Art in a Khayelitsha fruit & veg shack

| Pharie Sefali
It took Mpho Mathebula two weeks to do this bead port​r​ait. Photo by Pharie Sefali.

Mpho Mathebula rents a small space in a fruit and vegetable shop in Khayelitsha to sell his paintings and beadwork.

Mathebula moved to Cape Town from Tzaneen in Limpopo in 2005 in the hope of a better market for his work.

At school he used to paint and draw his friends. But he dropped out of school in grade eight and lived on the streets for some years. He was arrested and convicted for housebreaking and spent three years in prison - where he learned art and beadwork.

Today, says the 36-year-old, art is his passion.

Mathebula, who lives in Site C, Khayelitsha, opened a small shop in July, renting space in a blue shack where fruit and vegetables are sold. He sells his work to tourists, to customers who visit the fruit and vegetable shop and to people passing by the nearby taxi rank.

He also does commissioned work, including advertising murals and logos for companies.

The small space contains sandals, shoes, paintings and beadwork, including life sized portraits made in beads, from photographs. Making a portrait in beads can take weeks, he says.

artyShoes-PharieSefali-20150924.jpg​Mathebula’s sandals ​cost from R250. Photo by Pharie Sefali.

He worked for Qubeka Bead Studio for a few months and some of his work is displayed on their site.

Between 2006 and 2015 Mathebula also worked at a gallery in Stellenbosch, but left because he thought he’d do better on his own. He says people in the township - where it is still unusual to spend money on art - thought he was foolish.

“People were laughing at me saying that I was stupid to leave my job,” he says.

He struggled for a few months but people have now become used to him and he gets orders from all over Cape Town.

Two women work with him in his business. He has taught them beading and is willing to teach anyone who comes to him. The beaded sandals sell from R250 and beaded portraits up to R1,200, depending on the size. “I want to open an art gallery in Site C or anywhere in Khayelitsha because I believe that there are many people in the area who are talented but have no space to showcase their talent.”

Actress Andrea Dondolo, who had a bead portrait done by Mathebula, says that for artists like him from difficult backgrounds their passion is a lifeline. She says thanks to sales of his work he does not have to live from handouts but can contribute to the economy and transfer his skills.

“I wish to see Mpho have a studio to display, produce and sell his work in a conducive and dynamic space”, says Dondolo.

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TOPICS:  Arts and culture Economy Society

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