The critically acclaimed artist, Sthenjwa Luthuli who’s well known for his carved wooden reliefs and woodcut prints is the artist on everyone’s lips at the moment. Sibusiso Mkize talks to the enigmatic artist about his exhibition, introduction to art and what makes him tick as an artist.
Growing up in Bothas Hill, KZN, how did your love for art begin?
Being creative is something that I grew up with from my childhood. It all began by creating using waste materials, and that’s how I fell in love with art.
When did you realize art was a career for you?
Not knowing how to read and write the foreign language which is English. Practicing art for me wasn’t a career choice but I wanted to create my own comfort zone where I’m able to connect with myself and get to know who Sthenjwa is.
What was your introduction into the art world?
I introduced myself as a person who was blocked by the education system and wanted to blow up my mind and meet with people who understand my language.
Tell us why you prefer woodcuts, etching and patterns as a medium of art?
With wood I challenge myself and explore more ideas that are more flexible as my practise is about flexibility. The wood comes from nature. In our culture as Africans we value everything that comes from nature. I also believe that as Africans we have that special relationship with nature.
Talk to us about your latest exhibition. What inspired it?
My Solo Exhibition was about Inkaba yami “Navel” where in the Zulu culture when a child is born we take the navel and place it in the centre of the kraal, being taught by the elders this is to make the child never forget his/her identity of where they are coming from. There is even a saying that says “Ayikho indawo edlula ikhaya” meaning there is no place like home since the person is truly at ease when at home. So this all about knowing where you come from and never forget.
Which artists inspire you and which artists do you look up to?
I’m more inspired by Wangechi Mutu and Yinka Shonibare as they promote the African culture and make it more valuable for everyone. In Africa and globally the young upcoming generation will have a clear vision about themselves. Yinka uses the Shweshwe patterns in his sculptures which makes his work become the language of the whole world.
What are the highlights of your career as an artist?
As I’ve mentioned above that art was never a career for me. I will be sharing the best with the world and explore more ideas that I mostly develop in an unknown space that I created for myself which is where I exist.
During this Covid-19 pandemic, what are the challenges you face as an artist and in business ?
I believe an artist is a person who is supposed to be free from any angles in order to be able to create, since this pandemic the life is never the same it feels like prison.
Where and when do you feel the most creative?
Every time when I see my work from my working space I always feel like I need to do more. Also if I come across something beautiful from nature I would feel like yes I can share this with the world in a different way.
What’s the state of art in South Africa?
Speaking on behalf of black community we are in a process of making art a universal language.
What advice can you give young people wanting to carve a career in the world of art?
It’s all about getting to know yourself 1st before involving yourself in art. From my experience love and focus in what you are doing will make you reach your goals.