Agent of change

On August 17, less than 24 hours after the Marikana massacre, graphic designer and illustrator Sindiso Nyoni began working on a seminal piece he would later call Protect and Serve. It features a gun-toting, balaclava-clad policeman baring his teeth in a clenched smile. The ink splatters — a street-art staple — take on an obvious meaning as they drench the background and the policeman’s bulletproof vest.

Given Nyoni’s own experiences as an immigrant in this country and that his was the first artistic bullet fired in the salvo of response to the massacre, the work may have been a bit kneejerk.

But then again, having been born under the shadow of the Matebeleland massacres in his native Zimbabwe, Nyoni’s entire existence is about using art to navigate his circumstances. Formerly an illustrator and graphic designer with ­advertising agency Black River FC, Nyoni has recently embarked on the risky route of pursuing art as his sole, full-time career.

Can you take us through your creative process?
It starts with the idea first. Then I sketch using pencil on paper to see how I can communicate the idea. I go through probably five sketches to see how I can put the idea together. So, about 80% of my work is done with pencil and paper. I then ink it and scan it in to prepare it as a finished artwork. I use the computer so I can incorporate drawings and design.

What are your thoughts about the artistic reactions to the Marikana massacre?
People are very opposed to what happened there. Faith47 exhibited somewhere with work featuring miners waiting in a line. Greg [Marinovich] has exhibited his photographs taken at Marikana. There is usually not a big response from artists to things like this. A lot of things that need a response like that happen in Africa all the time. Earlier this year, in this country, you had minors involved in rape cases. Those are social ills we can address given the power we have. For me, Marikana was an exception, a first. Maybe the reaction wasn’t as big as it was to oppression in the 1980s when people turned to poster art and protest —but it was there.


Since you’ve been in South Africa, what have you noticed about the conditions for creating art here?
I think art still thrives in this country. There are people with talent that have done something about it. A lot of people doing street art, for example, started from nothing and paved a way for themselves. Someone like Faith47 exhibits all over the world and, as a result, people are taking note of what’s happening in South Africa. In the seven years I’ve been here, I’ve seen that rise from ­nothing to something. The internet has really made people more recognisable. You can see the people who are doing work. There is cool stuff happening. Mary Sibande’s work was all over Johannesburg, which was a good thing.

What’s the most recent piece of art you received or bought?
It was a piece I got from a friend of mine, Lindsey Levendall, who also goes as Bison. He’s a very good illustrator. His pieces don’t really have any meaning, but you’d have to see one to see what I mean by that.

What do you like about creating art in Johannesburg?
It’s the melting pot of cultures that are here in this place. Everybody is from somewhere. That mixture influences my work.

What is your favourite place to hang out?
Recently I’ve been hanging out a lot on Main Street [the Maboneng precinct]. I feed off the buzz of like-minded guys when I’m there. I like what’s on offer. It’s been pumping.

What music are you listening to?
I’m playing Johannesburg-based rap group Big Fkn Gun. Because of my background, I’m influenced a lot by hip-hop. Growing up in a household with five boys and three girls I would be influenced by that. I’m also listening to Rocket Juice and the Moon, Boom Clap Bachelors, Spoek ­Mathambo, Dirty Paraffin, M.anifest.

Who are some of the artists that have made a big impact on you?
I like old cats Thami Mnyele and Dumile Feni, but I also like the work of younger artists like Kudzi ­Chiurai and Faith47. Recently I met Dr Jorge Alderete in Cape Town and got a chance to chat with the guy. We also took part in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico.

What are some of your favourite films?
I’m into indie films. I guess that comes from going to art school. I enjoy stuff from Brazil and Denmark.

Are you into sports?
Soccer. This one will get me into trouble — I used to support Manchester United and then I moved over to Manchester City.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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