On 17 July, the South African art community excitedly watched one of its own, Nelson Makamo, being introduced in person to the world by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. In February, Makamo’s portrait was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine. His success and stardom is indeed the stuff of dreams.
Makamo’s journey as an artist started at Artist Proof Studio (APS) in 2002, when his art teacher from his rural high school in Modimolle, Limpopo, recognised his talent and drove him into Johannesburg to apply for a bursary to study at APS. In my book Finding Voice: A Visual Approach to Engaging Change, I described Makamo as an example of self-creation: ‘With his talent, dreams and vivid imagination, he created an image of himself as a successful artist and then fulfilled it.’
In Makamo’s final year at APS in 2006, his corporate patron secured a solo show for him at The Melrose Gallery. The exhibition sold out, and that was the start of his rise to becoming one of the most sought-after young artists in South Africa. His work is included in the collections of Annie Lennox, Giorgio Armani, Madonna and many others. In his interview with Trevor Noah, he said: ‘my work aims to show that we are always changing and moving in a path of self-discovery.’
Phillemon Hlungwani had a similar story, as do so many of the young artists starting out at APS. He arrived from his village in Giyane with a beautiful portfolio of drawings and nothing in his pocket. He did not have the funds to study at the former Wits Technikon (now part of the University of Johannesburg) so he was referred to APS where he earned a stipend as an assistant to the late Nhlanhla Xaba and emerged as an exceptional printmaker. He worked as an outreach trainer in community projects for many years following his graduation until eventually, he could support himself. A sell-out show at Absa Gallery catapulted him into the arms of Trent Read who exploded his career onto an international stage. Hlungwani has remained loyal to his ‘home base’ at APS where his former colleague and master printer Pontsho Sikhosana editions all of his etching and drypoint work.
Hlungwani has inspired many young artists from his home in Giyani to study at APS, including Vonani Hlungwani his son, who is a first-year student at APS; Hlavutela Ngobeni, a second-year student, from his home village of Thoma; and Alex Nkuna, also from Giyani, who sees himself as a Hlungwani ‘disciple’ and is currently a fourth-year intern assisting in the Proshop at APS.
Reaching for the Stars, our upcoming exhibition at FNB Art Joburg, celebrates the mentorship from alumni such as Nelson Makamo, Phillemon Hlungwani, Bambo Sibiya, Blessing Ngobeni and others who have achieved such successful careers and are supporting the next generation of rising stars. Sibiya met young Sizwe Khoza in his neighbourhood when Khoza was a 15-year-old aspiring artist. Sibiya brought the talented young Khoza to APS where he nurtured the growth of his career to astounding success.
Khoza is not only the top-selling artist at APS, but he has worked as a teaching assistant to Lucas Ngweng, teaching and mentoring the current rising careers of Lindo Zwane and Lebohang Motaung and many others. When Khoza left the studio to pursue his own career at August House, Zwane took his place as a talented teacher in his fourth year of professional practice up until mid-2019, where he was a mentor to the talented Cromwell Ngobeni and Thandi Khumalo, who both currently work as printing assistants in the Proshop. The opportunity to assist master printers Nathi Ndlandla and Pontsho Sikhosana on the collaborating and editioning of works by William Kentridge, Phillemon Hlungwani, Themba Khumalo, Sizwe Khoza, Bambo Sibiya and many others in the professional print shop, has honed their remarkable talent into excellence that reflects in their own work. Both Ngobeni and Thandi Khumalo are pushing the virtuosity of linocut and mixed media to greater heights and finding their own enthusiastic markets through walking the path cleared for them by their role models.
An annual development grant to APS from the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG), one of the FNB Art Joburg sponsors, has supported students each year to develop experience and capacity to assist in the preparation, curation and logistics of setting up an exhibition on the stand at the art fair. For our exhibition Reaching for the Stars at FNB Art Joburg this year, APS teachers have selected students who are the protégés or beneficiaries of the stars, including Vonani Hlungwani, Hlavutela Ngobeni and Alex Nkuna from Phillemon Hlungwani’s home in Giyani; Tebogo Langa, a first-year student referred to APS and mentored by alumni Nelson Makamo; and Reward Malyana, a third-year student sponsored and mentored by Sizwe Khoza.
This exhibition highlights the extraordinary legacy of printmaking talent over the past two decades. It shines a light on work by the stars, the current rising stars, and will be supported by the incoming generation of printmaking students who are reaching for the stars.
APS is grateful to the collaboration from Everard Read Gallery, RMB, a long-time sponsor of the education programme at APS, and GPG for the sponsorship of the stand and the students’ participation.
Find out more about Art Week Joburg in our other articles:
A feast of fairs at Art Week Joburg 2019
The all-new FNB Art Joburg
The artworks of Nandipha Mntambo
Thomarts Gallery is at The MARC during Art Week Joburg
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