The self-taught collage artist, Mesuli Mamba was born on November 26, 1981 in Mbabane, Swaziland. He was raised amidst a creatively inclined family and was first introduced to art through his father's collection of Reader's Digest, which at the back had pictures of intricately painted plates by South African artists. The discovery of these first pictures helped Mesuli to demystify the notion of art, realizing that they were designed and painted by real people like himself.
Mesuli attended St. Marks Primary School, St. Francis High School, and Waterford Kamhlaba. He attended the University of Swaziland in order to study Law. While studying law, he began working at a correctional facility in Swaziland where he is still a prison warden, responsible for the security and welfare of the inmates.
In Junior High School, Mesuli began exploring his creativity by drawing and sketching casually. He first saw an example of the medium of collage in an art book at the Mbabane Library. He decided to try his hand at collages, which only required old magazines and a pot of glue – minimal materials for an ultimately beautiful result. Inspired by friends who went to art school, he began “just picking things up and pasting them onto cardboard”. He was encouraged to bring his work to several galleries, and exhibited first at an Arts Festival in Coronation Park, Mbabane.
Mesuli’s artistic process is guided by his emotional response to the images he finds. Searching through magazines for images and advertisements, Mesuli explains how the idea for a piece “just comes”. “The patterns that emerge on the cardboard sometimes surprise me.” When he sees an image that he finds interesting or potentially evocative, he finds original ways to twist or manipulate it. This process is inspired by the different feelings he experiences while working with the images. He explains how “these feelings towards images are parallel to my feelings toward my life.” His final piece, guided by an emotional journey, then provides personal insight into his original intentions.
Mesuli’s approach to artwork is often guided by his desire to mix media that he finds, with imagined stories that he seeks to explain. As a whole, his work is often abstract, although it is comprised of smaller details – whether they are line drawings or cut out figures from a magazine or segments of poetry taken from a book. The audience often gets the impression that there is a story lurking behind the complex and chaotic composition of images and textures ever present in Mesuli’s work.
When asked about the connection between his job as a prison warden and his art, Mesuli responds “My art frees me from my current job, no pun intended. Anything that happens in the life of an artist influences his work – without my job, my art would not be what it is. While being a prison warden can often be monotonous, it provides an interesting insight into human psychology… I work with many wayward minds.” “I create art because I need to. I crave it, it uplifts me.”
The following pieces have been displayed on various exhibitions at Yebo! Contemporary Art Gallery since February, 2011.