By Caroline Kaminju/AfricanColours.com
Young, focused, talented, passionate, successful and dedicated, are some of the adjectives Mbogeni Buthelezi, a plastic collage artist and former art teacher uses to describe his student Vusi Mfupi.
At the Doornfontein studio in Johannesburg where Vusi works, what immediately catches your attention is the sheer amount of paper – which the artist uses in creating his collages – that is strewn all over the floor.
The artist: Vusi Mfupi/Photo by Caroline Kaminju
But then you are immediately drawn to the wall where different, colourful, and vibrant collages are hanging:
At one end, a boy fills water into what looks like a glass filled with pebbles. Below this is a collage of three women walking on a seemingly dusty road carrying their children, perhaps to a clinic. Another collage depicts life in the location where utilities like water are communal and a woman is seen doing her laundry.
Behind his door are newspaper clippings of what has been written about Vusi by various media. He even has on a T-shirt with the screen print of one of the articles written about him by The Sowetan, headlined “Mfupi uses collage to tell our own stories”.
Vusi is an artist with a seriousness that does not escape the eye, the minute, painstaking sticking of collages, minute-piece by minute-piece that boggles the mind to think the concentration that went into it:
Jozi /Photo courtesy of Vusi Mfupi
His “Jozi”, a street scene of peddlers with fruits and umbrellas is a busy, lively congestion; but the subject registers only momentarily. Soon it is the technique that you see:
His adeptness at making connections, choosing the right shades to fit in (he needs an awful lot of paper) is what surely makes the magic. Again it’s the minuteness of it all. All of these, the line of buildings, people, their shadows, how he catches the time of day, all using paper still does not jar the eye. A calm, naturalness, springs out of this all. It is after considering these that the true beauty of his work emerges and from there that the fulfillment from watching him starts.
More to the point, Vusi is a story teller who uses his collages to depict the daily lives of ordinary people. ‘In my work I look at social aspects of life most of which are very simple,’ he says. ‘I am a very simple person and I want people to relate with my work without any complication. When they read into my art, it’s like a child reading a book’.
During the recent exhibition at the Gallery on the Square in Sandton Johannesburg, Vusi’s collage of women carrying baskets of food on their head, his wealth of colour and candid, matter-of-fact narrative of the lives of disadvantage black people, stood out from the other artworks.
His most memorable exhibition was Black Like Us, for which he received the Herman Mashaba award and the recent exhibition he had at the Gallery on the Square in Sandton. Corporate companies - even the High Court -purchased most of his work.
His work has been exhibited in Malaysia, The Hague, Germany, Portugal and Brussels, and most recently Scotland. He will be back to Scotland once again later this year since he has been invited to conduct collage and textile.
Bringing Romance to Everyday Eife/Photo courtesy of Vusi Mfupi
One of the highlights of Vusi’s career was a commission by Five Roses in 2007 to “create an artwork that depicts his interpretation of everyday romance.”
The result prompted Five Roses’ brand manager to commission more works from him.
Collage came off a social inconvenience. He started off as a painter but paintings proved difficult to store in his small space. After stretching the canvas, he ended up with no space to work on. Collage was easier both to create and to store.
‘I used to squash the collages under my bed.' He says.
At one point, the artist tried pointillism. Then after working on the Bree Taxi rank project, he also tried his hand at mosaic.
That project served a two-fold purpose for him; not only was it his launching pad into the art world but his love of collage was born.
His first solo exhibition was in 2003 at the Goethe Institute. He remembers well that year, ‘It is a blessing in disguise for me not to insist on going for a solo exhibition because since 2003 to date my work has grown as an artist’.
‘I taught Vusi how to do collage’, says Mbogeni. He also taught him to paint and draw. As a student, Mbogeni says, Vusi took his studies very seriously.
Of his success now, Mbogeni is only proud. ‘Doubling teaching and running a studio is not easy yet he manages to balance that quite well,” Mbogeni says. “Sometimes he even sleeps in the studio.’
Commitment and doubling your game, Mbogeni says, is the name of the art game Vusi seems to play well.
Craig Brown of Gallery on the Square (GoS) was impressed by Vusi’s work and invited him to exhibit alongside Thabo Molapo (his former classmate) and Philemon Hlungwani.
My child, My child/Photo by Caroline Kaminju
For someone who did not realize his talent as a youth, Vusi is weary of the youth – particularly in this country – going through this uncertainty, which is why he joined the Artist-in-Residence at the Sabesuso Primary School in Soweto since 2006. The school is part of the Room 13, whose main objective is to promote entrepreneurial skills and to build society dependant on themselves.
Room 13 project, which has other participants in other parts of the world, was started by two eleven-year olds in Scotland in 1994, the idea to nurture children between the ages of 10 to 14 to choose their field of study, in the disciplines of photography; poetry, drama and then an artist who is a professional in that particular field is invited to mentor or critic them.
Vusi was the perfect candidate for this position because of his passion to help children discover their artistic talent. ‘Working with the youth is a celebration for me because what I have learned, I am sharing with others and thereby doing justice’.
Sila Mbela/ Photo courtesy of Vusi Mfupi
Posted By: Andrew Njoroge
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