Rural artist has chance to shine at exhibition

By DAVID MACGREGOR

A talented rural artist has been given a lifeline to explore his craft by the son of a famous South African abstract painter.

TRUE GIFT: Talented painter Mziwoxolo Makalima hangs one of his paintings of a township scene at his studio in Gonubie, after local resident Giles Battiss  gave him an artist in residency position at his home Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR
TRUE GIFT: Talented painter Mziwoxolo Makalima hangs one of his paintings of a township scene at his studio in Gonubie, after local resident Giles Battiss gave him an artist in residency position at his home Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR

Eighteen months ago, Mziwoxolo “Mzi” Makalima was contemplating moving back home to Gqobonco village near Engcobo when Walter Battiss’s son, Giles, offered him an artist in residency at his Gonubie home instead.

Since taking up the offer, Makalima’s artist dream has flourished and he is now holding his first solo painting exhibition, called Ordinary People, at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Makalima told the Dispatch his collection of paintings were inspired by everyday scenes he captured in townships near his new home.

Visiting formal and informal settlements in nearby Nompumelelo and Santini, Makalima recorded scenes of ordinary people lining up for water, children playing in the streets and the struggle for electricity, on his cellphone to paint later.

“I always tell people what I am going to do with the photos,” the 35-year-old said.

“I was inspired by seeing people get on with their lives even though they have got nothing.”

Makalima, a self-taught artist who went on to study fine art at university, was coming to the end of a temporary teaching post at Walter Sisulu University and faced an uncertain future when Battiss offered to help.

Although not an artist himself, Battiss’s daughter was following in her famous grandfather’s footsteps studying at Walter Sisulu University at the same time Mzi was filling in for a lecturer on sabbatical.

Already aware of Makalima’s talent after buying a work called Chore at an East London exhibition, Batiss said: “When I heard Mzi was at a loose end, I said come and work at your art in Gonubie.”

The only person from his family to attend university, Mzi said returning home would have been bad for his art career and would have had a negative impact on youth from the area who dreamed of going off one day to study.

“It would have been like I failed.”

Since he moved into the Battiss house in December 2014, Makalima has produced a wide range of acclaimed work from painting to sculptures in the studio garage.

Battiss said what first attracted him to buy Makalima’s painting, Chore, was his skilful and intriguing use of a three dimensional image on a two dimensional background.

The township scenes in his exhibition at the Albany Museum use this method to great effect, forcing viewers to fill in the unfinished scenes in the background in their own mind.

Starting off drawing doodles in his school textbooks, Makalima had to come up with a portfolio quick when he was accepted to study fine art at Tshwane University after he matriculated in 2002.

“It was difficult to do art in the rural areas. There were no art teachers, equipment or facilities.

“I always wanted to be an artist, but never knew if I would make it.

“Now I am happy living my dream.”

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