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The Piloting Artist: Amanda Kandawire-Khoza on Flying World’s Largest Passenger Airline and Running a Thriving Art Practice

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Craftsperson. Tick. Digital illustrator. Tick. Pilot. Tick. Entrepreneur. Tick. Community organizer. Tick. Amanda Kandawire-Khoza ticks all the boxes and more. In superwoman style.

At age 5, Amanda decided that she would become a pilot. With unshakable resolve, she held on to this dream and worked until she became one. “I started flying solo on my 18th birthday.” Over the years, she has built a formidable experience as a pilot, having worked for Emirates, where she flew the world’s largest passenger airliner, the Airbus A380.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amanda founded Fly Like A Girl, a company on a mission to expose children, especially the girl child, to aviation through play. “There is a lack of females in the aviation field,” she said. So she created Fly Like A Girl in 2020.

Meanwhile, aviation is only one side of Amanda. In the same year, she started Fly Like A Girl. She began Layover Art, a Fly Like a Girl subsidiary and an outlet that fully allowed her to explore her creative side. Under this entity, Amanda creates digital illustrations and handicrafts.

Amanda speaks about the realities of her creative life, the challenges and how she’s navigating them. She also talks about the relevance of community to her growth as an artist.

On the one hand, you are Amanda the pilot, and on the other hand, you are Amanda the creative. But you said you already knew you wanted to be a pilot since you were a kid, and you started working towads that early. So I want to know when you started exploring your creative side fully.

I took art as one of my subjects in high school, and I used to make pencil drawings at the time. But after high school, I focused mainly on studying to be a pilot. When I later decided that I did want to venture into entrepreneurship, I realised that every one of my entrepreneurial activities involved some elements of creativity. Everything brings me back to some art form.

Even though I started as a pencil artist I’ve always wanted to transition to digital art. When the pandemic started, the lockdown that came with it felt like the perfect opportunity to finally venture into digital art because I wasn’t flying due to all the travel restrictions and border closures. So I had all the time in the world.

I started drawing on my iPad. Initially, just for a personal gallery collection, one drawing at a time, and before I knew it, I had so much work that I decided that I might as well share it with people. That was when I started my Instagram page.

So basically, you started around 2020 with the Instagram page.

Yes.

What are the things you would point at as your growth?

I honestly can’t tell you what it has been. But because I put so much of myself into my work, people can deduce the authenticity just by looking. And besides that, many of my pieces are relatable, especially for women. When you find something online that speaks to you and makes you feel seen and understood, you tend to want to identify with that thing. This is what I believe my art does for people—it helps them feel understood.

In your conversations, you always mention how entrepreneurial you are. How would you say that your entrepreneurial side has helped your growth as a creative?

I am a creative and an entrepreneur. But art comes first. I’ve always created mainly for the love of creating, and it’s only when I’ve made art that my entrepreneurial side says, “Okay, what can I do with this piece?” So when I look at all the products I have on my website, I call them “art curated products.” After all, they were first artworks, and then, only once a piece was completed as artwork did I decide, okay, I want to move this into a product of sorts.

You are a pilot by day and a creative at night. How have you been able to manage the two sides without breaking apart?

I always want to embrace all aspects of myself. And I don’t believe that people should be boxing themselves. There are certain freedoms that pilots enjoy. So also, there are certain freedoms that artists enjoy. While I have those two persons existing in me, one aspect sometimes shines brighter than the other. For example, when I am flying, I can’t exactly go with artistic pink hair. So I just had to find a way to let my creative outlet be something I could still do, even when flying. I wanted it to be something that I would incorporate into my day job. When I started layover art, it was supposed to be an avenue for creating artworks I would make while flying. That’s, in fact, the inspiration behind the name. That’s why it’s been so easy for me to navigate these fields seamlessly. Because I don’t feel one has to suppress one for the other to exist. In simple terms, I brought creativity into my nine-to-five job.

That is amazing. And now I wonder if you have ever experienced conflicts of interest in any way between these two fields?

Oh, yeah, definitely. And I mean, especially now as the Layover Art side is starting to grow because growth means it needs more time. And sometimes it’s time I don’t have because of the flying. So there is always that contradiction, and I would not even call it a contradiction. But there is always that conflict within. It’s like, “Ah, you want both things.” But sometimes life is like, “okay, but one thing does need to take a backseat at times.” So I’d be lying if I said that this is the balance I have. The reality is that there is no balance to anything; I’m just trying to have harmony with everything that I’m doing.

I think I’ve been fortunate in that Layover Art started during COVID-19. So I did have all the time to dedicate to it. And that did help, because at the time it was basically my nine to five, and I had the time to build the audience and brand. So that by the time flying was back in, I had a solid foundation for me to start the juggling between them. It would have been a lot harder if I was actively flying when I started Layover Art.

Was there ever a time when being a pilot has influenced what you create? Or was there a time when being a creative and an artist has also influenced your piloting, in terms of decision making, or in any way?

Okay, so I’ll start with how flying has influenced art. It’s been eye-opening how I see the world because I always feel as though I draw from my point of reference and the things that I enjoy. And because of my work as a pilot, I have been able to travel. meet people from different places and experience different cultures. And because I have seen how people from other parts of the world live and experience life, it then plays out in my drawings. Now, when I’m drawing something that would, in my head,

initially have been an “Oh African woman will relate to this,” my travels have made me realize that actually women, in general, will relate to this, because even though we’re all from different parts of the world, there are so many things that we have in common, so many similarities. And that knowledge has helped my art because now I don’t box myself into thinking that my work is only relatable to South African women or African women. I realised that it appeals to Black women from any part of the world. That’s been where the piloting has influenced the art.

On the other hand, the art influeces the piloting in that you can bring ideas from the realm of creativity into piloting. If you encounter a problem during the flight, it’s easier to realise that there’s more than one way to fix this because my mind is constantly looking at things and being like, “It’s not just black and white, it could be white, or black.” So that aspect of it having a creative brain that is constantly looking for ways to change things, or looking at something differently, that’s then helped me with the flying. I go out with the mentality that nothing is just linear, and there are always different ways to look at the same thing.

Interestingly, you mentioned that being creative helps you think about different ways to do things. Do you usually experience any form of creative block, and if yes, how do you navigate it?

Whenever I need to create, and there’s just nothing in terms of ideas, I tend to take a break from what I’m supposed to do. I give my mind a break period to not think about the thing I had to do. Instead I focus on feeding other things.

For example, I’ll read a book, meditate, take some time away from any tasks and focus on myself. And that way, somehow, my brain can calm down from the stress of “oh, nothing’s happening!”. That’s how the idea starts flowing.

Also, we all derive inspiration from different sources. For me, inspiration sometimes comes from music. So whenever I am experiencing a block, I’ll sit and listen to something music to get my creative juice flowing. After some time, ideas start flowing.

Great. So do you want to speak a little bit about the creative process? You know, from idea generation to the launch. What does it look like for you?

Okay, so I keep a little journal because sometimes ideas come to you when you are far from where you normally create. I also have my iPad where I tend to note down things that I come across. If there is any picture that I like from the internet, I will save it. So for me, creativity comes from different places.

I also keep a collage of all the stuff that speak to me, and then when I’m ready to create something, I’ll go back to that collage.

You mentioned earlier some of the things you like to do. You mentioned music. You mentioned meditation. While I’m going to come to the meditation aspect, what kind of music do you listen to?

Oh, my goodness, I’m the worst person for this question because I have everything. Everything from hip hop to alternative music. It just depends on what I feel like at any given moment. I don’t have a specific genre. I’m that girl who dabbles in a bit of everything.

That’s interesting. I think I’m a little bit like that too. So you mentioned meditation earlier and I notice you alway reference God in your interviews. I wanted to ask, what’s the significance, or in what specific ways has religion or spirituality impacted your creative expression in any form?

Oh, my goodness. Religion is at the core of many things because I believe in God, and I believe God blessed me with many talents that I’m able to use daily, for which I’m grateful. Religion is such a grounding thing for me. Everything I do, I always do in prayer. God is always at the centre. So even when I’m creating, it feels as though my spirituality is in my artwork because I’m referencing something that happened in my life, which I know I prayed through. Someone else could look at it and might not see any spirituality. But for me, there always is that link to God in my work.

What does it feel like to be a Black woman living in South Africa?

Wearing a creative hat is a celebration for me, and I think it’s a celebration because women, particularly Black women in South Africa, are in a time where we celebrate ourselves by ourselves and in all aspects of ourselves. Historically, women have been severely oppressed in this country by race and gender. And, even now, gender-based violence continues to be ravaging this country. So it’s such a bittersweet thing to be at our most liberal yet be the most scared we’ve ever been. It is an empowering and uplifting time for women of colour in this country. We can finally stand on our own two feet and be independent and beautiful in whatever way we perceive ourselves. So I think it’s the first time in a long time that Black women in South Africa feel that way, where they look at themselves and see goodness and positivity. They are happy in their bodies, and they’re so glad in their spaces.

What are you most excited about, especially in your creative career, for the future?

I’m most excited about collaborations because I love working with people. I love sharing ideas with people because there are always things that we think we can do until we meet someone else who’s got an idea that complements what we want to do. And that’s always my thing when you can work with people who have the same vision as you and are trying to change, even if it’s a small part of the world, to make it a better place. That’s

the stuff I am interested in, and I’m looking forward to the collaboration I have lined up for this year. That’s always exciting because I always have visions and images in my head when you are by yourself and creating for yourself. But it’s always a fascinating concept to try to make something that lives in somebody else’s head. So, having minds come together to create something beautiful is always exciting.

I believe so much in the power of the community to create a lasting impact. So, how have you been able to cultivate community, and how has your community helped you?

My community is the real MVP because it comprises people who share. They share with you in case of needed resources, and they share your work whenever you create a new one. It is a community of people constantly trying to help each other. Usually, whenever I get DMs from people I don’t know, it’s always a “Hey, I got your art or contact from someone who shared it with me.” And that’s what I appreciate about my community. They are taking my brand beyond just themselves to make it a global thing. Some communities are made up of hoarders — they see things they like, made by a member of that community, and they go, “Oh, this is nice,” and then they hold on to it. My community is not like that. They share. They share in oneness. In Africa, we call it “Ubuntu,” which means that people are people because of other people. I’ve seen the realities of Ubuntu through my community. 🎨

© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza
© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza
© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza
© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza
© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza
© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza
© Amanda Kandawire-Khoza

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