Mbongeni Buthelezi, artist, Johannesburg

South African artists on Sylt

There is meaning within plastic

Mbongeni Buthelezi let a strip of thin foil, formerly wrapping of a soft drink sixpack,  flow in the stream of hot air from a heat gun. Within a moment the colour changes from orange to a golden brown, in another second the molten foil flows on similar pieces of plastic forming a relief like structure. One step back and you see the interior of a flat, a window with brown curtains, everything „painted“ with pieces of all kinds of shopping bags and packing foils. „I have been doing this for 18 years now“, says Buthelezi, „and I have developed as many different ways of expressing myself with this material. You focus on a certain technique and from there something else emerges.“

Mostly black, grey and white for example were used for pictures on Buthelezis childhood memories of growing up in Soweto. When coming back from school he was expected to help his father make cement bricks, no time for homework until very late in the evening. „Today black children still go through the same things. My pictures are saying that you should give them a bit of space.“

So for the graduate from African Institute of Art and University of Witwatersrand his choice of artistic material was sheer lack of money. Not so today. „I could afford to buy expensive canvas and colours. But within plastic there is meaning. I collect things that are considered useless trying to make sense of them.“ You can go very far with very little, says the passionate teacher who finds it disturbing that people tend to blame the apartheid past for everything. „At some point you have to stand up, dust yourself and move on.“

On Sylt Mbongeni Buthelezi has been busy with organising the big show of his work to be seen in the Pretoria Art Museum until August, later moving on to Kimberley, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and perhaps abroad. And he has been working on pictures of interiors –  interiors of some Kliptown shacks. Those will be for a show, curated for jozi art:lab, on Sylt around easter 2010 together with photographs by German artist Peter Bialobrzeski of those same shacks he took while staying in Johannesburg in March 2009.