Farai Engelbrecht, also known as ‘Samurai Farai,’ is a multidisciplinary artist and curator who has carved out a niche for himself. The South African-born Zimbabwean artist, who moved from Rustenburg to Cape Town, is inspired by showing children that “they can do it too.” Farai debuted his work in front of a star-studded audience in March 2022, at the launch of the new Mercedes-Benz C Class. He spray painted the newly released C Class, as well as designing the event’s logo and artwork that accompanied the vehicle’s release. He has travelled to Black Coffee’s Grammy Dinner party and worked on a variety of projects since the launch. We had the opportunity to interview the young artist about his artwork, projects, and aspirations.
MUZI: We’ve been following your amazing artwork and would like to know who Farai Engelbrecht is and why art such a complex thing?
FARAI: Farai Engelbrecht is not the same as Samurai…you get the picture. Samurai Farai is a creative pseudonym and identity born in 2017 during an art school conceptual art project. But I think that personality is core to me; right now I’m supposed to be able to discuss things like my mental health and the mental health in the community and try to raise awareness about it – but I chose art because it was the simplest tool I found to communicate how I was feeling. It was the first tool I learned to use to express myself. Some people enjoy music, others enjoy cooking, and still others enjoy physical activity, but I enjoy creating and working with my hands. So, it delves deeply into my childhood experiences of happiness and trauma, but it now serves to inspire youth and show that a young black person can be an independent creative.
MUZI: In relation to your childhood trauma, I read one of your interviews – I believe it was on GQ magazine – about your upbringing. “Born in Rustenburg, Farai grew up with a Zimbabwean father. ” While he lost his father to cancer when he was young, he was raised solely by his mother – the strongest woman he knows – which ultimately shaped his sensitivity and views on gender.” Can you tell us more about that, as well as your overall gender views?
FARAI: What are my thoughts on gender? Wow, what a broad question. I believe I can say that toxic masculinity is something that is learned and inherited through generational trauma, and it’s a very insane rhetoric or narrative that I haven’t necessarily fully unpacked yet, but for a young man to lose a father leaves the narrative or journey of manhood very open, doesn’t it? Because there is no overarching paternal figure who authorises or dictates how you should be and behave, my relationship with my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and sister shaped my identity as a man.
Growing up with these incredible women in my life taught me to be more accepting of different bodies and genders, as well as to question my own sexuality. So I believe that my sexuality is not determined or dictated by my father as a man, which is why I value my mother and the women in my life so much because they shaped my sensitivity towards myself and others.
MUZI: You studied art at Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art; I’d like to know which lessons in your art education proved to be the most valuable, and how you put them into practice?
FARAI: One of the first things I realised was that the gallery system would not work for me. I wouldn’t call it a lesson as much as an insight because implementations are frequent lessons, but realising I wouldn’t fit into the gallery system was extremely discouraging, but it also inspired me to calculate and figure out how I would survive without the system.
I learned to be the artist I didn’t want to be in art school. So these lessons, as well as the direct communication about money and the measurable value of my time. It’s not something they teach us in college; it’s something you have to learn for yourself, and you also have to spread that knowledge beyond the people by opening the gallery that I have and nurturing the relationships that I have with younger artists.
MUZI: Let’s talk about your beautiful new project with Mercedes-Benz Sandton. How did that happen?
FARAI: Mercedes-Benz Sandton approached me because they want to do a multidisciplinary project that involves various creatives, dancers, models, singers, and artists, and I believe they saw me as an artist who could contribute to this space. This opportunity resulted in one of the best creative places in South Africa in my opinion, because I believe the last person in South Africa to paint on a car was Nelson Mokamo, and the person before that was Esther Mahlangu, and now I can comfortably stoop to being the third South African to be able to paint a European car, and not enough people are aware of that.
MUZI: What do you hope to gain from this collaboration?
FARAI: I think what I’m trying to accomplish with this collaboration is primarily to inspire other people, particularly young people, and to plant the seed of motivation that it is possible, because there is no reason for me to be here doing what I do other than the fact that I gassed myself up to do it, and I guess I just want to plant in those seeds of hope in other people. Sometimes I feel like I’m sowing those seeds in my family, with my mother and many others. I believe it is more akin to the agency of moving with bravery. I’m not here to say, “Hey, I want to take over the world and be the greatest artist ever.” I just want people to feel free to be themselves.
MUZI: If you had to give a piece of advice to emerging young artists about what you have discovered in the industry, what would you like them to know about?
FARAI: I want others to understand that exhibiting in an art gallery does not validate you as an artist or imply that you contribute anything new to the world. I believe that we should stop viewing the gallery system as the pinnacle of success and instead consider how we can create, express ourselves, and present ourselves independently of these spaces – but in spaces that we own.
MUZI: Finally, what can we expect from Farai after this?
FARAI: You can expect more clothes from me, uhm, you can probably expect some music from me, you can probably expect some set design in the new year, and creative direction from just me being me.