Merit Q&A - Sibaninzi Dlatu | Sasol New Signatures Merit Q&A - Sibaninzi Dlatu

Merit Q&A - Sibaninzi Dlatu

Congratulations on being announced as one of the 7 winners in the Sasol New Signatures Competition 2021.



Congratulations on being announced as one of the 7 winners in the Sasol New Signatures Competition 2021. Tell us what your reaction was when you received the news.

At first, it felt like being in one of my many dreams, I was above the clouds with excitement for quite a long while.

This is something I would randomly envision in the past few weeks, a lot of times I would zone out to imagine the possibilities of such an outcome. Upon “returning” I would inwardly have a laugh about it and think of myself as extremely grandiose. I’ve always held a sense of belief in such a possibility. This is one of the highlights of my journey that I shall always cherish.

Is this the first time you have entered the competition?

A first entry was in 2019, it was a collaboration with another emerging artist and student from WSU. It was unsuccessful but it sparked something in me to return with many more other entries until such a possibility breaks through.

Tell us a little about your artistic journey up until the point of entering Sasol New Signatures 2021?  

I believe that this something inborn. From childhood I grew up very in tune with my imaginary world, I always had an in interest in creation and using objects around me to integrate them with my imagination. We used to herd cows in my village, for entertainment we moulded the world around us, mostly cows and other livestock. Although we were unaware at the time, this was a practice that nurtured an inborn creativity and prepared me as the artist I was to become.

I began to fall in love with drawing in grade two.  I remember, I used to draw roofs of houses a lot because it was something I saw almost everyday through the windows of a classroom at school. I would make sketches next to classwork notes, teachers at the time weren’t impressed to see Dragonball Z characters fighting next to class notes. It wasn’t until grade seven that an Arts and Culture teacher was delighted in my creative whims and encouraged my artistic exploits.  From then I felt a sense of freedom to always draw.

After high school, with one foot on the bus to pursue a career I was compelled to choose out of parental pressure, I took a step back into my world. Something in me knew I was about to commit to something I’d live to regret for the rest of my life. I found the courage to listen to my own intuition. I took a gap which eventually led to learning there’s a course Fine Art. In 2016 I enrolled at Walter Sisulu University for the course, which helped develop my potential and there began the process of my growth as artist.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career as an artist to date? 

It is my former lecturers from WSU, namely Dee-Ann Leach and Sonwabiso Ngcai. Every lecturer I came into contact with,  contributed immensely, but these two stand out.

When I arrived at WSU, I had personal issues of low self esteem, Mrs Leach challenged me in a very compassionate manner to learn living beyond my fears; to face the parts of me I chose to hide from. This began a never-ending cycle of developing my psyche for the better.

Mr Ngcai always taught us to see the bigger picture in everything we do. Most importantly he instilled the discipline of work ethic and instilled a sense of belief in one’s artistic capability.

And a select group of friends that I met along the journey, the people who see your wings long before you ever thought you have it in you to take flight.

Tell us a little about why you created the piece you submitted? 

I have always been driven by an inner vocation to create works with stories that transcend time. Something which inspires others to see possibilities where there are seemingly none and tell their own stories to inspire others as well. I believe I am where I am because I have learnt from those who shared their own stories to help me find courage to create my own path. Daily events typically make the human mind become prone to a negative perspective of events; the piece is an attempt to see beyond the veil of difficulties, there infinite possibilities waiting to be discovered and explored; where solutions await to be found. I am inspired by the resiliency of humanity, the will to overcome; the collective sheer virtue of persistency to live bravely above challenging conditions.

How have you navigated the past 18 months of this pandemic?  Has it affected the way you work or the messaging in your work?

I have been learning the importance of investing more time in work. There has been a chance to observe the everyday events with more sensitivity, this has shaped how I think and adjusted my way of seeing through events.

Tell us about your preferred medium/s ...and why? 

I enjoy working with clay and oil paint. Clay connects me with my inner child, this enables authenticity, the most memorable years of my early childhood involve clay. This goes beyond art and is influential in my everyday life. This connection brings out the most intimate expression within me and reflects on the work.

Painting has a way of reminding me that there’s always a room for improvement; a proverbial “I know nothing” notion, it keeps me curious, and that fuels a hunger for growth. I can explore so much of my imagination with paint, I enjoy being in my inner world.

When people view your work – what reaction/response  are you hoping to create?

One of the main themes found in the pieces is empathy. I wish the work connects people with the most sensitive side of their humanity. There’s a sentiment echoed by author Brené Brown that “Empathy is the most precious human quality”, it paves way for positive changes regarding how we shape society as a collective.

Often, less privileged people are notoriously stereotyped, remarkable human qualities are overshadowed by classist concepts of division which disconnect our humanity in the absence of empathy. When people look at work, I wish we learn to see beyond narratives which disconnect us and honour our precious humanity.

Why do you think your work was chosen as a top 7?

Honestly, I couldn’t come up with a definite reason why. I went back to read this year’s application form, and as far as I can think, the price must have appealed as a creation with a possibility to ‘inspire change and can shape the world’. When one shapes a way of thought, they can also shape the course of the world. In a time facing a global humanitarian crisis, the Covid 19 pandemic, the work reminds us of our resilient human spirit; it directs us to see beyond the panic and fear.

Additionally, I think the rendering of the work defines the passage which emphasises the Sasol New Signatures as being more than just an art competition, “it is an enabler for emerging artists to not only expand the possibilities of art, but to inspire innovation and change”. The pieces seem tiny but they carry a monumental message. They theme inspiration and an innovative outlook of the experiences faced by the majority of destitute South Africans. Their resiliency is also an inspiration on its own.

And if you are chosen as the overall winner?  How would you feel? Have you already got an idea or vison for your solo exhibition?

Having made this far; the experience still feels surreal, mostly because something I’d imagined is happening, something I’d gaslight myself of thinking my aspirations are grandiose in nature, because when I envisioned it, it honestly did scare me. At the same time, I savour this experience with gratitude and I am excited of the possibilities this opportunity offers as an artist.

My initial thought of an exhibition idea is to make create more pieces. I trust my path, when it gets to that I would come up with something. Right now I can only think of “more pieces”.

What are you currently working on? What is next for you as an artist?                            

Currently I make commissioned portraits, and planning to create more murals which are of social commentary and engagement with other emerging artists from Mthatha. I also involve myself in skills development jobs to keep my mind and hands active.

Which South African artists do you admire and why?  

The first artist I think of is Daniel Novela. I admire his work and his mind in which he sees the world through. I enjoy looking at Impressionist art, I’m filled with goose bumps every time, I relate so much to so much at their outlook.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I am grateful to be one of the winners, this win is not just for me; this feels like an opening of a portal to new possibilities for many aspiring young artists where I come from.  This is a sign that every dream is possible, one has to think beyond the outer limits and work towards realising it relentlessly.