By Edward Tsumele
Standard Bank Young Artist award winner Blessing Ngobeni is indeed a blessed man. To start with he had it rough growing up in Tzaneen Limpopo where he hails from. Growing up rebellious mainly due to the Fact that his father was absent from his life and was raised by his mother, he ran away from home and found himself in Johannesburg, a place where fortunes are sometimes made, but are also sometimes lost.
Ngobeni found himself homeless at some stage, living rough in Johannesburg’s mean and unforgiving streets. He ended up in jail for armed robbery.
However Ngobeni used his jail time to carve out a clean life for himself once he was out. In jail he started drawing portraits of fellow inmates.
Little did he know that by doing so, he was fashioning himself a future that would see him become one of the most prolific and highly appreciated artists in contemporary South Africa once he was out of the jail.
Once outside jail, Ngobeni’s talent was groomed at Artist Proof Studios as well as at residencies at the Bag Factory and in the US. Today his art is ranked highly, emerging as one of a few crops of contemporary artists in South Africa whose works are much desired by collectors.
This generation of contemporary artists, among whose ranks are found names such as Nelson Makamo, Themba Khumalo, Thonton Kabeya, the late Benon Lutaaya, Philimon Hlungwani, Mary Sibande, and Turiya Magadlela, to name but just a few, whose work is much sought after by collectors today.
Ngobeni today stands out as not only a professional artist earning a decent living from his work, but he is also a recipient of a number of awards, his latest being the Standard Bank Young Artists Award for this year.
This award comes with the prestigious opportunity of creating work that is exhibited during the National Arts Festival, which traditionally took place in Makhanda. This year however, the festival takes place virtually, having started on June 25, due to restrictions put in place by government due to the rampaging coronavirus.
The festival, however has been extended this year until July 31. Consequently, Ngobeni’s solo exhibition ‘Chaotic Pleasure’, which formed part of this year’s Virtual National Art’s Festival, has been extended once again and can be viewed online until the 31st July 2020.
Ngobeni also stands out among his peers, not only because of his ability to create beautiful pieces that shine a spotlight on the ugliness of power in the hands of the corrupt, but also because Ngobeni is a fine artist who strives to uplift others, and that is why he in recent years, launched a fine art award in his name that is awarded to a talented young artists. The Blessing Ngobeni Award comes complete with a studio space as well as a stipend for a young artists who also receives mentorship.
He also does this while challenging the status quo through his art. Through the use of painting, sculpture, video, audio installations and live performance, Ngobeni speaks truth to power, continually highlighting and questioning corrupted systems of power in South Africa.
The work that is currently on exhibition at the National Arts Festival represents well Ngobeni’s ongoing theme of creating politically and socially conscious work that should make corrupt politicians in South Africa uncomfortable.
“Chaotic Pleasure is a much anticipated body of work: a project conceived as a response to receiving the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Arts, which was announced in November 2019. The paradoxical title of this work represents a quintessential feature of Blessing’s work – his ability to manipulate and conjugate seemingly incongruous words to flummox, challenge and inspire the viewer.
This exhibition serves as both an observation and a form of confronting complex issues of power and abuse. Since his first solo exhibition at Everard Read’s CIRCA gallery in 2016, titled Song of Chicotte, Ngobeni has continued to strengthen his oeuvre by consistently delivering projects that, seemingly effortlessly, present a combination of aesthetic and socio-political critical dialogues.
His diverse artistry, skilfully realised in various mediums such as collages on canvas, stainless-steel sculptures and animated videos, played a significant role in both his nomination and winning of this award,” the curatorial stamen accompanying this body of work reads.
To see Ngobeni’s exhibition at the national Arts Festival visit: https://nationalartsfestival.co.za/show/chaotic-pleasure/