Blessed by dreams

The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet, but the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot, wrote master artist Salvador Dali once.

The Spanish surrealist painter meant to make a case for originality and freedom of the imagination in art, a sentiment shared quite passionately by 27-year-old artist Blessing Ngobeni.

The two also share a belief in dreams as a source of both inspiration and subject matter, which is evident in Ngobeni’s work.

It’s currently on show at the Bag Factory in Fordsburg, Joburg, where Ngobeni is also the Reinhold Cassirer Award artist in residence.

To explain his otherworldly imagery, Ngobeni says: “I rely on my dreams to guide me. I won’t produce without guidance.” He adds that sometimes characters pop up during the working process and he recognises them from his dreams.

These include fighting ghosts, as seen in the work titled Evidence of Hardship. Some are human beings with reptilian limbs and other animalistic features.

Ngobeni comes from a broken home. He was five when his mother moved in with a man who would’ve been the artist’s stepfather.

But he didn’t fit in, so he was placed in the care of his cow-herding uncle in Bushbuckridge, far from the familiar Tzaneen of his birth.

What followed was a life of homelessness and neglect, until his mother ultimately returned him to Tzaneen. But, restless and dejected, Ngobeni hitch-hiked to Alexandra to live as a street kid. He was 10.

Life in Alex opened him up to crime and gangs. “I became known as the brave one who is willing to do anything to survive,” he says. Crime led to an ultimate arrest and a nine-year jail sentence.

It was while serving time at Leeuwkop Prison that, as he puts it, “I discovered my love for drawing”. He joined the Tsogo Art Project for inmates.

Since his release in 2006 Ngobeni has worked with the David Krut Art project and has exhibited his work at numerous galleries.

» For more on the artist, visit
» EMERGENCY EXIT is on at the Bag Factory until June 29

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