Spotlight: Expression is Synonymous With Exploring in Khulekani Cele’s Paintings

Durban fine artist Khulekani Cele's abstract style of painting stems from his penchant for exploration.

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 27-year-old Durban-based fine artist Khulekani Cele. He's known for his abstract style of painting covering such themes as stereotypes, perception, gender and identity. A proponent of education, Cele holds an honours degree in visual arts from the Durban University of Technology. The freedom to create is evident in his work where different paint strokes overlap one another.

When did you start painting?

When I was young I used to get a beating at home for writing and drawing on walls with charcoal and leaves. When I think about it now I believe that I have been creative since I was born. However, painting is one of the art mediums that, in general, is defined as applying paint to the surface using a brush or tool of your choice. Therefore, I professionally started the painting medium in 2012 when I was enrolling for my fine art course at the Durban University of Technology.

You have an honours degree in visual art. How has your time in learning changed your own perception of art as a career?

I was very lucky. I did not have to convince my mother about my choice to do art. She was very supportive from the word go. To be honest, she is one of the people who pushed me to be a graduate. She really understands that education is the key to success, regardless of what I chose to do. Being creative is a talent, which means it is something you are born with. When you consider it as a career, you are taking it to the next level of living for it and making money from it. My time in art studies taught me that art can be a hobby and it can be a business.

During the This Audio Is Visual Virtual Studio visit, you speak about a new technique you are currently exploring. I think you call it cardboard carving.

This medium is new to me; I was not specialising in it before but I found it interesting and then I started exploring it (that is why I call it a new technique). This new technique is one of the techniques that allow me to be more playful because I am deliberately more about the medium than being conceptual about it. I am still familiarising myself with it, that's why you see more portraits in my work.

In 2016 you were selected as part of the top 100 SASOL New Signatures Art Competition. Tell us about this and other competitions.

SASOL New Signatures Art Competition is a competition that is open to all artists in South African. They select works across all nine provinces that would form part of the exhibition of 100 works. From that top 100 works they select top five winners (winner, run-up and three merits). It is an honour on its own to be part of the top 100 because we are talking about more than 1500 entries from where they select that top 100. I once entered for the SA Taxi Foundation Art Award which I was in the semi-final in.

How important is the role of awarding artisans or just the role of awards generally?

Awarding artists helps them with recognition and support financially. It also helps the art industry grow and give artists a reason to produce. Hence, I do encourage artists to take part in art competitions because competitions are also another way of putting artists on the map and for recognition to be awarded.

You work as a printmaking technician at theUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal. Please tell us more about the role. When did you start working there?

I am a printmaking technician at UKZN. I started working there in 2018, and I am there on weekdays. I work closely with the printmaking lecturer, helping students technically in printmaking too ensure that the printmaking studio is ready and safe for use.

Which recent exhibitions have you participated in recently?

I was part of a group exhibition entitled "Izimo Ezisizungezile" at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts (KZNSA) that ran from the 16th of September 2020 to the 4th of October 2020. I also participated in a group exhibition "Autumn" at the Daor Contemporary Art Gallery in Cape Town, from the 25th of March 2021, on view until mid-May 2021.

What is next?

I am currently doing an MA in Fine Arts with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, so my other focus is on my research paper while I am producing work that I will use in group exhibitions and art competitions. I plan on having my solo exhibition in the near future.

Follow Khulekani Cele on Instagram and visit his website.


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A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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