Mesuli Mamba: Prison warden collage artist

Mesuli Mamba (29) is a prison warden and collage artist—roles he says complement each other well.

His work is rich and difficult. Pieces incorporate sketched self-portraits, Martin Luther King quotes, pictures of Steve Biko, with titles like The Cross Controls Her and Strength of Submission.

Mesuli Mamba (29) is a prison warden and collage artist—roles he says complement each other well. His work is richly layered and sometimes difficult, and making his name as an artist has been far from easy.

The only paintings Mamba saw as a child were on the back of his father’s Readers Digests, which he still collects. Growing up with six siblings in a two bedroom apartment, unable to afford oils, he started collaging when he was 14 years old.

“I just walked the streets for a while, but I was always doing the collages, hundreds of them, and just giving them away. Everyone said I was crazy picking up scraps off the road. Collage has always been the only thing I can focus on.”

When one of the new galleries opened, his friend encouraged him to take a piece in. It sold immediately.

Finding supplies is not easy. “It’s very hard to get magazines, especially the glossy type with more colours. My favourite are the women’s—more graphics and usually glossier.”

He just moved in to his new room at the prison. “Being a prison warden is tough. Real tough. But once you get used to it, you get to know the people in your community—we’re supposed to call them inmates but they’re just my machita [guys]. They don’t know about my collages yet.”

 

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