It is not often that in viewing a selection of art, one is overcome by national pride, by the desire to make our environment a cleaner one, and by a resolute determination to want to spread the artist’s message further. Mbongeni Buthelezi’s work, however, manages to have this effect.
Internationally acclaimed South African artist, Buthelezi toured his home country, South Africa in October 2009- solo for the first time. He titled his exhibition Imizwa Yami (“My Feelings”)- and when I visited one of his workshops at the Sasol Art Museum during his tour, I soon learned why. Indeed, those readers who have heard of him, or who have managed to catch a glimpse of Buthelezi’s work, will understand why I am determined to sing his praises here.
Fourty-three year-old Buthelezi began developing his talent eighteen years ago with the commencement of his studies at the African Institute of Art in Johannesburg. As a student in an underprivileged informal settlement, he lacked the resources to spend on expensive art materials, such as canvases and oil paints. In the face of this challenge, the young artist started collecting pieces of plastic which he now melts onto a black plastic background to create his astonishingly detailed, three-dimensional artworks. In so doing, he is not only the founding father of an artistically unique technique, but also contributes in a significant way to making South Africa a greener place to live. Buthelezi’s unfaltering perseverance and passion in this regard have made him one of South Africa’s most successful artists- and justly so.
His message to his fellow South Africans is particularly powerful, as he urges us to stop blaming our past for our failure to succeed in the present. “Every country has had a tumultuous history- why should ours be special?” he challenges. How refreshing and how brave of him, I am forced to think as he explains this to me.
Indeed, his bold and progressive ideas shine through in his artwork, making Buthelezi an artist who will surely continue to demand people’s attention, both locally and abroad.