One day not too far in the future, the proud citizens of our town will be saying, “You know, of course, that Siphosethu Ntetha grew up in Hermanus.” There is no doubt about it, this shy, 15-year-old pupil of Qhayiya Secondary School in Zwelihle has enough talent to make it big on the South African visual arts scene.
And Siphosethu has a particularly strong work ethic to go with it. Deciding not to waste a good crisis, he thought he’d try his hand at portraits during lockdown, and because he didn’t have access to paints, he resorted to a pencil and an A4 exercise book with blank pages. Portraiture is one of the most difficult genres to master, because not only must the artist capture the likeness, but also the personality and mood of the subject. Nevertheless, he took to it as to the manner born and has produced the most astonishingly mature drawings, nuanced, expressive and textured.
Siphosethu’s adventure in art started when his best friend Iviwe Mrwebi persuaded him to come to art classes at Enlighten Education Trust run by Ashleigh Temple-Camp. She immediately recognised the boys’ exceptional talent. In fact, in 2018 Siphosethu won Gold in his age-group in the Overberg Art Competition organised by the WC Education Department, and the following year it was Iviwe’s turn.
Ashleigh says one of the things she admires most about Siphosethu, who comes from a broken home and lives with his aunt and three cousins, is his self-motivation. “He is very quiet but very focused; he takes the initiative and is not afraid to experiment.”
“I’ve learnt from Ashleigh that in art there’s no such thing as a mistake,” explains Siphosethu, “you just make it part of the picture.” When he is working on a piece he goes into a creative zone, he says. “It’s like I go into another world, and then the only thing I concentrate on is what I’m doing.”
“There is something uncannily intuitive about Siphosethu,” adds Ashleigh. “As an exercise, one day I asked my advanced group to visualise some particular place and then draw it. He produced a very oddly-designed building which he struggled to describe. A few weeks later I took the group on an outing to the Zeitz MOCAA art museum in Cape Town. As we arrived, a light bulb seemed to go on and his face lit up. Without ever having been there before, this was the building he had tried to draw. Amazing, hey?”
Ashleigh herself is highly innovative and offers her students the opportunity to work in a multiplicity of media, using a variety of techniques. Siphosethu says he likes to try everything out. But for now, it’s portraits. “I saw a boy on TV drawing people, so I decided to try, too.” At the moment, he is drawing mainly from photographic images, but Ashleigh says she is presently organising a life-drawing class (Trust, the Enlighten gardener has agreed to be the model). She also wants to ensure that he can work on better quality paper in the future and be able to mount his work.
At the end of every year, Enlighten organises an art exhibition, including work done by both the younger and more advanced group and invariably it’s a sold-out event. She would like to create opportunities for Siphosethu and his group to sell some of their work during the year as well. “There’s a fine line to be walked between enjoyment and earning an income from art, though,” she says. “I don’t want them ever to lose the pleasure and fulfilment that art offers them.”
Sadly, Qhayiya doesn’t have an art teacher, but Ashleigh is hoping to arrange for her five advanced pupils to take art as an extra subject for matric through the Hermanus Visual Art & Design Centre. They also have a close working relationship with the artist Obert Jongwe, whose work is represented by Rossouw Modern Art Gallery. In fact, they’re currently working towards a very exciting joint project with Obert, so watch this space…
Astonishingly, when asked whether he plans to continue with his art studies when he leaves school, Siphosethu says he intends studying engineering. We’ll see – he still has three more years at school to make a final decision. But whatever he does in the future, the creative dimension art has brought to his life and to his personal development will endure a lifetime.