Contemporary Artist Celebrates African Culture and Empowers Youth in Johannesburg

 We chat with GreatJoy Ndlovu about African culture and art, what inspires his work and the amazing black tie soiree being held on the 18 July 2023 (Mandela Day) at the Rosemary Hill Estate in Tshwane in an effort to raise over R 2 million for South African children. This fundraiser is in support of two beneficiaries – the Kay Mason Foundation which offers high-school scholarships to underserved youth and Operation Smile South Africa which provides free surgery to repair cleft conditions in children.

Tell us a bit about yourself, how and why you got into visual art?

I am a contemporary artist practicing from my private studio – Greatjoy Art Studios in Edenvale, Johannesburg. I grew up passionate about creative work from a very tender age – something I couldn’t shake off as I grew older. I was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and studied Art at Cyrene Mission, an institution with a strong artistic heritage dating from the late-1930s.

How has the city of Johannesburg had an influence on the way you create art?

Johannesburg is very multicultural, a quality that enriches one’s muse by weaving them into a rich tapestry of creative excellence. You also benefit from its general vibrancy and the many opportunities to connect and build with like-minded people.

Can you tell us more about the series titled "Concessions: The Art of Hacking Progress"?

Concessions delves into our fears of participating in the centuries-old ritual of sacrifice. It explores the dilemmas and trade-offs one ought to face in their quest to attain their desired state or object. I examine the interplay of desire and perseverance, and how they fuel and complement each other in our pursuit of progress, achievement and fulfilment. I condense our hesitancy to trade our current state to bargain with the future and how that can hinder us from realising ideals. I pose an upward journey that, at each phase, demands a little more than the current capacities can readily offer.

What does it mean to you to have your works recognized and appreciated in such a significant event?

It is special to me but I’m especially focused on the purpose of this work. I’ve held great shows before but this one is going to be phenomenal because of the social bent it carries – it’s going to provide education to many disaffected young people and offer free cleft surgeries to both young and old. The event will bring together South Africa’s emerging talent and accomplished creatives from different art genres, creating a rich microcosm of opportunities.

The 28th piece of your series Concessions is dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela. Can you elaborate on the significance of this piece and how it pays tribute to Mandela's work in empowering children?

The 28th piece of the series “Concessions” is dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela. This piece, titled “Infinity I,” is a large painting measuring 140×290 CM. It depicts a surreal scene of a benevolent old woman standing in a luminous backdrop with dazzling, white doves filling the atmosphere. An endless queue of young people extends into infinite horizons and can be observed receiving her provisions. The old woman symbolises South Africa and the luminous climate represents a hopeful attitude toward the masses before her. The piece harnesses representational and conceptual frameworks to reflect Nelson Mandela’s vision of having South Africa provide all the necessary provisions for her youth to thrive in the global landscape. The provisions the woman offers relieve all forms of deprivation, providing access to education, healthcare and child welfare. In the words of Madiba, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

A Night of Greatjoy aims to raise funds for the Kay Mason Foundation and Operation Smile South Africa. What drew you to these organisations?

I chose OpSmile and KMF because I believe in the work of medical missions, child welfare organizations and in education. I am fascinated by the prospect of changing lives in dire circumstances and setting them on a hopeful trajectory. Every child deserves a fair chance at a happy, healthy and successful life, without being held back by circumstances beyond their control. I am in a better position to ensure that these children have fair access to the best life-transforming opportunities available, increasing their chances of achieving better outcomes in life.

How do you personally connect with the cause of empowering underserved youth? What drives your dedication to making a difference in the lives of the children of South Africa?

I feel a personal connection to this cause because I understand that these same children, under different circumstances, could grow up to become noble leaders, intelligent scientists and contributing citizens. This is something that the Kay Mason Foundation, one of our beneficiaries, strives to provide. Without the Kay Mason Foundation, some of these children might grow up abused, poor and forgotten. By choosing to work with Operation Smile again, I continue to retain the perspective that good health is fundamental and everything else is secondary. Good health ensures life and while there is still life, there is still hope for everything else. Operation Smile continues to provide that hope for numerous children.

What do you hope people will take away from A Night of Greatjoy, both in terms of the art exhibition and the overall experience of the event?

I want the experience to unite people of all races and tribes in South Africa, helping everyone savour their Africanicity and sharing in its beauty and challenges. The event promises a powerful network from both the worlds of business and the arts, collectively building value to be then shared with our communities. The art exhibition aims to condense the concessions South Africa has made to progress and those we ought to make to advance. The artworks contrast the viewers’ current position with their ideals. I intend for the works to incubate a dutiful spirit in us, critiquing, inspiring and reminding us to make the sacrifices that our ideals demand.

The event aims to celebrate African heritage. How does your artwork reflect and incorporate African culture and why is it important for you to showcase this aspect of your art?

I am African, I live here and I’m part of the fabric – the experiences I capture are real life that is all around me. Our diverse African cultures need not play second fiddle to any other world culture – they exist today, “in the here-and-now” and hence our times deserve to be portrayed originally in our own experiential narrative, like in any other culture.

What are some of your favourite art galleries around Johannesburg and why?

I perhaps have a bias on this one, I’d recommend the Living Artist Emporium mostly because of their open-door policy and their focus on mentorship for budding grassroots artists. If you’re a driven artist and are willing to try several things LAE could help you develop the knack for freedom in my opinion.

Save the date for an unforgettable experience on Tuesday, July 18th, 2023 as A Night of GreatJoy NPC presents “A Night of Greatjoy” at the picturesque Rosemary Hill Farm in Tshwane. Featuring an extraordinary art exhibition and a groundbreaking “Leave a Legacy, Ubuntu Crowd Fund” auction. Curated by the talented Blooming Curate team, Mosima Mokotong and Nozi Sikhonde, the inaugural event pays tribute to Greatjoy Ndlovu and his tremendous impact on children’s lives in South Africa. 

Be enchanted by the exclusive showcase of twenty-eight original art pieces titled ‘Concessions: The Art of Hacking Progress,’ auctioned to support the Kay Mason Foundation and Operation Smile South Africa. Each artwork carries a minimum value of R50,000 and we anticipate raising over R2 million. Tickets: R750 per person, including a three-course dinner. Secure your spot on iTickets. Can’t attend? Donate via iTickets.

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