Serving Msunduzi through the Visual Arts
Siyabonga Sikosana on Edendale Excels - 7 February to 22 June 2008
Siyabonga Sikosana, the youngest of them all, and the only living artist, shows how Township Art continues to tackle socio-political themes using humour. He follows the trend started by pioneer artists like Bhengu, but has introduced new techniques and approaches to art. He uses his background of Willowfountain as a symbol of post-Apartheid South African township life, where the residents received little of the promises made to them since the 1994 election campaigns.
Siyabonga Sikosana (b. 1978)
Siyabonga Sikosana was born on 28 February 1978 in Willowfountain, an area in Edendale near Pietermaritzburg, to parents Joyce and Themba Sikosana. He started his education in Willowfountain Primary School and then moved to Eastwood Secondary School. Later, he studied at Northbury Park High School, where his talent was nurtured by his teachers. On Thursday afternoons he would attend art classes conducted by Mduduzi Xakaza, education officer at the Tatham Art Gallery.
Coached by art teacher Amanda Lawrence, Sikosana excelled in art as a matric subject, for which he was the only candidate in his school. This was capped by his participation in the following KwaZulu-Natal Matric Art Exhibition, which was a selection from the best art produced in Schools during the matric year. After matric he enrolled for Textile Design and Technology at the Durban Institute of Technology. His constant attendance at the Tatham Art Gallery's art classes led to financial support for his studies, motivated by Kobie Venter, who was then secretary of FOTAG (Friends of the Tatham Art Gallery). He also received financial assistance from an organization called SYFRETS Charity, organized on his behalf by Amanda Lawrence.
Sikosana made his mark early in the art world through participation in group and cultural exhibitions, like the Echo Craft Bazaar at the Tatham Art Gallery and Izikhwepha Zethu. To support his studies, he became a freelance illustrator and a portrait artist in his community. He was also commissioned to do illustrations for books: a poetry anthology, botanical illustrations and a book cover for economic management. This was followed by a number of public and private commissions, including several murals for the Department of Health, Edgars Shop, Rural Metro Fire Department and Durban's Bayhouse Coffee Shop. While he was studying, he also conducted art workshops, some of them at the Tatham Art Gallery.
After completing his studies, Sikosana went to work for a landscape and swimming pool company in Durban, called Rock-it! Here he is the chief designer and planner of projects, much different from his initial training as a textile designer and painter.
One of the techniques Sikosana uses is pyrography (drawings made using a hot soldering iron on wood). This led to Burning Canvas, a two-man exhibition in 1999 with Lalelani Mbhele, held at the BAT Centre in Durban. This was a unique Township Life exhibition, in terms of technique and theme, which both artists tackled from their diverse backgrounds in Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
When viewing the Edendale Excels Exhibition, it becomes apparent that Sikosana's works, although brightly painted, contain some dark elements. His paintings of township life, which has not changed much since the political changes of 1994, contain socio-economical statements fused with humor and irony, as observed in one painting where electricity poles are placed neatly in rows, but have no wires, suggesting that there is no electricity despite political promises of a better life for all made to the people. They may be seen to question the self-help projects and government initiatives that never get off the ground or are vandalized by the community. This underlying comment on life in the township is often portrayed in minute detail, such as takkies strung over electric wires to indicate that dagga and other drugs are for sale there. Some works carry more obvious signs of the misery and poverty that are contributing factors to crime, substance abuse and prostitution, as people struggle to survive.
Sikosana has participated in numerous group exhibitions, but in 2004 he had his first solo exhibition, titled This Is Where We Live, at the Tatham Art Gallery, showing daily life scenes from his community in the peri-urban area of Willowfountain in Edendale. References to electricity, such as newly erected power lines and poles, play a prominent role in his paintings. One of these works, Siyaya Tuckshop (2004), was bought for the Tatham Art Gallery Collection.
As a regular exhibitor at the annual Pietermaritzburg Art in the Park event, Sikosana was chosen in 2007 by KwaZulu-Natal Tourism to represent South Africa in a similar Art in the Park exhibition in New Zealand.
This talented young artist continues to use subject matter which illustrates South Africa's unequal socio-political and economic development in his later works. Deceptively charming on the surface, many of Siyabonga's artworks highlight social conditions such as human suffering and the gap between the rich and the poor.
More about Siyabonga Sikosana
Art in the Park Catalogue 2007
Interviews with the artist by Tuhlani Makhaye (TAG Education Officer) 2008
Tatham Art Gallery History Files