“I’m working to find the inner part of the human being. So I am stripping that person out...taking the clothes, the skin, the bones.
I’m trying to see what can come out of this person. Then I rebuild.
I call it the lust of the heart. It is never satisfied.” – Blessing Ngobeni, 2019
Blessing Ngobeni was born in 1985 in a small rural town of Tzaneen in the Limpopo province. 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. He tackles 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. As a result of his exceptional work and dedication to his practice, Ngobeni received the highly-prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award for the Visual Arts in 2019.
His first award, was the the Reinhold Cassirer Award which he won in 2011. This 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 a career in the visual arts. He also benefitted from interacting with the visiting international artists; one outcome being the Emergency Exit exhibition, for which he collaborated with Nigerian artist Emeka 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 a 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 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), Replica Ever Sang (2020) in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London. Ngobeni enjoys regular appearances at the FNB Joburg Art Fair and Investec Cape Town Art Fair and his artworks have been also featured internationally at The Armory Show (2020), the Venice Art Biennial (2019), Art X Lagos (2019), CONTEXT Art Miami (2019), EXPO Chicago (2017 and 2018) and PULSE Miami Beach (2018).
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 developments in terms of medium bring into effect rich content and dynamic expressions to Ngobeni’s art. 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, the symbolic force of Neo-Expressionism, and the 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.
His latest body of work, produced as an outcome of winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for the Visual Arts in 2019, will be installed and exhibited at the National Arts Festival in 2021, before beginning its year-long tour of various provincial cultural institutions throughout South Africa.
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. The first, in collaboration with the Bag Factory, is the ‘Blessing Ngobeni Studio Art Award’ established in 2017. The second is called ‘Initiative’ and introduces young artists to the art industry through a series of workshops and culminates in an opportunity for them to participate in a group show. This empowering work attests to Ngobeni’s personal and professional contribution to the art world and society at large.