Fela Dlamini was born on January 17, 1983 in Luve, Swaziland. His Aunt and Uncle raised him along with 11 children of their own. Fela completed primary school in Luve, and secondary school in Nkhaba. He left school after form 3 as it became unaffordable. Fela’s uncle was a craftsman, carving soapstone and mwatsawatsa wood into animal figurines and handcrafts. Upon finishing school, Fela began to work with his uncle, learning to find, dig, and carve soapstone. He created his first piece, a soapstone carving of a human head, in 1995.
Fela sold his stone and woodcarvings on the roadside near Malolotja nature reserve. His crafts formed his primary source of income, contributing as well to the well being of his 13-person family. In 2007, he began selling his Jacaranda woodcarvings to a vendor from South Africa and in 2010 he decided to work independently. He was invited to join an artistic firm in Lobamba where he was taught the skills of candle making and ceramics. He again began to make animal figurines using these new mediums. In 2011 Fela discovered Yebo! Art Gallery when his friend (and fellow Yebo! Artist) Phillip Mdudli encouraged him to present his work to the gallery. Fela acknowledges that his relationship to his artwork has changed immensely since joining Yebo! “Having a professional space to showcase my art encourages me to ensure its quality and develop my creative skills further.”
When asked about his creation process, Fela explains “There are many thoughts and ideas in my mind and these are always informing my artwork. Much of the time, however, the wood just tells me what to do.” Fela prefers working with wood, using Jacaranda or found wood that he sources near rivers or from dead trees and hollowed logs. He explains how wood is an extremely diverse medium, as each piece is different in color, texture, size, and personality. If he sees grooves, colorations, or blemishes in the wood, he uses these as inspiration for his piece. More often than not “the wood decides for itself” and Fela just follows, carving as the wood dictates.
Fela’s artistic approach has evolved rapidly from finding inspiration in specific images to creating more abstract and expressive pieces that hold deep meaning, evoke emotion, and imply intricate symbolism. His mastery of wood is exceptional – both in his functional pieces, such as furniture, as well as in his sculpture and carvings. Especially notable is his ability to use the natural shape, tone and texture of the wood, often preserving many of the raw elements such as bark, or using specific blemishes in the wood to create his final piece.
Fela claims to be a shy person – “it is not easy for me to express myself or deal with confrontation verbally.” While words may limit him, Fela’s art is his language, as he explains, “Through my art I can tell the world what I want, what I think, and who I am.” Fela’s explains that the beauty of nature is his most important inspiration. He is inspired by nature, and what is happening to the natural world through resource-exhaustion and climate change. “Climate change, natural disasters – those are reactions from nature because of our lack of care for the Earth. Take care of nature because once it is gone, we are gone. That is what I’m trying to teach the world.” There is also often an evident appreciation for women and female bodies in his work. “Without women, none of us would be here.” Fela explains that if the world were his, he would first eradicate violence towards women and towards the natural world. “I want to the world to know my work, because then they will know me”.
The following pieces have been displayed on various exhibitions at Yebo! Contemporary Art Gallery since January, 2012.