Prison life, slavery inspires South African artist at contemporary expo

SOUTH African artist Blessing Ngobeni first picked up a paintbrush during a nine-year stint in prison, drawing fellow inmates and birthday cards to “kill time”.

This month, the now renowned 35-year-old showcased his work at South Africa’s FNB Art Joburg, a leading contemporary art fair featuring artists from across the continent, back in full swing after a two-year pause linked to the pandemic.

In front of colourful surreal canvases stood a painted set of antique armchairs and sofas, inspired by an eerie discovery in 2016 of a chair in North Georgia allegedly stuffed with the hair of black slaves.

“It was a story that I needed to work with and bring it to life,” Ngobeni told Reuters. “(In) things that we own, lies a secret, lies DNA, lies memories, lies the pain of the other people.”

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