The African pop art visual artist says creatives must keep on painting and remember the spirit of ubuntu because unity is power

Street art is a widely recognised form of creative expression that brings street corners, bus and train stations to life. South African artists are painting these beautiful artworks on some of the country’s busiest city walls to make their voices heard. 

Visual artist Senzo Nhlapo, who’s involved in Vuma’s My Community Cooks initiative, in partnership with the Soweto Wine and Food Festival, shares his experiences in the industry, finding his identity, and what aspiring creatives can do to leave their mark.  

Find your voice 

Nhlapo’s journey into visual arts began in the 1980s when South Africa’s youth didn’t have a voice. He, therefore, had to find his voice, express how he felt about all the conflict during that period, and leave his mark.

“That’s when I started painting ‘free Mandela’ messages and portraits of Mandela on street walls,” he says. Nhlapo believes every artist can use their talent to leave their mark and make their voice heard.

Craft your identity 

Nhlapo has always loved African masks and used that passion to define his style. “I didn’t have an identity when I started, so I began creating my style by putting African masks together to create my African pop art paintings.” 

Nhlapo adds that as an artist, you must have your own identity that will represent you wherever you go. For him, that meant painting African pop art that incorporated African elements, showcasing himself as a proud South African. 

Never stop evolving 

Nhlapo says the pandemic did more than temporarily lock down the sector – it shut it down. It was especially tough for him since he needed to be on the street and was so used to travelling and engaging with other artists in person. 

Nhlapo says that, thanks to the internet, visual artists have learnt to use new tools to not only showcase their art but to collaborate with other creatives via platforms like Zoom. “Being able to connect virtually helped me and other artists overcome the depression caused by the nation’s lockdown and allowed us to continue creating and engaging.”  

Expand your circle

Nhlapo says the pandemic has made technology more accessible and we can now connect with creatives across the world and even tap into new audiences. The opportunity to sell his paintings online has reached new audiences and ultimately help get more support for the industry. 

He says that before the pandemic, some artists held their concerts and shows locally, such as in Soweto or Thembisa. Now, they can showcase their work in other parts of the country like Cape Town and Durban.  “Artists need to broaden their audience, especially now that technology allows this. Despite the terrible effects of the pandemic, it pushed us as creatives to use technology and expand our reach, even connecting with international markets.” 

The role of community initiatives 

Nhlapo says programmes like Vuma’s My Community Cooks are crucial to the growth and survival of the industry. “Vuma’s initiative invited all kinds of genres, from filmmakers to photographers, and put everyone together in one room, and that’s when the magic happened.” 

Nhlapo says he appreciates programmes like these because they bring back the spirit that the pandemic broke down, and the sector needs more of them. 

Never stop creating

Nhlapo says creatives must never stop creating, regardless of what happens. “It’s so important to keep going because once you stop creating, you’ll start losing it. As a creative, you must pick up your paintbrush or instrument and use it every day. Don’t be afraid of failure because that failure will soon become a success.” 

“Technology is proving to be a crucial lifeline for the South African arts and culture sector, which is still trying to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” says Lianne Williams, Head of Marketing at Vuma. “By using connectivity, in conjunction with initiatives like Vuma’s My Community Cooks, creatives can tap into new markets that they otherwise may not have had access to, which allows them to continue showcasing their craft.”

About Vuma 

Vuma is a leading South African fibre provider that has passed more than one million homes since its operations began in 2014. Vuma connects South African communities to high-speed, fit-for-purpose internet through open-access fibre broadband. Working with more than 60 Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Vuma’s value extends beyond infrastructure and empowers ordinary individuals and communities across South Africa to do more, see more, and dream of more.

Guided by its philosophy of ‘if we can, we must’, Vuma strives to drive transformation and break communication barriers. The brand has connected more than 450 registered primary and high schools in the regions where it operates, to free 1Gbps fibre broadband internet. This supports hundreds of thousands of young people and their teachers through access to the boundless opportunities of the internet, in collaboration with its partner ISPs. 

Among Vuma’s accolades are: South Africa’s Best Fibre Provider in 2019 at the MyBroadband Conference and Expo; Fastest Growing Broadband Provider in 2020 by the International Business Magazine Awards; and Vuma’s CEO, Dietlof Mare, was awarded Telecom CEO of the Year 2020 South Africa.

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