Laughing through the pain

2009-09-26 00:00

WHEN I meet Heritage Award recipient Nanda Soobben at his Centre for Fine Art, Animation and Design, he is sitting at a desk in the foyer of the school. It is from this desk, which in most other such institutions would be occupied by a receptionist, that Soobben produces his daily political cartoons, which have over the years appeared in the pages of many of this country’s newspapers and been syndicated around the world. As I talk to him, Soobben’s position at that front desk, rather than in a fancy, private office, comes to signify much about his approach to life, art, business and education. It is an approach that, despite the legacy of apartheid and its impact on Soobben’s life, has gradually been reaping rewards for him in recent years. He has been internationally recognised for his hard-hitting satirical cartoons, winning many awards, most recently Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the cartoon category. And the education of all the young minds at his school is clearly also a reward in itself.

Because, while Soobben has blazed a trail for black cartoonists in contemporary South Africa, in the process providing a bitingly insightful analysis of post-apartheid South Africa, he is also opening the doors for young new South African design talent with his school, which opened in 1994. The centre is one of the only places that offers an integrated fine art and graphic design diploma as well as a higher diploma in animation, and through the school, Soobben is generating a conscious new breed of graphic designers and artists.

He shows me around the school which, despite the absence of 21st century sheen, is an extremely well-resourced education centre that puts most other design schools to shame. There is a constant buzz of activity, although most of the students are not in the building but doing work experience at firms — an important element of Soobben’s approach to training young minds. He shows me a reel of animated shorts produced by his students. The shorts are all very different, but what they have in common is a sharp sense of commentary and a wildy off-the-wall approach — something that has no doubt filtered down from the front desk.

But despite his success, Soobben remains one of Durban’s most unsung talents. As a young man, he was a gifted artist and graphic designer, but like many black creative people under apartheid, he was forced into exile until the early 1990s, as there was no space in the old South Africa for dissident creative expression and graphic design was a “whites-only” occupation. Even today, because of the legacy of apartheid, Soobben remains marginalised to an extent.

It is appropriate that Soobben has been recognised by the Heritage Awards. The legacy that he has built is substantial. His collected body of cartoons reflects a national diary of the past two-and-a-half decades, his school is an important cog in the national creative engine of South Africa, and his international presence has helped teach the world a little more about South Africa. And, in another example of his ongoing desire to encourage courage and individuality, Soobben has even set up his own small awards ceremony, the TLTL (Too Little Too Late) Awards, which are given to individuals who contribute unselfishly to the community without the recognition they deserve.

But most importantly, Soobben, along with a handful of other South African cartoonists, continues to help ensure that the space for dissent in South Africa remains available to all of us.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.