Gemma Hart

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Tammi Mbambo, Untitled (girl drinking juice box), 2019. Courtesy of the artist

To dream is to desire. To think bravely and boldly. To reimagine realities, rectify or reclaim the past and envision alternative futures. Dreams demand nourishment. Dreams deserve love and cultivated care. Hold them tenderly, but not too tightly. Allow them to grow far beyond the borders of our imagination and blossom into this world.


Tammi Mbambo dreams. DreamWorld is a space of internal exploration for the young artist where her dreams exist as an exquisite collision of here, now, there, and then. A porthole into possibility. A personal utopia. This dream is of an intimate interior. A place of offering. A site dedicated to her heart’s deepest yearnings, where seafoam waves of tulle cascade onto an altar of royal blue. An interior foregrounded by foliage and bountiful bouquets of lilium longiflorum: a symbol of resurrection. It is here that she meets herself. An expanded version of her being. Backlit by blue, Dream Girl gazes out through perceptive pupils, eyes illuminated with a quiet confidence. A painted portrait of rich melanin tones and a button nose. Tousled tresses reflect a blue sheen in the light. Her lips are gently parted by a straw, as she sips on a dangling juice-box, contemplating a shrine laid before her. 


Akin to Dream Girl’s gaze, Mbambo’s creative practice is self-described as “a venture into looking,” one which is informed by notions of Black Radical Imagination and intersectional feminism through a queer utopic lens. “Queerness is understanding the power in rejecting unsatisfying ways of being, rejecting certain decided ‘truths’ of today, and reaching for a different future with conviction.” In Untitled (girl drinking juice box), she also pays homage to Drag Culture, with overdrawn lips and exaggerated eyes in a bold palette. A prominent feature of the work is her use of the colour blue. “For me blue symbolises a kind of atmosphere and auratic space I used to reach the DreamWorld. I think of blue like air or a body of water or the idea of the daydream realm. Blue is the place I can process my feelings,” she elaborates, adding that engaging this world requires introspection. 


Often in the form of three-dimensional installations, her work explores the fantastical and surreal aspects of dreaming as a means to import the potential of the future into the present. In considering temporal shifts, the shrine offers an ancestral tether, in which duality of life and death is honoured. Initially, DreamWorld was a strategic intervention to aid the artist in healing and escaping reality. The space, physicalized through her practice, was instigated by a desire to access the posthumous presence of her late grandfather. She describes how DreamWorld evolved: “It went from being this escapist invention to being my daily life, the place I live in. So, I never leave, but iterating it to this world has always been a challenge. That’s why I’m pushed to talk about it and to make from it because I want it to exist here, where it is hardest." Utopic visions provide Mbambo a means to resist the looming shadow of an undesired reality. An unwavering pull of perceived limitations is combated by a connection and grounding to self. The double-life of dreaming proffers an unparalleled potential. In a moment where the world seems to be teetering on the edge of despair, the act of dreaming offers an alternate way of being.