2020 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art Winner: Blessing Ngobeni

WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Everard Read/Michael Hall (artworks) and Standard Bank (portrait)

The story of this year’s winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art Blessing Ngobeni is one of overcoming great social, economic and academic adversity, and channelling art as a means to heal and inspire. 

The multi-award-winning Limpopo-born artist survived a difficult childhood, spent mostly as a runaway, and a stint in prison. It was behind bars where he was exposed to art through the Tsoga (Wake Up) Arts Project. But that was not where his challenges ended. Following his artworks being stolen in 2008 from one of the gallery’s who represented him, he took a year’s break from creating art.

It was when he began again in 2010 that the style he is now well known for emerged. “It was difficult to get quality materials; I had to use what I could came across, such as recycled materials, which resulted in the mixed-media art I do today,” he explains. “The method was experimental – cutting up images of the work of masters such as Gerard Sekoto and Picasso. I fell in love with the sound of scissors cutting old art magazines into the different shapes and the process of dripping – a result of the tears I had inside me.”

His skill has extended to sculpture, performance, installation, video and sound, with the latter having seen him work with this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Sisonke Xonti. Of the award Blessing says he’s proud that his message is getting across and sees it as an opportunity that will amplify his career.

“I’m inspired by all the creative individuals who never give up contributing great ideas that can change the minds of others around the world,” he says. Blessing has an upcoming solo exhibition at Everard Read in March titled Replica Every Sang.

“It pertains to history and its significance to the modern style of narration: How the child of this generation misinterprets the consequences of the re-writing of stories that are confrontational, and how it is assured that all that it’s been fed is a replica of the past,” he says of the exhibition. “At some point the mirrored image of our continent has been narrated back to us, with a foreign accent, so that you can hear the tone of voice of thieves, under the name of donor.”

In addition to the solo show, which is on at Everard Read, 3 Portswood Road, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, from 4 to 25 March 2020, Blessing has upcoming shows all over the world, including an exhibition at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda in July through the Standard Bank Young Artist Award.