A ‘Robin Hood of the arts’ in Dark City | Arts & Entertainment | BDlive
SIPHIWE Ngwenya hails from Alexandra township, sometimes known as Gomorrah Maboneng (Dark City). The name originates from the time when there was no electricity in Alex. It was here that Ngwenya initiated the Maboneng Township Art Experience that uses people’s homes as an exhibition space, thereby campaigning for the development and expression of the arts in the townships.
Growing up in Alex, Ngwenya lived with his grandmother, his mother and father, and although these three people all lived in their own homes, he describes a close-knit family. He finished his schooling at the National School of the Arts in 2000, and from his acting work he paid for his own education as well as assisting some family members. He has strong memories of arriving late at school every day because he was helping his mother with the family business of selling vetkoek. Although the teacher was unsympathetic, he believes this time was influential in growing his work ethic.
“We had to sell vetkoek to make a living. I cooked them; my mom would sell. I’d make dough in the evening so that it would rise in the night. I would wake at 4am and start cooking. I used to get to school late every day, smelling of oil … and the teacher was really unhappy with me. But the daily work of making vetkoek is what made me strong. I got so much from that hard time.”
The project started from a simple sketch: “I was sitting in the street and drawing. I wanted to show my work, and I wanted to show it there and then. I come from an environment where we used to visit the galleries to go and see artworks. I used to walk from Alex to the Goodman Gallery to go and see art. It was tiring and the costs were large.”
This prompted Ngwenya to use his own backyard. “Ntathe Solly, who owns a spaza shop, was the opening speaker at my exhibition. My dad gave me speakers.” The community came to the party in more ways than one, allowing the concept to develop and grow — his father’s employer became an art buyer, thus supporting this initiative.