Themba Mkhangeli Cape Town (28) Runner-Up

Congratulations on being announced as one of the 7 winners in the Sasol New Signatures Competition 2023   

Tell us what your reaction was when you received the news


I was super excited! It's always been one of my big dreams to achieve something like this in the art industry/world. It means a lot as an artist. I know it's not easy to even get to be one of the selected regional finalists. Ndiye ndabulela ko Phezulu naku mathobo asekhoya alele ukuthulu.

Is this the first time you have entered the competition? If so why and if not how many times and why is this competition an important one for you?

Yes,  this is my first time entering Sasol New Signatures.  I have been entering the competition in my heart for many years, but because I respected the standard of the competition, I wanted to develop my skills and knowledge and also give myself time to work on my artwork before actually entering.  I was also exploring different mediums so that I could see what worked best for me and to develop my own identity as an artist. 2022 was the worst year ever of my life, losing 4 people which were very close to my heart including my mother. These unexpected challenges delayed me entering the competition in previous years. 

The competition is very important to me because life is about achieving something. It also helps grow one as an artist in terms of skill development and as a young artist coming from a poor background, it gives hope (iThemba) to kids who want to follow art as a career.  It is important because I feel like there's a lack of support or opportunities from the South African government in visual art so Sasol has given us the opportunity to show the world our amazing talent.

Tell us a little about your artistic journey up until the point of entering Sasol New Signatures 2023?  

It was not an easy journey at all. Apart from being an artist, I came from a poor family and grew up in Mthatha in a small village called Julukuqu.  I was raised up by a single parent. She was self-employed, running a business selling sweets, chips, buckets, chickens, and meat for over 35 years. Before going to school each day I had to wake early (5am) and help her pack things. I grew up without a formal training in art. I kept on practicing for myself from a young age.  The lack of resources and general knowledge is an issue for us staying in rural communities. 8 years after taking art as a career I became a full-time art artist.  Things were going well because I grew so much as an independent artist.  I achieved a lot and I was recognised in so many places. I exhibited in many galleries and won a couple of awards.  I have done interviews with big newspapers, magazines, and television. After the pandemic things changed and my life started over not only for me but for many people. Things were not easy, but I kept on believing in my dream as an artist. Challenges make us strong and Indoda iwa namhlanje kusasa iphinde ivuke.

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

My mother, daughter, and so many artists are doing amazing work to keep the standard of art high. Personally, I love artists who put effort, energy, and persistence behind the work they are doing. It motivates me to work hard so that I can to reach where I want to be. 

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

I love nature,  I created this piece of art because every woman inspires me. Women are powerful, gorgeous, and full of life. I found the twins as a definition of women. The diamond shape between them is a symbol of beauty I always found on women, it also creates a balance between the two figures. Balance is everywhere and powerful and we cannot live without it. The earth is nothing without females. According to the Human Science Research Council, 60% of South African children have absent fathers, 40% of mothers are single parents. There are so many reasons like divorce, death, poverty, and migration but it is because the father would not want to be involved in raising the child, that makes me fall in love more with women and appreciate them because of their struggles and being so hardworking. We as men, need to have a conscience, work with women and respect them so that we can make the world a better place. Our children’s future depends on us all. If we can work together, we can make a huge positive impact towards a better tomorrow. I created this art piece to win the competition.

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

My preferred medium is a blue ballpoint pen. I love pen because it's one of the unique mediums that not many artists can work with. I use a blue pen to express my love of who I am, because I am a humble person, I am a slow learner and love thing that takes time. Blue is a primary colour. Blue represents both the sea and the sky. It is also used to suggest a connection to nature and symbolizes positivity, professionalism, and trust. It therefore associates a lot with life, stimulates imagination, and freedom, and acts as an inspiration. Growing up as a herder (cowherd) made me the creative person that I am today. Every time the sky was blue, I could feel the positive energy, and at some point in time, I would wish that it stayed like that for longer. This helped me to feel like I had more time to hunt, so I wouldn't die of hunger, because it becomes difficult to hunt when it is about to darken, because I still was herding cows. Hunting was the only option to survive. It was our way of life. As a creative, the blue sky blinded my eyes and my vision. It turned my mind and stole my heart to only imagine, feel, and see everything as blue. I needed a  blue sky day to allow my creativity to flow. Lento isengazi kum. 

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

It's obvious, a WOW reaction. I want them to connect and feel the process I go through when I create a masterpiece. I want to catch the viewer's eye so that they can connect with the feelings of that particular subject. I mostly captured faces that tell a long-distance story.

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

My work is unique and the way I mastered the medium.  I know that for  Sasol New Signature the standard of your work must be high and your statement must be clear. I guess maybe I reached that. 

Which South African artists do you admire and why?  

Loyiso Mkize, Elize Bezuidenhout, Hugo Hellen, Nelson Makamo, Mbongeni Buthelezi, Ndabuko Ntuli, Zanele Muholi, TC Maila, Marlene Liebenberg they all portrait artists working with different mediums and they have different unique styles. Their consistency, persistence, and humbleness are what I really admire because they achieve a lot for themselves. They inspire a lot of people out there. Without forgetting Simphiwe Mbunyuza, Andile Dyalvane, Madoda Fani they are doing something different from portraits,  mostly ceramics but their work is amazing, they working very hard. I'm in interested in trying to work with clay one day.

Anything else you would like to add?

I would like to say thank you to all the sponsors, management, judges, organisers, and artists who made this competition one of the most amazing opportunities in the country for artists, especially artists like me! I feel honoured to be part of the top 7 of Sasol New Signature 2023. I wish every artist can take this opportunity seriously because it helps artists see things differently and learn. And to those who didn't make it to the finals of this year, please never give up, learn and come back stronger, and have positive energy because yonke into inexesha layo. Thank you once again