Interview with Senzo Njabulo Shabangu (Part One): Today, Tomorrow, Everyday

Location: LL Editions Fine Art Printing, The Bag Factory, Johannesburg, South Africa

Date: Friday 28 November 2014 at 09:00

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Well I just want to thank you Senzo for giving me the time to talk to you especially here in the studio, not at your home where you will be bombarded with house chores (jokingly).

Senzo Njabulo Shabangu: (laughs) true

Mmutle AK: Yah, here it’s much better because it is your work space.

Senzo NS: Yes we can, …I understand, we can…

Mmutle: At the moment you are here at The Bag Factory neh?

Senzo: Yes

MAK: You are working on a new body of work? Tell me what is the work about actually in terms of the content of what you are dealing with for this new body of work?

Senzo. It’s like, I have been dealing a lot with issues of Joburg pressure because to me it is easy to realize that pressure the city has. So since I came here (in) 2006 I have been feeling that pressure like …at home when you are in the city they have their own expectations and as an artist it is also difficult. It is difficult for everyone the way a city designed because it’s got that pressure and for me as someone who comes outside of the city it’s easy for me to feel that pressure.

Interview with Senzo Njabulo Shabangu @BagFactoryI 28112014
Interview with Senzo Njabulo Shabangu at LL Editions Fine Art Printing, The Bag Factory

Mmutle. uhm (encouragingly)

Senzo. Yes, So all these years my concept evolve around the city, the life of people around the city, and also personal issues, but in this time, uhm, I have realized that, that God has helped me to settle and to overcome that pressure, you know, do art, because I am an artist and art is the only weapon I can use for myself to face challenges so I use my art to deal with challenges that I have as a human being and it’s been helpful. So I’ve realize that since I have settled some of the things that happen in my life are amazing. I have a studio and I never thought I will be around artists. So now the concept that I am working on it is a concept that is personal. Because I am talking about these little boxes I am busy doing research about these little boxes. The places, ama’apartment that we rent so…

Mmutle. You call them little boxes?

Senzo. Yes I call them little boxes, all these tall buildings the houses abantu a ba rentayo [Houses people rent], the city is designed in a way of …it is very very tough to own a piece of land…

Mmutle. Of course yes…


Senzo. Even to those people who have good jobs it is still a hill for them to own property. So to me while I was looking back I realize that since I came here in 2006, yes I have achieved as an artist but the ownership, I own my artworks I own my mind and my ideas and what-what but I realize that most of us as youth we don’t have that ownership of i-success

Mmutle. you mean ownership of production or do you …are you trying, uhm, to say we, uhm, do not appreciate what we achieve?

Senzo. Yes, somewhere we do not appreciate. But at the same time there is also a cloud. I found out there is a cloud or the system itself is like a cloud, it blocks. Achievement is to have credits, kids, car, …you know. But not investing in terms of owning buildings – like youths owning their own…

Mmutle. Infrastructure, I understand, in other words for South African youths to play a role in the control of the infrastructure in our country so that they are able to shape the development of South Africa to what they desire it to be!

Senzo Njabulo Shabangu, Untitled, 2014
Senzo Njabulo Shabangu, Untitled, 2014

Senzo. Yes, that’s what brought me here I am working towards that concept. It is in, …you know it’s like a seed now. As I have told you that the show is next year. So you can imagine it’s very very far September is far. But it’s a seed and I feel that by that time it will just blossom I don’t know how it will be because I am at the beginning of that concept that I am working on now. But it is a new uhm shape because it doesn’t, …this concept I am working on now ‘little boxes’ to me it turns to be something else because it does really involve personal issues that much as…

Mmutle. …It’s actually, it’s actually social issues

Senzo. yes, yes …yah

Mmutle. Uhm you know what? Lets go a little bit, you know, back into the past and talk about your …you spoke about two exhibitions that you’ve had which you can look as your solo exhibitions, I mean it was the first one and then you were gonna be having the second solo at David Krut eh studios. Neh?

Senzo. Yes

Mmutle. What was your experience of the, of the first solo exhibition that you had …and when was it?

Senzo. My first solo exhibition I called it I ‘Naked Pressure’ it was in 2010 if I am not mistaken, because I met David Krut, no 2011, I met David Krut uhm, uhm after I won the David Koloane Award in 2010. Trhough the award I acquired a working space here at the Bag Factory for three months. I was working with three international artists, one from Holland and one from Germany. For the first time uBaba koloane, I call him Doctor Koloane, Pat Mautloa, these people were here, they were around me and they were mentoring me, being there molding me. In the morning before we worked they will have coffee with me and they will talk to me. They gave me the opportunity to explore what I wanted to explore.

Mmutle. Yes, the ideas that you had and you wanted to explore…

Senzo. Yes, …yes… I explored a very nice body of work that time while I was here and I started exhibiting around the city with friends like uNelson Makamo and other artists and then one day David (Krut) called me. He saw my work at Arts on Main. There was a show I had with Babu Koloane after the residency entitled – ‘Today, Tomorrow, Everyday’ so uhm at Arts on Main. I had ishow there yeh, David Koloane asked me to invite another artist leyo artist be ngu Mongezi Ncaphayi. You know him.

Mmutle. Yes, yes I do but I have not had the pleasure yet of meeting him in person. I know he is in France at the moment.

Senzo. So I invited Mongezi for our show. We had a show it was very beautiful . So David Krut saw my work, one piece, it’s called ‘Life is not a Game’. That piece itself uDavid Krut when he saw it he thought it was a silkscreen, only to find out that that it’s a lino. I work in linocuts, my linocuts they are like two colours, three colours, four colours …

Mmutle. you work in layers?

Senzo. Yes in layers. The traditional way of printing lino is black and white. So when he saw my work…

Mmutle. So you have broken out of the tradition …

Senzo. …yes out of the traditional way

Mmutle. So this is still in 2011 or ?

Senzo. Yes still in 2011 after 2010, after this residency here. So when he saw those works he thought …yoh err he called, …he was looking for me! He came here and he found out that I have already moved. My residency was already…

Mmutle. …finished, yes?…

Senzo. Finished. So, I don’t know who gave him my number so he called and then he said he would like to see me. I went there and they asked me about my, …the technique, I told them no it’s lino and I run it once. They thought maybe I run it one colour,…

Mmutle. …and another colour…

10 minutes into the interview

Senzo. wait until it is dry (and another colour). No they found out that I just did everything once. So he asked me to come and be involved in a workshop. A lot of artists such as Mary Sibande they were coming, Lawrence Lemaoana was also amongst them, lots of artists were coming for that workshop. But I made one piece called ‘Life for Rent’ it’s a red piece. And that piece led me towards having a show with uDavid Krut because the response that piece had was a huge response.

Mmutle. …and obviously from the title itself neh I can start to think of the interrogation of renting, of spaces

Senzo. yes let me show that piece, I don’t know if I have it (he activates his tablet to look and swipes across the screen though an array of images) yes, it is here.

Mmutle. oh yah

Senzo. That was the piece. It is called ‘Life for Rent’.   But I also, in this piece, I am also talking about these who have the power in the city. Like people who are in power, they are everywhere. Those people…

Mmutle. They make the money (Laughs)

Senzo. Yes they make the money. (Joins in laughter). So after that piece David gave me an exhibition at Jan Smuts Avenue and there I eh, because people were responding to the plate not the print. The plate itself while I was busy with it,…

Mmutle. …the process

Senzo. …the process. People were interested in the plate they wanted to buy the plate

Mmutle. …the matrix…

Senzo. …and we were still in process of editioning, I think it was when they saw the process, …even to me it was really amazing. But he gave me a show and that show I called ‘Naked Pressure 2011’ and then also that show was a solo. It was a sold out show, I sold all the work I had made in two to three months with David Krut.

Mmutle. So it was a successful show?

Senzo. It was a successful show, very small one, because it was not in a big gallery it was in a workshop space where I produced the artworks, you know. And I think

Mmutle. So it was an open studio exhibition?

Senzo. yes it was an open studio exhibition. But I tried to be as professional as I could. The response was good and (snaps fingers) it was a sold out exhibition all these pieces are no longer available (waves his hand gingerly across the tablet screen). Even this ‘Life for Rent’ I am the only one who has this piece. It is a personal piece ‘Life for Rent’

Senzo Njabulo Shabangu, Life for Rent, 2011 (900 x 956cm)
Senzo Njabulo Shabangu, Life for Rent, 2011 (900 x 956cm)

Mmutle. Yah…its now historical…

Senzo. Yes

Mmutle. it’s actually the fountain head, you know, of what sparked an interest in your body of work

Senzo. So after that show I was suppose to leave and go wherever I wanted to go but David Krut ask me to stay on, he gave me a space because they were moving to Arts on Main to the big workshop so he offered me that space as a resident artist.

Mmutle. In Jan Smuts Avenue?

Senzo. Yes, when Dacid Krut offered me to become a resident artist the that studio I did not feel that comfortable because it is not easy for me to accept free things. I accepted the offer eventually,  I saw that it represented an opportunity to grow as an artist. But first I decided to travel home and I also went to Swaziland as well, you know, to get a break from a busy period…

Mmutle. go back home and see the people

Senzo. yes

Mmutle. perhaps let’s stick with uhm home. Where were you born?

Senzo. I was born in Mpumalanga Province on 30 September 1985, in a place, it’s a village, between Piet Retief and Ermelo. Yes, it’s called Treefontein

Mmutle. treefontein?

Senzo.Yah Driefontein!

Mmutle. Driefontein

Senzo. Driefontein yes like Afrikaans. That village you know it’s one of those places where you have lot of Afrikaans people.

Mmutle. Afrikaans people there

Senzo. It’s called Driefontein that’s where I was born. It’s very dry. There is no gallery, no cinema, nothing you just have to entertain yourself.

Mmutle. Its desolate

Senzo. Yah (laughs) that’s where I am from, I was born there.

Mmutle. Yah and also your schooling from primary and high school?

Senzo. Yes, grade 1 to grade 12. My father used to work here in Johannesburg and so my mom used to come and visit my father in Kensington close to Eastgate. June and December we would come and visit Johannesburg but not every year but once every two years.

Mmutle. So this is where you were exposed to the city? When you were visiting your father

Senzo. To be really honest I would not say I was even exposed because you visit but they are at work. They are at work, my father was at work it was just a matter of …just sitting … we would stay at home, the house we stayed at when we visited Johannesburg over the holiday was a house owned by a man called Robin Smith. During the day time I would go and clean up the garden I would be given a nit of cash for the work. That was the only exposure of the city (chuckles) I had. Once a weekend when he is free he would take me to Eastgate …

Mmutle. Your Father?

Senzo. …yes and then buy maybe clothes. And then I had to go back home with new clothes that’s how..

Mmutle. do you have siblings?

Senzo. Yes I have three younger brothers yes, they are younger than me. I am the only son on my mother’s side. My father had three wives. But they passed away. So I have brothers, older brothers from my younger mom, from my step mom. And one brother passed away in 2008 or 20009. Yah now we are just like four brothers and one daughter. Yah and my mom as well passed away as well in 2004 before I came here to Johannesburg in 2006.


Mmutle. and when you came to Johannesburg in 2006 was it to further your studies? Or to look for work?

Senzo. (chuckles) it’s really interesting because my aim was to be a pilot when I came here.

Mmutle. you wanted to fly airplanes

Senzo. To be a pilot. When I was growing up I was an artist, no one actually, I can’t count any artist in my who initially influence me. So I left all the drawings that I did while I was young in Mpumalanga Province. Roben Smith, the guy who owns the house in Kensington had said to me that when I finish my matric I should come to stay in his house when I pursued my tertiary studies. Mpumalanga the whole province you know we don’t even have a university. So most of the people in Mpmalanga once they finish, Jo’burg is like a breakthrough whatever, It’s the only place you can go to. So yes I came here…

Mmutle. in 2006

Senzo Njabulo Shabangu. I came to Johannesburg with a dream to become a pilot. I spent close to six months looking for academies. Ai I think it was really tough because I applied for bursaries as my father couldn’t afford to pay for the course  because it’s very very expensive. So I was in Johannesburg for six months up until my older brother and Robben Smith, the owner of the house in Kensington, one day asked me why I don’t look for an art school since I drew every day instead of wasting my time to become a pilot.


N.B. Many thanks to Morena Leshoka Joe Legate for allowing Ntate Senzo Njabulo Shabangu’s interview to take place amidst the activities of LL Editions Fine Art Printing studio during the artist’s residency there. Ditebogo tse di tletseng!

22 February

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2014

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