind by those of other peoples'.

"I've actually had a very lucky life. Compared to most people in this country?" She promptly steers the conversation to her father's difficult upbringing and how his family's home and farm in Constantia were taken away from them during the forced removals of apartheid. 

Amy was born to a coloured father and white mother. "Ayanda" is her middle name, but it took preference over "Lester" when attaching her name to a collaborative song with Thor Rixon and has done ever since. Her family moved to Ceres after she was born, and she chuckled at the thought of her mom being the only white woman in town, pushing around a white-looking baby. Her father was determined to give her the life that he never had, and so her school career saw holistic encouragement to try her hand at different things, which quickly saw her interests streamlining to music and art. 

Amy Ayanda

Her initial inclination was to study architecture after school, an idea that she canned pretty quickly in favour of Fine Art at Michaelis where she graduated with a major in painting in 2014. Since then, Amy has been forging her own path artistically and doing just what feels right. Her output was more "fine art" focused then, whereas now she's exploring a more commercial side: "I'm just making things, which started off as a hustle but has since become a lot more stable."

She has a store at the Biscuit Mill every Saturday where she sells the hand-painted bags and prints that she makes at her home-studio. The theme of "home" pops up again when Amy excitedly describes the positive feedback she's received. The fresh linens and cottons with which she works give it a cosy, homey feel, and she has been consistently complimented on its pervasive sense of serenity.

Amy Ayanda

She attributes her fresh perspective on the commercial side of her work to an eye-opening course called "Business Acumen for Artists" at the UCT Graduate School of Business – which she revealed had been similarly beneficial to friends and fellow artists Jana Babez and Lady Skollie. Amy stressed the importance of young artists becoming business savvy in a cutthroat industry while accounting for some of the times where she's been screwed over by galleries. The element of freedom she experiences in doing what she does on her own terms, while daunting in the beginning, has proven to be an inspiring benefit.

As would be imagined, becoming a mother has drastically changed Amy's artistic outlook and the work she puts out into the world. It's also helped her combat her depression and forces her to live in the now, because, for a business-running mother of a toddler, the work never seems to end. It has been similarly impactful on how and when she works, which tends nowadays to be late at night after Dean gets back from work, they've had supper and put Frankie to bed. It's forced her to be more constructive with her time as a most precious commodity.

Amy Ayanda

Twice a week she teaches clay classes at the International School because she loves working with children ("They're just so cute. They don't really care what they're doing; as long as they're occupied."), and her and Dean's collaborative music project serves as a similar outlet mechanism. It's something special that they share and can have fun with; band practices typically find them dropping Frankie off with a loved one, which gives mom and dad the chance to unwind a little bit. Other rewards include getting to play at cool festivals around the country and having people respond with praise to the earnestness of the music they're making.

Amy worries about stretching herself too thin, but she visibly tackles what she does with such sincere dedication and warmth that one can't help but have blind faith that she'll find some way or the other to pull it off in the end. She credits her firm support structures in her loved ones as making a lot of what she does possible. Another life-changing event in Amy's life happened in October last year when she lost her mother after a long illness, which has been deeply taxing on her. But she finds great solace in the fact that her mom stuck around long enough to get to know her granddaughter. Almost compulsively, Amy was quick to find the silver lining. With her mother's life insurance her father was able to pay off their family home in its entirety, meaning that once again, after all these years, Mr Lester is once again a home-owner. 

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