Jana Branca and her family attend Northpoint Baptist Church. This is her story.
Tell us about your formative years
I grew up in the beautiful small town of Graskop, in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. I spent most school holidays drawing and painting, and I decided as a teenager to pursue a career in art. In 2004 I went to Belgium as an exchange student. While there I travelled Europe extensively, developing an interest in the diversity and similarities of people and cultures. I completed a fine arts degree at the University of Pretoria in 2008, and I taught adult art classes and worked as a full-time artist from my home studio before we migrated to New Zealand in 2016.
What prompted the move to New Zealand?
The main reason for migrating is that we believe this is what God prompted us to do. My husband Franco and I came to realise, very early on in our lives, that the best and safest place to be is in the centre of God’s will. This is our desire and pursuit as a family. We also wanted to give our two boys, aged five and three, a better future somewhere safe and where there were new work opportunities.
God placed New Zealand on our heart, so we didn’t look elsewhere. We applied for residency as my husband was on the skills shortage list. Being in the oil and gas industry, Franco was invited for a Skype interview for a chemical engineer position in New Plymouth. He accepted the job and we had roughly six weeks to mobilise.
Our big transition has unfolded before our eyes as an eloquent story written by God. It hasn’t been easy, but we, as well as our family and friends, have been so aware of God’s hand on our lives. Subsequently I have found out what a wonderful art community I have moved into. I am still in awe of how God has provided for us.
How long have you been at Northpoint Baptist?
October 2017 marked our first anniversary in New Zealand, New Plymouth and Northpoint.
We started ‘googling’ churches in New Plymouth as soon as we knew that we were moving, and lined up a couple of churches to visit once we got here. We arrived in New Plymouth on a Wednesday and walked through the doors of Northpoint that Sunday. The next Sunday we attended another church in town. On our way home, we both knew that our search had ended before really having begun. We returned to Northpoint the following Sunday, knowing that God had picked this family for us.
What is the overlap between your art and your faith?
I believe that Jesus is true and relevant today, tomorrow and forever. If I am convinced of this truth it should impact every area of my life, and my art is no different. I believe that biblical truths can be explored and addressed in a contemporary, relevant and fresh way. This is what I hope to achieve through my artwork.
In past works, I have enjoyed exploring the possibility of 'weaving' with paint as a metaphor for flesh, with reference to Psalm 139. My interest in the flesh, universally bound by time and always in a state of change, has continued to influence my work.
Currently, I am exploring my new chapter as a New Zealand resident by means of portraiture. I have become acutely aware that 'the flesh' is much like 'the character' in that it is in a constant state of change or development. How could one, therefore, be fully known by another? Time past, situations worked through, and events lived in play a part in forming and changing us. Furthermore, our perceptions of one another are influenced by our own developing subjectivity. This further frustrates what I believe to be a basic human desire, that of 'being known’.
I believe that it is only God who can truly know us, and therefore our need to be known can only be fully met in him. He is outside of time; he knows the beginning from the end and nothing can take him by surprise. Nothing is hidden from him, and he knows us even better than what we could know ourselves. My heart rests in this truth, and it has brought me much comfort.
This particular body of work shows portraiture in an unfinished and layered way. I’m trying to illustrate how we are all still a work in progress. In some of the paintings I have blocked out areas of the canvas and have carried on working. The blocked-out areas, in the shape of circles, offers the viewer a ‘porthole’ into a different time or different level of development. Bringing the concept of time into this body of work is intentional. By employing this ‘unfinished finish’ and the illustration of layers, I hope to make the viewer aware of our constraints in ‘knowing’ and ‘being known’.
What are your plans for the future?
When I was in South Africa I started giving art classes twice a week in our garage. The interest was overwhelming. I was amazed at how many adults experienced a sense of deep regret that they didn’t have the opportunity to develop or explore their artistic talents when younger. Others felt like they had entered a new season in their lives and wondered if they could be any good at painting or drawing. And some simply were looking for an engaging hobby that they could enjoy as a couple.
So, although it was never my intent to do it full-time—my heart truly lies in painting and producing my art—I loved having this contact point with the public. Some of my students remained with me for eight years and became dear friends. I have been able to pass on commission work to some of them, and I enjoy watching via social media as they continue to paint and grow.
We now live on a lifestyle block, which allows me to have a space to work in. I endearingly refer to this space as my ‘studio’, but it is really a shed. It has worked well for my personal production, with the exception of a freezing winter, but it is hardly a space in which to invite the public.
Our hope is to get it insulated and gibbed before winter this year. We are currently working on plans to improve the functioning of the space to cater for classes. I am not sure when this will materialise, but I would love to continue with what I started nine years ago.