Published 25 October 2021 in Thomarts Gallery

COLLABORURALATION is a Thomarts Gallery coined-word which plainly means, A Collaboration with artists in a rural setting. The first collaboration bore great results that have exploded other explorable ideas and inspirations to continue in other rustic areas of South Africa and not to abandon the land of the rising sun, Mpumalanga, which birthed this project. We are so excited at Thomarts Gallery to pursue this insurmountable project with its challenges. We have great talent in our country to fill the entire planet. Our focus or rather our draw card, to run art workshops that enhance the artists’ techniques, break new ground and improve their business skills, in the rural areas or the townships in the less developed South African Provinces, is the lack of professional facilities to showcase and market their products. Our initiative to open art gallery spaces is to accommodate these various artists into our contemporary space, when their works fit in with our DNA. We strive to select one or two artists per year into the space as our programmes are challenging enough, just like separating the wheat from the chaff, ‘scuse the pun…

Our first and successful collaboration with the artists focused on a theme of diversity of Language: The Alphabet is like a seed which bears forth different languages that have a somewhat beauty that super cedes their origination. Thomarts Gallery selected most of these artists through the diversity of their mother tongues, namely: IsiSwati, Afrikaans, Isizulu, SeShona and English. All these tongues lick from the same alphabet with exciting differences.

Derived from the 26 letter alphabet, this collaboration brought out the individuality of each artist and made a very interesting conversation expressed in an art dialogue. The purpose of the COLLABORURALATION with Thomarts Gallery was to strengthen and /or build up on raw talent to be locally and internationally recognizable. As the professional artist of the project with a 20+ years-experience and have had his paintings and sculptures shown in various galleries, locally and internationally, Nkosinathi Thomas Ngulube was and is rightfully able to claim his title and transfer his diverse skills, impart knowledge and assist young and emerging artists with a great potential to grow professionally. The artists were given space and time to explore the theme and inspiration in a manner of creating the art: The 3 emerging artists, Shane Hlophe, Ayanda Nkosi and Nkgadi Sheena-Leigh, each received 6 x 150 cm x 100 cm fabriano- alphabet letter-stenciled art works to create on and the 5 young artists will each receive 1x 150 cm x 100 cm fabriano- alphabet letter-stenciled art works to create on and the rest of the 3 extra they collaborated among themselves. The young and upcoming artists were: Michael Booysen, Shantel Muyambo, Ntsako Silinda, Joshua Clarke and Amber Daniel.

Under the auspices of the Ngulubes, husband and wife, Sheena-Leigh, each Fabriano paper was formatted with the similarity of the ‘ playing cards’ which have numbers or symbols on every corner. The artists received a single stencilled letter on each paper material, placed haphazardly to the artist’s choice, whether to render the stencilled Fabriano paper as a portrait or as a landscape, and whether to consider the stencilled letter as upside down or correctly. The artists brought their genius flare to activate these letters, in other artworks they debased the lettering in utter freedom to express themselves an upside. The stencilled lettering were designed to complement the elegant touch of words and that was the onset surface point where the artists, challenged, began their creations from, with uncertainty but not short of excitement.

The artists worked both fiercely, some loosely and freely on the surface, individually, from the brief given to them. They engaged with the lettering through tangling with it, and/or imposing over it and, and/or intertwine with it -it was a well deserved intimacy during covid times. As some came together to collaborate in person, as nature would have it, they nearly bit each other off…. Such are in-person collaborations, Twain trying to be one and Argos. Artists are very egotistic. They trudged on for close to three months and the works were couriered to Ngulube’s Johannesburg art studio.

On opening the package filled with the aroma of inks and acrylics, Ngulube reiterated, “ the irony is that l thought this would be easy”

For Ngulube, this was the beginning of expressing himself over, alongside, within and against what the others did as this for him was equivalent to a creative and silent dialogue or conversation with the artists on paper, debating, arguing, listen, seeking to understand and at the same instance striving to professionally balance and polish each work as a finished product by either additive, subtractive means or as an enhancement process. Days became nights to weeks and months to complete the 26 artworks. Long verbal conversations have a comforting and educative result but when they are this long they take more from one and so did they on Ngulube, this was a conversation of different languages. He recalls, alongside the artists that were involved, how much confusing and challenging it was to fine-tune the strings of meanings and proper language.

Ngulube then honoured the artists to sign beside his signature at the back of each artwork. Signing on the front of the paintings would have disturbed the viewer, and that led Ngulube to sign by only his left-hand thumbprint at the bottom right of each artwork .

This mental challenging, hands-on collaboration was a strong, creative and essential point of enhancing the artists’ techniques and uplifting their worth status in the art market. Their artworks were framed and exhibited exclusively at Thomarts Gallery for two consecutive months.

Nkgadi, The Director of Thomarts Gallery, ran an art workshop with the artists to enhance their business skills by teaching them these How To:

1. Write an artist's resume.

2.To write an artist's statement.

3.To present your work professionally.

4. To talk about your work.

5. Price your work without emotion.

6. To be either an independent artist or an art gallery signed artist Our main objectives of the project COLLABORURALATION and it’s imminent continuation is to groom the rural artists into fine arts, so that they can grow into an internationally recognised professional network. The implementation, hereby, of a professional artist (and in future the engagement of other professional artists) with a traceable record of accomplishments, made the project to succeed as it was meant to grow the local and desirable content of Mpumalanga.

It is a viable and potentially long-term option to our self taught talent that leaving their home province with a brain drain that one can only make it in big cities is only a brainwash. Our local talent ought to know and understand that they can work, produce and sell art from the comfort of their homes or art studios by implementing means within their reach. There is a vast need for such art projects to work – And the help received from the National Arts Council assisted greatly in the creation of something new, strongly metropolitan, academic, challenging, neo-expressionistic and contemporary for Mpumalanga.

The improvisation and professionalism of such particular art collaborations entering into the market are important in presenting new, fresh and innovative art works to clients who are always on the lookout for innovative and meaningful works of art with a literature and an international appeal, if not to the building and strengthening the ties of our economy and culture as a country. After all, we have entered into an era where our art audience does not just buy art for decoration but for its meaningfulness, thereby seeing its investment value with a spiritual, design, emotional, beauty, controversy and monetary value Developed provinces like Cape Town and Johannesburg are art hubs and that makes these cities to be art destinations, accessible and a competitive art market with more consumers at our fingertips and therefore a larger profit margin. They offer a larger and hospitable contemporary response than the less developed provinces which are attached to more traditional and crafty art trends. Most artists from these developing provinces are constantly brain drained into bigger cities for greener pastures, but our art gallery strives to allow and encourage them to produce creatively in their locality without the mountainous strife of seeking a market access that sometimes turns artists to be more commercially addressing. Our artists must remain true to their stories without the distortion of the stressful city life It was very endearing, revelatory and inspiring to see each artist and their audience indulge in the artworks to explore issues pertaining to identity in contemporary South Africa through the lens of creating art. This is a project that celebrates who we are, our heritage and multilingualism. And we aim to grow it into other provinces and small towns…


Until then Ta da!!!

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