By: Sizakele Ndului
A 26-year-old self-taught artist from KwaNdebele in Mpumalanga has mastered the art of breathing life into old and dull sneakers. Bongani Mtsweni, who is also known as Don Designer, told Vutivi News that he was inspired by his cousin, who was a fashion designer. In 2018, Mtsweni began his venture into painting shoes just after completing his matric. The first challenge he encountered was trying to make people in his community understand art.
“I got so much support from surrounding villages before getting recognition from my village; I can say they know and understand the art thing that I’m doing,” he said.I remember I used to struggle with getting my art supplies. [For] a little thing like rubber, I’d have to take a bus to town,” he said, adding that he travelled long distances to get the supplies he needed to customise sneakers. He charges between R300 and R350 to get a pair of sneakers done. He also does T-shirt paintings, wall paintings, and portrait drawings. Those prices depend on the size of the work.
The talented and versatile artist said that his favourite piece was titled ‘Khula’ depicted a woman breastfeeding a baby. “This piece I created it with a broken heart… [at] the time I felt like my life doesn’t make sense, tears even drop on my paper. I was facing personal issues, family-related issues so this piece is about a baby who’s been crying for too long then finally got to the mommy’s hands,” he explained. Mtsweni’s strategy for effectively managing his time, especially considering that he has help in the daily operations of his business, is based on maintaining a well-planned timetable.
He aims to grow the art scene in his community and pass down his knowledge to the next generation. “Endumbeni Cultural & Creative Arts Centre gave me an opportunity last year on a project ‘Artists in Schools’ where we are facilitating creative art in schools. It’s an eye-opener for me as an artist. I found an opportunity to stand in front of kids and teach them how to draw and paint,” he said. “For someone who wants to pursue art as a profession, I’d say go for it and give it all your best, like I did. I’m self-taught; I’ve been teaching myself since I started,” he concluded.