South African artist, Mpumelelo Buthelezi's, expansive, humanistic artwork elevating the voices, lives and work of waste collectors in Soweto was published earlier this week on our site. We are following up today by featuring an interview with him—discussing local responses to his exhibition, other projects in the works, and his advice to young artists interested in activism.
You mentioned in a conversation with EAS that you presented a live exhibition of the works from your project about waste collectors. How did people receive and react to this project?
Shhuuuu!! It was amazing and impeccable at the same time because people showed positive feedback and good commentary towards my projects and my images as well. The audience enjoyed the show and so did I, although I am nervous as to how people are going to respond to the message which I'm trying to spread without fear of being vilified or anything.
With this being an ongoing project that you will continue developing, what do you feel is the next step in this process?
Publishing a documentary photobook about this project and also creating awareness for the participants involved in this project by creating avenues and possibilities for us by us - on us for prosperity. But the theme I want to dive deeper into is sustainable change and the impact it has on my country and our surroundings.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Recently I did a project, which is currently ongoing, about depicting myself as an Angel of God by focusing the camera on myself, because I enjoy myself, I live myself, I eat myself, I love myself, etc. My spiritual introspective and expressive story began during the high Covid pandemic lockdown period, confined in my own small space in my home. I began to ask questions around investigating my own personal spiritual purpose in relation to religious belief systems. Through this meditation routine during this moment of the pandemic trauma, I wondered how I could elevate myself spiritually during my isolation and how angelic symbolism, as encountered in my belief system, could help to transition beyond this reality. I decided to turn my camera on myself as the primary subject of this series. I began the journey to unravel my existence which is unlike the purity of dogmatic angels. I began to use household materials in an attempt to connect to the holier-than-thou state of purity, with the full awareness that such a state does exist.
What advice do you have for young artists that are just starting their journey into the world of documentation, storytelling, and activism?
It’s purely simple. My advice would be, to start where you are, use what you have and then build out from that. Honestly, there’s nothing you can’t achieve, as long as you fully immerse yourself in your dreams and goals, you’ll prosper. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask. There’s never a dumb question. Always have a welcome attitude towards criticism.
What is something you wish you would have known when you began your artistic career? When do you feel that you found your vocation as an artist?
That hard work really pays off. What I have learned, in my creative journey as an artist, is to free our hearts from hatred, free them from worries, live simply, give more, and expect less. I think that those who think or who pretend that a gallery, a museum, or an art fair is evil are hypocrites because we know artists need to make money for a living. Again, I think people who are confronted with art should be a bit freer to think about themselves. Someone who is free is someone who is willing to transform their society.
Project Gallery: “E’Plazini: A Place to Call Home for Waste Collectors”
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