Lebani Sirenje, better known as Rasta, is known for his often controversial paintings of celebrities and politicians. Now, the artist is hosting an exhibition of up to 600 of his artworks at Museum Africa in Newtown.
Visitors will also be able to view a life-sized sculpture of Rasta himself, which bears an uncanny resemblance.
Rasta is seemingly unfazed by the controversy that surrounds his work. According to a text which greets visitors to the exhibition, his work is described as “demonstrating a strong expressionist artistic style, pursuing to depict not objective reality, but rather the subjective emotions”.
Rasta, who is now appearing in TV commercials, says his popularity is growing and as such, he is growing South Africa’s art audience.
Based on the reactions of schoolchildren visiting his exhibition, his art is certainly creating a buzz.
“Every painting here tells a story,” explains Rasta. “I don’t just paint in my studio. I always attend those big events and paint there. So they are historic paintings.”
The exhibition includes portraits of well-known figures, including Julius Malema, Riky Rick, Queen Elizabeth II, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and 27 portraits of Nelson Mandela.
“I started painting Mandela from when he was released from prison. I was still at school then in Zimbabwe. Each year when he was celebrating his birthdays I would paint a portrait of him.”
Durban-based artist Dr Lungelo Gumede created the Rasta sculpture as part of a collaboration between the artists. “I am so happy to be honoured with a big statue like this of myself,” says Rasta.
“People like the statue, although some have told him [Gumede] it’s of an older version of himself,” he laughs.
Through his exhibition, Rasta hopes to raise enough money to start an art academy. “That’s my dream,” he says. “Kids are always asking me to teach them how to paint. They are always telling me before we turn to crime or substance abuse, please teach us how to paint.”