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Blessing Ngobeni is the Next Big Thing

Meet the artist turning tragedy into triumph

By Piet Smedy  | January 23, 2018 | Category

@font-face { font-family: "MS 明朝";}@font-face { font-family: "Cambria Math";}@font-face { font-family: "HoeflerText-Roman";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.BodyCopy-HoeflerBookBodyCopy, li.BodyCopy-HoeflerBookBodyCopy, div.BodyCopy-HoeflerBookBodyCopy { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; text-align: justify; text-indent: 8.5pt; line-height: 120%; font-size: 9.5pt; font-family: HoeflerText-Roman; color: black; letter-spacing: -0.1pt; }span.BodyCopy-HoeflerBookBodyCopy1 { font-family: HoeflerText-Roman; color: black; letter-spacing: -0.1pt; text-decoration: none; }.MsoChpDefault { font-size: 10pt; }div.WordSection1 { } 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. ‘The

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

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