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SIMPHIWE: STORY OF A YOUNG ARTIST

audio Meet Simphiwe: A young South African artist tells his story [audio]

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Rachel Bray with her Masiphumelele art club

I met Simphiwe in 2004 when he joined an art club I set up in Masiphumelele. Masi, as the locals say, is a small township on the edge of Cape Town with massive unemployment and the lingering effects of apartheid.

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2010 © greatguides.org]
Rachel Bray with her Masiphumelele art club

I met Simphiwe in 2004 when he joined an art club I set up in Masiphumelele. Masi, as the locals say, is a small township on the edge of Cape Town with massive unemployment and the lingering effects of apartheid.

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2010 © greatguides.org] - Story Of A Young Artist - Roddy Bray's Great Guides

Always the joker, but never at others’ expense, Simphiwe would always look out for those around him. His talent and smile stood out from an early age. Art, especially painting, has become a major part of his life, both as a vocation and a means of coping with the enormous challenges of everyday life in Masi. Like many teenagers, he never knew his father and his mother died young.

Before leaving Cape Town I was able to join Simphiwe in his home in Masi, to talk to him about the influence of his mother’s death and the role of art in his life.



Making 'Hero Books' in art club

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2012 © greatguides.org] - Story Of A Young Artist - Roddy Bray's Great Guides
Simphiwe explains the symbolism he used after his mother died


"The first thing I did after my mother passed away... I got a lot of ideas of how can I? Coz I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t handle the situation but I went to my canvas and my paintings and I produced one art work. I painted that painting two days after my mother passed away. And I can say that art has given me that sense of expressing myself. Coz sometimes I would struggle to say what I want to say.”

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2009 © greatguides.org] - Story Of A Young Artist - Roddy Bray's Great Guides

The soccer pitch in Masiphumelele

Growing up in Masi is tough for many reasons: The soccer pitches are just sand and glass, so are unplayable. There is pressure to drink and get involved in petty crime. Few do well at the local high school, which doesn’t offer art beyond the introductory years.

Simphiwe’s mother recognized his artistic ability and worked hard to earn the extra cash needed to pay his train fare to a school in Langa, forty kilometers away. All of this because it is the closest school that offers art as part of the final examination.

"Growing up in Masi as an artist is a lonely place, ’cause there are artists here in Masi but most of them do not want to show their potential. Most of them want to sit in shebeens and taverns, and drink away the talent they have. They do not show what they have to the world. We grow up in a place where there are a lot of gangsters and a lot of young people who do not want to spend their time studying. And a lot of people in Masi influence a person through bad things. Even people here tell you funny things that make people who have low self esteem want to stop and sit down.”

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2009 © greatguides.org] - Story Of A Young Artist - Roddy Bray's Great Guides
Local shebeen- a place to gather in the township

Yet despite these odds, Simphiwe is always enthusiastic and regularly brings new members along to art club, often teenage boys for whom creative outlets are few and far between.

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2012 © greatguides.org] - Story Of A Young Artist - Roddy Bray's Great Guides

"I’ve got three young boys who come here after school and I teach them some of the lessons that I’ve been taught. Then I would make sure that they show their talent and even their parents would appreciate what they are doing because they would see the development of their work.”

 

Simphiwe with a self portrait

Simphiwe is currently working on a commission from the Department of Arts and Culture, and is preparing pieces to sell to those flocking to South Africa for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. He hopes to raise money to finance a fine art degree at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelas School. But this is only one of his many goals for the future:

"I want to finish my grade 12 with good marks. I’m still going to apply at Michaelas School of Fine Art, and I’ve got people who are going to support me and try to get me into the school. One day I also want to have my own gallery here in Masi, and I want to have some of my artworks all over South Africa and overseas as well. I also want to visit France and to see Picasso’s work, and to see the original piece of the Mona Lisa. People say that the original piece is A4 size and I was like, wow, I wish I could go and see the original piece!”

Young Artist Simphiwe - Masiphumelele, South Africa [2009 © greatguides.org] - Story Of A Young Artist - Roddy Bray's Great Guides

Simphiwe: Confident, talented and ready to share his art with the world

The new South Africa promised so much to young people whose families had been disenfranchised through several generations of apartheid. Fifteen years into the new democracy it is difficult for teenagers to retain hope in their own future prospects because education is so weak and unemployment rampant. Simphiwe’s story is therefore an important inspiration to others his age, and a reminder to all of us of the personal attributes and forms of support that make a difference.


Author: Rachel Bray
Published Date: 18 Jan 2010
Location: Southern Africa | South Africa
Themes: the arts | art