Image: Surma Man of Grace from The Fluidity of identities series, watercolor painting by Lioda Conrad

Last year, we featured South African artist Lioda Conrad’s portrait paintings of her artist friends in the Xposy article: Lioda Conrad’s Portraits of Contemporary African Artists.

Artist Lioda Conrad
Artist Lioda Conrad

Since then, Lioda Conrad has expanded her studio practice and her reputation has grown so that she is now referred to as one of South Africa’s leading artists. Lioda is also acting curator for the upcoming arts auction Life Imitates Art, inviting her contemporary artist friends to add their work in support of the organization Dignity SA, and donating her own portrait art to this fundraising event.

Moursi man of Beauty, Watercolor painting on 300gr Hanhemuhle Watercolour paper
Moursi man of Beauty, Lioda Conrad,
Watercolor painting on Watercolour paper

Collectors and art buyers continue to purchase original paintings and prints from one of Lioda’s current and highly sought after suite of artworks, the Fluidity of Identities series.

Several of the artist’s current portrait series developed with her fascination in the people of the Ethiopian Omo Valley–home to eight different tribes– and the rituals they employ to beautify themselves with grasses, flowers, and mud, to become, as Lioda says, “ethereal works of art.”

She expanded her Fluidity of Identities series from a growing interest in the Surma people of Ethiopia, a panethnicity, as the name Surma is used to group the ethnically related Suri, Mursi and Me’en tribes that inhabit the Ethiopian Sudan region.

These African tribal peoples protect their children from the supernatural with white face paint, using white limestone or white kaolin clay common to the area. Red ochre, yellow sulfur, and grey ash also make-up their body paints. There are certain clay deposits in the region that are sacred to these tribes. ( )

Beauty of Friends, Lioda Conrad, Watercolour painting on Fabriano paper
Beauty of Friends, Lioda Conrad, Watercolour painting on Fabriano paper

As Lioda Conrad painted portraits of these decorated people she began asking herself a series of hypothetical existential questions, such as, “What if you were born in another place as another person? Would you still be who you are, live the type of life you do?

Lioda says, “I then had an idea– if some well-known people of South Africa were born elsewhere in Africa, would they have had the same impact on our history as they did?”

That’s when Lioda began adding tribal body art to her portraits of well-know people of South Africa, giving them the same mud painted faces, “so that they became a person of a more Fluid Identity,” and thus the series was born.

A Man of Ideology as a man of Moursi, Stephen Bantu Biko, painting by Lioda Conrad
A Man of Ideology as a man of Moursi, Stephen Bantu Biko, Lioda Conrad

Some of the iconic faces Lioda Conrad has painted this way include the world famous South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu, whom she has had the pleasure of meeting in person, as well as Nelson Mandela, Sister Bernard Ncube, South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Bantu Biko, and prominent human rights lawyer George Bizos who campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.

A Holy sister as a Moursi Sister, The Late Sister Bernard Ruth Ncube, Lioda Conrad
A Holy sister as a Moursi Sister, The Late Sister Bernard Ruth Ncube

Lioda Conrad states that her personal ideology of beauty is that “it is inherent in a person and their essence and not housed in skin colour or nationality.”

Lioda Conrad's portrait of George Bizos
Lioda Conrad’s portrait of George Bizos

Of the paintings in her series, Lioda says, “I am also making all of them available in a limited edition personally signed high quality print on archival paper for an affordable price for A3 size sent rolled in a tube.” The best way to contact Lioda to buy her art is via her Facebook page here and her website here.

Find full details on the Life Imitates Art auction here.

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  1. Such incredible talent. Love the deep meaning behind the Fluidity series. Africa is, after all, the cradle of humankind – from whence we all originate.