The A-Listers

SOCIALS | SA's own Basquiat, Blessing Ngobeni, bequeaths award to new talent

05 May 2019 - 00:00 By craig jacobs

From hardware to art with a heart. Later that evening I swapped Boksburg for the leafier surrounds of Illovo, near Sandton, for the launch of an art prize from a man likened to Picasso and Basquiat.
Blessing Ngobeni's life story sounds like an epic movie: from being abandoned by his mother as a small boy in Limpopo to living on the streets of Alex, jailed for armed robbery at the age of 15 to turning to art for salvation.
Today his signature style, a collage of newspaper cut-out figures with dabbles of paint, is the medium he harnesses to take a surreal scalpel to our political masters.
When I greet the always cap- or hat-wearing artist, I pass on news that one of his latest works has just been hung by interior design company Head Interiors at the offices of IT giant Dimension Data.
We're in the white-walled space belonging to Aspire Art Auctions, which has lent its support to Blessing's cause: nurturing young artists. The night opens with Ruarc Peffers from Aspire saying: "What we are looking at today is an incredible generosity of spirit . what we need in the world is more Blessings."
When he comes up, the Tzaneen-born artist explains his reasons for starting the prize in 2016. "Our aim is to turn ideas into practical outcomes that have a positive impact on a nation that is struggling to make democratic ideals work for the shared good among a diverse people," he explains.
Considering how we've been bombarded by politicos wooing us for votes, Blessing's cause has resonance. All around are art works by emerging artists, many of whom have benefited from the programme and are now paying it forward by donating half of the proceeds of the sale of their works.
The money will fund a 12-week residency for a new talent as they create work to be exhibited at the Everard Read gallery.
I also meet a previous beneficiary, Simphiwe Buthelezi, whose work, Uphahla - comprising traditional straw mats - is snapped up at the start of the night by Mark Read from the famed gallery.
I also catch up with a couple of art patrons: Dr Dorrie Weil, whom I've seen twice in two weeks after an absence of more than a decade, and someone who made her debut in this column just over a year ago (and that was for turning up at a do in an identical Zara number to someone else).
Her name? Nwabisa Xayiya. The wife of Mvelaphanda co-founder, Mikki, was wearing Zara again, but this time it's a knitted top accessorised with a black custom-made skirt and sparkly Dolce & Gabbana sneakers.

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