Arts + Culture

5 Artists That Politicize South Africa's Youth

For South African Youth Day, we take a look at 5 artists whose political work will help inspire young people today.

This weekend South Africa commemorated the "Soweto Uprising" that took place on June 16th, 1976 in Johannesburg. An estimated 20,000 students took part in the protests which started in Soweto and spread throughout the country. Thanks to organizations that mobilized students such as Steve Biko's SASO (South African Student Organization), young people took action to protest Afrikaans as the main language in their schools, as well as the poor quality of their education under the Bantu Education Act during apartheid. In return, police showered the students with tear gas and later live ammunition that killed many (the number given is usually 176 with estimates up to 700) in the event which is now memorialized by Youth Day in South Africa.

One of those killed was 13 year-old Hector Pieterson, whose image is immortalized in Sam Nzima’s photograph of Pieterson's body being carried in the arms of a fellow student with his sister running next to them (above).

Young people in South Africa today seem to be increasingly "apolitical". I was one of those young people until I was illuminated by the rebellious message in the work of many of South Africa's rising art stars. It's easy to become disheartened by multiplying stories of government corruption, pervasive poverty and violence, but we must channel the revolutionary spirit of the young people of the struggle days to resist complacency. Below are 5 artists that will help politicize our generation. Take a close look at their work and become inspired.

1. Ayanda Mabulu

Ayanda Mabulu next to his controversial painting, "Umshini Wam" (Weapon of Mass Destruction)

This brings to mind a chance encounter I had a few months ago. With the original intention of peeling my two friends who run a gallery away from their desks for a post-work drink, I found myself walking through Ayanda Mabulu’s workroom at Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, Cape Town. He stood, a dreaded and burly man, covered head to foot in various paint smears among huge canvases plastered in layers of colour, gold leaf and newspaper clippings. He had just finished putting the final touches on a painting depicting a scene that resembled Jesus’ Last Supper, which included Jacob Zuma and various other political figures that I, at the time, couldn’t tell the names of. I found his use of colour invigorating. He asked me what I thought, without so much as a greeting, and I told him so. My half-response unsettled him, and his passionate reaction threw me. Looking back, I wish I had said something more; something that resembled the voice I use now to write this article. His gigantic piece of art carried an important message that I clearly didn’t get, or didn’t want to get, and all I could comment on was his use of colour! Had I understood, I would’ve quipped about South Africa’s politicians’ use of colour instead. I hear that when he sells his paintings, (which are hardly cheap) should he feel the buyer doesn’t understand his work, he tracks them down and insists on buying his paintings back. Such is the value of understanding that most recent body of work, which aptly named ‘The Native Opinion."

2. Khaya Witbooi + 3. Kent Lingeveldt

Khaya Witbooi at Greatmore Studios (Image from

In the studio next door, is painter Khaya Witbooi, who recently embarked on a project with longboard shaper and businessman Kent Lingeveldt. The two teamed up to create a tribute to a side of Miriam Makeba that most are not privy to. Khaya is well-known for his extremely detailed stencilling, watching him work is a chilling experience; quietly resolute, he almost never slept-- and the pressure he puts himself under would drive any human to tears, although he seems to have everything under control. When I asked Khaya about his work with Kent, he responded with this:

“Mama Africa has surfaced as a pop diva for many South Africans and the memory of her is narrowed by the media. The stories about her being an activist are only limited to people who go to read about it and those who are in other parts of the world!  She was not just singing but speaking for the oppressed... To stencil her in the Che style,  I am “turning the lights on” so that we can as South Africans appreciate the other side of her, Mama Afrika, the activist.”

"The Side Not Seen" by Khaya Witbooi

Kent Lingeveldt at Alpha Longboards.

Beyond being an award-winning businessman and longboard shaper, Kent is a qualified social worker, and uses skating to connect with the children in his neighbourhood. “There’s not enough introspection about who we are as a young, strong, and independent South Africa, and how it can influence our art.” Kent told us. “There’s too much looking at what everyone else is doing, especially in Europe. Do what you do because you love it -- sincerely and wholeheartedly.”

4. Mohau Mosadikeng

Mohau Mosadikeng as part of his tryptic ‘Untitled’

In Johannesburg, Mohau Modisakeng, another young artist alongside Kent uses his own portrait to communicate that differences between us need to be resolved as a country. After having seen this work, a certain level of wanting to understand politics and our history was born within me. South Africa dons many conflicting characteristics in the eyes of the world, with stories of struggle and harsh imagery scattered among the many milestones we’ve reached as a new generation of strong and opinionated individuals. I particularly admire the use of his own body to carry the symbolism of a schizophrenic society.

“His apron speaks for the hard, industrial labour that was the fate of his ancestors; the leopard print signifies high status among his fellow men (male members of Zulu royalty wore leopard skins to remind their enemies that this fierce animal hides, waits and attacks at the right moment); the bowler hat stands for the patriarchal white man, the ‘civilized’ oppressor. The body language is clear: this is a fighter come to seek justice. He emerges from a dark past, striding forward into the light, clothed in history.” - William A Ewing for the Saatchi Gallery.

5. Kudzanai Chiruai

Kudzanai Chiruai’s ‘16SNLV’ at 50 Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, Newtown, Johannesburg

The most recent gift to the young South African art landscape is Kudzanai Chiruai’s 16SNLV exhibition in Johannesburg. His work, which addresses violence, and mourning violence in public places, is an engaging and powerful nod to the idea of tragedy, fitting for our commemoration of the Soweto Uprising this past weekend.

With the perfect combination of imagination and analysis these 5 young minds have, and will connect the dots for anyone who cares to further understand the goings on of our country. South Africa’s democracy is as young as we are, and I’m proud to be one of the many to grow with it.

Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories. Read on for the conversation, and stream Dhalinyaro here.

Keep reading... Show less
Image courtesy of Adekunle Adeleke

Spotlight: Adekunle Adeleke Creates Digital Surrealist Paintings That Celebrate African Beauty

Get familiar with the work of Nigerian visual artist Adekunle Adeleke.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists and more who are producing vibrant, original work. In our latest piece, we spotlight Adekunle Adeleke, a Nigerian visual artist, using digital mediums to paint dream-like portraits of Africans. Read more about the inspirations behind his work below, and check out some of his stunning paintings underneath. Be sure to keep up with the artist on Instagram and Facebook.

Can you tell us more about your background and when you first started painting?

I am a self taught artist. I started drawing from when I was really young. I mostly used graphite pencils and paper. But about six years ago, I think it was 2014, I wanted to start getting into color. I was a university student at the time and I lived in a hostel with three other people, so I couldn't go traditional so [instead], I started making paintings digitally, first on my iPad and then on my laptop with a Wacom. I have been painting ever since.

What would you say are the central themes in your work?

I personally think my work celebrates beauty (African beauty to be precise) and occasionally absurd things. I really just want to make paintings that are beautiful.

How do you decide who or what you're going to paint?
I do not have an exact process. I do use a lot of references though. Sometimes, I had an idea of how exactly the painting would look, others I just make it up as i go along.

Can you talk about a particular moment or turning point in your life that made you want to pursue art or a creative path?

I am not sure–I did not actively pursue art in a sense. I was just doing it because it was fun and I wanted to. Then people all of a sudden wanted to put me on projects and offer to pay for my hobby. I have thankfully been able to make art and also work in a separate field—which I also enjoy–by day.

Keep reading... Show less
Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

Keep reading... Show less
Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox