“If you’re talented, nothing can stop you.” This artist draws inspiration from Mandela
Charcoal and pencils. That’s all Thabiso Mahlaba could afford while working as a shelf packer. But it was enough to keep the aspiring artist going. Even though he had a diploma in fine art, Mahlaba struggled to find work as a full-time artist. So he spent his lunchtimes producing realistic and detailed portraits of his colleagues. Now, the textures of Mahlaba’s pencils have become his signature style, and he uses it to create art that honours South Africa’s leading figures.
“I believe if you’re talented then nothing can stop you from making it in life,” Mahlaba says. He has always had a knack for drawing, and spent school classes illustrating his teachers. Today, the walls of Mahlaba’s home in the Free State are lined with his art. Portraits of Nelson Mandela are everywhere. “He’s one of the icons that will always be remembered by what he did,” Mahlaba says. Mandela holds special significance for the artist. Madiba is the reason Mahlaba can live freely today. And with that liberty, he creates. “I have drawn many images of icons who inspired me to keep following my dreams,” Mahlaba says.
Currently, he teaches art to children in his community and helps them develop their skills. It hasn’t been easy for Mahlaba to reach this point, exhibiting his work and sharing his passion. But he believes having faith in your abilities is a sure way of succeeding. “You have to have patience,” Mahlaba says. “Doing what you do best, it’s one of the great things in life you have to achieve.” From portraits of Madiba to his own neighbours, Mahlaba’s art is a celebration of human spirit and resilience. “I hope to lead the way for my community to dream bigger and not let our circumstances hold us back,” he says.
The portrait of Mandela drawn in this video is based on an image by Adrian Steirn.