The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Sketch Artist Captures Refugee Conflicts on Cardboard

As a young boy from Zambia, Johannesburg-based artist Mwanawasa Mawelela found himself drawn to artists like Picasso or Salvador Dali whom he found in the museums and galleries he visited.

Against the will of his parents, Mawelela chose to follow art as a career and attend art school in Zambia, followed by another art-centered university in Zimbabwe that was sponsored by the British-American Tobacco company.

In 2006 Mawelela left his home in Zambia for South Africa.Two years later, in 2008, Mawelela was a victim of xenophobic attacks while living in his home in the Denver area east of Johannesburg.

“It was the hate of foreigners, which was a sad moment for us,” Mawelela said. “In that instance, the mob came and took all our belongings and everything from us.”

The afternoon of the attack, Mawelela found cardboard boxes outside his home.

“Funny enough they had not stolen the paint that I was using to paint at the time,” he said. “So then I started ripping those cardboard boxes and started to paint on them. That’s how I started using cardboard as my medium.”

Mawelela captures in his art the conflicts that refugees face, with his subject matter based primarily on women and children. A sampling of his work can be viewed at Mawelela’s Art Projects, a gallery space in 27 Boxes, a outdoor park in the Melville neighborhood of Johannesburg.

Mawelela previously owned a gallery at Maboneg, an art hub located in the eastern side of Johannesburg’s business district. It was at Maboneg where he met his now fiance Nekhethe or Nicky for short. The couple run the gallery in Melville together, which they opened in February 2018.

Mwanawasa Art Project studio Photo by Ibrahim Ridely

Mawelela often does the majority of his work on sight. His strokes become the outline and container for the spectrum of colors he captures with his paint.

“You cannot make art out of things that do not exist,” Nekhethe said. “Everything that you see in art are things that exist within us, in the world. Whether it’s landscapes, it’s mountains, it’s animals, it’s flowers, it’s whatever. It’s things that surround us. I think art is life actually. It’s all about how you bring it out.”

While Mawelela is the main artist featured in the gallery, he also invites other artists to exhibit their work.

“Here’s a platform for you to showcase your work and to grow to showcase your work and to grow,” said Mawelela.

The gallery recently featured an exhibit titled “Superwomen!” by Mawelela’s friend Fiver, a printmaker and digital artist who splits her time between South Africa and Germany.

The colorful prints that made up the exhibition, based on Fiver’s encounters with women in Johannesburg, describe women through letterpress words, monoprints and sketches. Some of the pieces on display also feature derogatory words men call women.

“The honesty of putting in the words that us men like to call women in some parts of the word, that’s what she was putting there,” Mawelela said. “It was a good exhibition, and in the future you can expect similar things.”

On June 16 the gallery will feature a youth exhibition in honor of the June 16, 1976 uprising in Soweto. The uprising, led by black school children, triggered mass protests against the apartheid government after police fired into the largely peaceful crowd, killing children.

“For us in South Africa, Youth Day commemorates things that happened during times of apartheid,” Mawelela said. “We are saying through this exhibition it doesn’t have to be negative. We are saying there are young artists that are expressing themselves as how they see things now in times of freedom and what positive things are happening around them.”

This story has been written by students participating in the 2018 St. Joseph’s University South Africa Study Abroad program. Eight students, led by St. Joe’s faculty, will report on stories from South Africa during the month of June.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Hawk News

Your donation will support the student journalists of St. Joseph's University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hawk News

Comments (0)

All The Hawk News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *