Posted 25 January 2023
Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Kumbirai Makumbe

Kumbirai Makumbe on blending the physical and digital in their artistic practice

From sculpture to digital immersion, Kumbirai Makumbe seeks to create new languages in their work to express their lived experience. Since studying art direction at London College of Communication, they’ve injected their learnings of idea conceptualisation into the mediums of 3D printing and sound – all of which have been self-taught. And with commissions from the likes of Arebyte Gallery and Visual Carlow, Kumbirai has made gains in the art world through keeping contact with curators, alongside financial support from their day job and initiatives such as the Black Artists Grant and the BBZ Alternative Graduate Show. Here, Kumbirai discusses playing with ‘phygitality’ and why you should always send that email – even if you don’t think it’ll go anywhere.

Kumbirai Makumbe

Kumbirai Makumbe

Job Title

New Media Artist



Selected Commissions

Arebyte Gallery, Dateagle Art, Visual Carlow

Previous Employment

Freelance Designer and Art Director (2020-2021)

Place of Study

BA Design for Art Direction, London College of Communication (2016-2019)

Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m an interdisciplinary new media artist. My works spans from sculpture and installation to sound, moving image and digital experiences. I often play with the concept of ‘phygitality’ [the combining of the physical and digital]. I’m interested in the translations and transportation of matter between digital and physical spaces.

I explore these themes through working with Cinema4D, game engine Unity, 3D scanning and digital fabrication – mainly in the form of 3D printing. I work alone from my studio in east London.

I would describe what I do as storytelling, form-giving and space-making. When I say form-giving, I mean sculpting, but also making the intangible tangible. In terms of space-making, I create ‘spaces’ in Unity. I like to think of 3D printing as a process similar to terraforming [modifying other spaces to make it resemble the environment on Earth], where I bring elements from these fictional spaces into IRL spaces.

“My works spans from sculpture and installation to sound, moving image and digital experiences.”

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Kumbirai’s project, It Was A Mix Of Things, on display at Arebyte Gallery for Powerplay exhibition (2020)

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What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I’m mainly influenced by my own experience of existing within the world as a displaced Black, trans and non-binary individual – specifically the aspects of it I do not have the language to articulate and describe.

In order to give language to these experiences, I create my own languages. They can be – and have been – visual, sonic and linguistic. In order to create these languages, I draw inspiration from fluidity, quantum physics, science fiction and Black feminist thought.

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Kumbirai’s sculptural series, The Figments (2021)

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Can you tell us about some of your favourite projects to date?
My favourite projects to date have been my last two works: Pre-Intertopia (2022) and Living Doesn’t Mean You’re Alive [LDMYA] (2021).

LDMYA is a digital audio-visual experience which follows a once-human info-morph – a virtual body of information with sentience – existing in cyberspace, who’s beginning to miss the physicality of their body.

It was a behemoth of a work to produce at the time, but it helped me to develop as a practitioner in so many ways. The process involved working with multiple 3D softwares, Unity, 3D scanning, sculpting in clay, producing soundscapes, 3D printing and painting, as well as collaborating with sound producers and a programmer. I loved making LDMYA because of what I learnt from making it.

Pre-Intertopia is a sculptural installation I made this year, commissioned by Visual Carlow for their Speech Sounds exhibition. This was the first time I worked on a purely physical piece on such a large scale. It was a huge feat – but one I’m incredibly proud of.

The project draws from the cosmology, spiritual beliefs and ritualistic practices of the Shona people from Zimbabwe and their intersections with interstellar travel. Making the work involved 3D scanning, sculpting in clay, modelling in 3D software, 3D printing, working with resin and painting.

Pre intertopia Work in progress Me finishing off the body of the figure sculpture in Pre intertopia

Pre-Intertopia as a work-in-progress at Kumbirai’s studio

Pre intertopia Work in progress Installation Mock up in the studio

Pre intertopia Work in progress

How I got here

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I’m self-taught so I did not have any specific training working with the mediums I do. So, on a practical level, I don’t think I needed any specific training in that sense.

However, there is knowledge that is essential to do what I do and the course I studied [at uni] helped me cultivate it. When I studied art direction, there was a very clear focus on idea conceptualisation and consolidation, experimentation and concept execution. This has definitely helped me engage with the media I work with today.

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
It took me a while to find my calling. But I was always out doing things, collaborating and exploring my options before graduating. Whilst studying, I assisted a set designer on multiple occasions until I realised it wasn’t for me.

I explored multiple roles surrounding fashion photography. I tried art directing, art photography and working as a digital artist alongside fashion. None of it really stuck and eventually I just decided to make the work I wanted to make.

Three months after graduating, I moved back home to my parents’ place in Sheffield, got a studio at S1 Artspace and worked on my first commission there. My studio was much more affordable and I didn’t have to pay rent – so I could spend most of my time at the studio.

“It took me a while to find my calling, but I was always out doing things, collaborating and exploring my options.”

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Stills from Living Doesn’t Mean You’re Alive (2021), exhibited in Channel B at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London

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If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
First of all, music. This is very broad but I draw from it quite heavily. I’ve always found music’s ability to capture the essence of things incredibly powerful. I continually make playlists for new works I’m making in an attempt to capture their essence.

Contemporary Art Daily is a website posting documentation of contemporary art from around the world every day. It’s a good way to keep up to date on what types of shows are going on and also a way of accessing shows and artists you wouldn’t be able to discover as easily.

And finally, Talk Art podcast by Russell Tovey and Robert Diament. The duo sit down with invited guests from the art world and discuss their practices and the ideas behind their work. I love listening to the interests and methodologies used by other makers; I find it incredibly inspiring and fascinating.

How did you go about landing your first commission?
I love this story. After graduating, I was applying to every single job I could find and emailing everyone. One of the first places I looked into was Arebyte Gallery because I was super-into them; an art gallery focused on digital art with an incredible programme sounded perfect.

Upon checking their website, there was no job listing. It simply read, “Send us an email if you think we need you”. I didn’t think they needed me but I thought I’d try. I emailed and I got a response from the curator, Rebecca Edwards, two weeks later with a very kind “no”, but she told me to stay in touch as she liked my work.

About a month later, I was involved in an exhibition put together by BBZ London: Alternative Graduate Show 2019 at Copeland Gallery. I thought it would be nice for me to email invitations to some people I want to impress, so I did – and Rebecca was one of them. She replied the next day saying that she was happy I emailed her and that she was going to go to the exhibition and see it that day.

She sent me an email the next day saying that she loved my work and that she wanted to put it on Arebyte On Screen, Arebyte Gallery’s online platform. That happened. We stayed in touch and then about two months later I received an email from Rebecca about having a new work commissioned for their Powerplay exhibition which took place in summer 2020.

Being friendly and getting in touch with people goes such a long way. Send that email – even if you don’t think it will amount to anything!

“Being friendly and getting in touch with people goes a long way. Send that email – even if you don’t think it will amount to anything!”

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Staying true to myself, knowing what works best for me and staying on my own path. It’s easy to get lost and do what other people are doing, especially if what they’re doing is working well. I make time to process and think about this specifically; I’m continually course-correcting.

Plan view of It Was A Mix Of Things (2020), installed at Arebyte Gallery for the Powerplay exhibition

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work? Do you have any advice or learnings to share?
Incredibly important! I would not have gotten many of the opportunities that I’ve been so fortunate to get if it was not for social media.

However, it’s not everything. It’s a tool – and I’ve found it best to always view it this way. Your offline presence and interactions are just as, maybe even more, important than your online interactions.

Have you benefited from any access schemes, initiatives or mentorships you'd like to share?
I benefited from being in the BBZ Alternative Graduate Show back in 2019. This was an annual exhibition that acted as a platform to showcase the work of queer womxn, trans and non-binary artists of Black ancestry.

Being in the show introduced me to so many people. The exposure and knowledge I gained through this was invaluable. I recommend that everyone apply for anything they’re eligible for.

In 2020, I was also awarded The Black Artists Grant by Samuel Ross and Daniel Arsham. I applied at the last minute, as I felt sure that I was not going to get it. I was encouraged by friends to still apply so I did and to my surprise I got it.

Always, always apply – even if you’re not confident.

“View social media as a tool. Your offline presence and interactions are just as, maybe even more, important than your online interactions.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Having more than one avenue to make money is life-changing. I’ve taken on supplementary work to support myself and my practice ever since I’ve graduated and I’ve constantly tried different routes to see what I enjoy best.

I’ve been a gallery invigilator, an assistant manager at a provider of artist studios and now I’m working in education at arts colleges in a mentoring and lecturing capacity.

Finding the balance between [such roles] and working as an artist can be difficult to find, but once you’ve done so, it’s a beautiful thing – especially when your day job is fulfilling too.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Live as cheaply as possible and manage your expectations. I’ve been terrible at doing this myself, but it was great advice.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar career?
I’m not sure if this is the best advice but it’s what I did:

I always told myself that the work comes first. I tried to make sure that I never stopped making work. I focused on creating the conditions for myself to be able to create work. At the time I thought that if I didn’t have good work to show what I can do and what I’m capable of, then what do I have? How am I going to progress?

Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Kumbirai Makumbe