Blessing Ngobeni is the Next Big Thing

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The life of Blessing Ngobeni, like
his work, is complex. There’s a deep-rooted poignancy to it. There’s anger,
too. Lots of it. Every piece he creates is a visceral snapshot of a scarred
psyche. It’s pretty heavy-going, but he’s not having it any
other way. ‘My childhood experiences haunt me to this day. I would be being
dishonest with myself and, frankly, unfair if I neglected my past,’ he says.
‘It plays a huge role in my work because I wouldn’t exist without having been in those circumstances.’

Given up by his mother and
beaten by his uncle with a chicotte (this would become the artist’s most
recurring motif), he ran away and lived on the streets until, for his part in
an armed robbery, he ended up in prison. It is here that Blessing
discovered art, developing his style from Renaissance-like naturalism to a mix
of montage, paint and phantasmagorical figures.
characters you see in my works came from a dream,’ he explains. ‘At first I was
terrified, I couldn’t understand them. And so I started
drawing them on my canvases and the fear slowly started to disappear.’

What has appeared in the place of fear is a resolute stand against
oppression and the disenfranchising of the poor by the kleptocratic elite. ‘Current affairs jump into my creative process, it’s almost impossible
to ignore them,’ Blessing says. ‘The struggle – and the fight – for existence
still haunts the human race.’
In both concept and execution it’s easy to see the uncanny similarity to works
such as Guernica or the style of Basquiat (comparisons in biography here
are also too easy), yet Blessing had never encountered these artists. ‘But since discovering them they have inspired me and now contribute to my
work,’ he says. 
What success and good fortune he has today is
certainly not the product of divine intervention but the result of his iron
will and determination not only to survive but to triumph.

Photographs: Annalize Nel