Interview: Bonkosi Mhlanga

It’s a Thursday afternoon, trying to get things going. The day started out rather slow with a couple of disappointments, but finally I am with Bonkosi ‘TheeArtist’ Mhlanga. Bongani and I decide to not let the day get the best of us but rather give today our best. To capitalized on time we agree on a quick Q & A. I hope you will enjoy this short discussion and get to know one of Newcastle’s artists.

So Bonkosi, as one of our closest brothers and big contributor in terms of art at Newcastle Creative Network, tell the people more about yourself, who is Bonkosi Mhlanga? 

Well brother, Bonginkosi Mhlanga is an artist born and raised in the township of Madadeni (Section 7), Newcastle, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa (chuckles). The year is 1984, the month January and the 9th. That means I am 31 years old. I received my primary education at Mlamleli Primary School before I went to Zabalaza Combined School. I completed my secondary schooling at Phendukani Secondary School after matriculating in 2002. After that I went to study electrical engineering at Amajuba College and that’s a story for another day haha… I live with my sister Pinkie and nephew Nosipho.


What inspired you to be an artist and what was the deciding moment that art was it for you?

Well, I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember and all I can remember is the passion I’ve always had for art. The catalyst to me starting to practice art on a full time basis though came when I went to Zabalaza Combined School. I entered a colouring competition ,which I really enjoyed, and I came in 2nd place out of the whole school. I think that was in standard 4. That was the spark that propelled me into taking my art more seriously.


So what kind of art do you do?

I am a painter mostly. Most of my work revolves around portraits, landscapes, abstract paintings some murals here-and-there. I have no training or any formal schooling in art. So I am very much self-taught, I got my knowledge from books in our local library.


What do you hope for the future of art in the place where you come from?

As a trying artist growing up, I have struggled too much to acquire the knowledge and skill that I have thus far accumulated, yet still I struggle trying to get further… From researching in libraries, to traveling to places such as Johannesburg and Durban in search knowledge and resources – though it has taught me a lot, it has not been pleasant. My wish is to see growth in accessible arts education and for arts institutions to be more open. A lot of people can benefit from an active arts centre where the community can go freely. For example, a soccer player in Madadeni can easily go to the soccer fields in the township and join a soccer team, any day. A similar setup is what I would like to see with art.


How has it been to be part of the arts community in Newcastle?

In all honesty, art has not as yet shown its creamier side to me as yet. I think I can attribute that to people’s lack of understanding of the arts. I have set up more than a dozen street exhibitions but sometimes even when they love the artworks, you find that they cannot afford to buy them. Art is not amongst their top priorities currently. I think it is our duty to create a market for our artworks – a market with an able buying power and also try and I work towards making some affordable art pieces.


What do you consider to be your inspiration and who are your favourite artists?

Ordinary everyday incidents, ordinary people, and ordinary things mostly inspire my art. The thing that makes my art extraordinary is my usage of colour. I play around with colours to add a happy feel to what people view as useless and that bring all the character out. Locally I am inspired by a friend of mine named Khanya Mbatha and another established artist known as Paul Radebe and internationally I love the works of Rubén Belloso from Italy & Holly Kavonic from the United States. In fact there are quite a lot of them but I will only name those few for now.


That is great man. So again, the problem that many artists face is exhibiting their works in commercial galleries. Where has your work been exhibited so far?

Being a self-taught artist in the peripheral areas of South Africa, makes things especially hard. Our lack of resources and funding makes it increasingly difficult to be practitioners because we find ourselves having to look for jobs to support our art. Jobs were hardly enjoy doing. This consumes the time we need to perfect our craft. So far I have been lucky enough to be called to setup some pop-up displays at shows hosted by the Newcastle municipality like the Newcastle Air Show and other event like Arts In The Park by the Carnegie Art Gallery. My most memorable displays though were at all of Newcastle Creative Networks shows such a Wild Jam Sunday Sessions (a monthly event that takes place around the townships of Newcastle) and at their Newcastle Arts Festival since 2012. I have also had the opportunity to exhibit at the Thami Myele Art Gallery in Katlehong, Johannesburg.


Seems like even through the struggles you continue trying… So as an art lover or a Bonkosi TheeArtist Mhlanga fan, how do I reach out to you and what are some of the services do you offer?

People can send me messages and invitations on Facebook at Bonkosi TheeArtist Mhlanga, on instagram I’m, my email is and my phone number is 063 045 6958. I specialize in portraits, landscapes, murals and abstract paintings. Please reach out to me on any of these platforms if you would like any of these works done for you. Anytime.


What message would you like to send to youth and individuals interested in the arts?

I firstly would ask them to find out what they are good at and focus on it. Do it at your best and passionately at all times. Let money not be the priority, as this will cheat the standards of your craft. I would also advise people to go in search of their market instead of waiting for people to come to them. I fit means you should take to the streets, just do it without fear. Regardless, art is fun and divine so go out there and create.