Blessing Ngobeni was born in 1985 in a small rural town of Tzaneen in Limpopo. At the age of ten, he moved to Johannesburg where, after a tumultuous decade, he entered the contemporary art scene. Bringing with him a unique style and a critique of political regimes, Ngobeni made the corruption, incompetence and duplicity of current South African ruling elite the subjects of his art.
WORDS: EVERARD READ
PHOTOGRAPHY: STANDARD BANK
PHOTOGRAPHY: MICHAEL HALL
He tackled the disconcerting consequences of betraying democratic ideals, the failure to learn from historical tragedies and the expanding gap between the rich and poor. This critique is informed by Ngobeni’s own experience, the hardships and challenges he had to confront as a child and adolescent.
In 2011, Ngobeni received the Reinhold Cassirer Award which afforded him a three-month residency at the Bag Factory in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. During his residency, he interacted with veteran artists David Koloane, Patrick Mautloa and Sam Nhlengethwa who further motivated his aspirations of pursuing art seriously. He also benefitted from visiting international artists; one outcome being the Emergency Exit exhibition, for which he collaborated with Nigerian artist Omega Udemba in 2012.
The following year he was a recipient of the Impact Award from the Arts and Culture Trust and was listed as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans.
At this point, Ngobeni was on the rise, not only was his name circulating within the local art scene but he began entering the international arena through artist residencies. In 2015 he attended a two-month residency at the Headlands Centre for Art in San Francisco and in 2016 he was the only artist from Africa among several international artists selected for the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion Program.
He also took up another residency in New York and shortly afterwards, and visited France to attend a graffiti workshop called Grafikama in 2016. Although Ngobeni has been exhibiting his artworks since 2007, his visibility in the contemporary art scene took effect in 2012 when he joined Gallery MoMo, which facilitated his participation in noteworthy local and international projects. Some of his exhibitions during this time were In His State of Madness (2014) and As If You Care (2015). His subsequent move to the Everard Read Gallery at the end of 2015 accelerated Ngobeni’s art career. His notable exhibitions since 2015 have been The Song of the Chicotte (2016), Masked Reality (2017), Enemy of Foe (2018) and A Note From Error (2018) in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London. Ngobeni enjoys regular appearances at the FNB Joburg Art Fair and Investec Cape Town Art Fair. His artworks have been also featured at the EXPO Chicago (2017 and 2018) and PULSE Miami Beach (2018) in the United States.
Ngobeni is currently advancing his artistic trajectory. In particular, he is expanding his range of creative mediums through producing free-standing and wall-based sculptures, video animations, sound installations and live performances. These recent developments in terms of medium bring into effect rich contents and dynamic expressions to Ngobeni’s art, as his latest exhibition A Note From Error demonstrates. They also give a curious twist to his hybrid language which points to various references: artists Dumile Feni, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Norman Catherine, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró; the artistic grammar of Surrealism, the rebellion of Dada and the symbolic force of Neo-Expressionism; economic use of visual elements of Minimalism. These qualities expand the depth of Ngobeni’s art, equally they articulate effectively its fusion of nightmarish, absurd, beautiful and captivating imageries.
It is of importance to note that Ngobeni is an artist focusing on more than his own evolving career. His efforts in mentoring young artists have lead him to form two projects that support graduates who are transitioning from their fine art training at tertiary institutions to their careers as full-time artists. Blessing Ngobeni has been awarded Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Arts 2020. His his solo exhibition with Everard Read will be from the 4 – 25 March 2020, Cape Town.