WATCH | Soweto-born teacher changes gears and becomes successful visual artist

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  • Mondli "The Artivist" Kunene, who is based in Johannesburg, worked as a teacher for 10 years before becoming a full-time artist in 2018.
  • His art tackles poaching, the perils of capitalism, and provides commentary on South African leaders.
  • Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, he had record-breaking sales both locally and abroad.

Mondli Kunene took an unorthodox route to landing his dream job.

"I have been interested in art since I was a child and it has always been my passion," the 35-year-old told News24.

As a high schooler, he was one of the youngest artists to exhibit at the Absa L'Atelier art competition.

His talents even landed him a mentorship with Speelman Mahlangu, the nephew of veteran artist Esther Mahlangu.

However, when Kunene matriculated he decided to pursue a career in education.

A dream deferred isn't a dream denied

He thought being a teacher would be the best way to empower members of his community. After graduating from the University of Johannesburg, he landed a job at his old high school.

Kunene taught Life Orientation, Social Sciences and Economic Management Sciences to pupils from Grade nine to matric.

And he slowly started incorporating his artistic talents into his lesson plans.

He said: 

I felt there was a need to challenge the status quo of what the government has prescribed us to teach. So I decided to combine education and art in the subjects I taught.

"I would sometimes project one of my artworks on a screen in the class, and try to link the prescribed government material with the artwork and challenge the learners to think objectively and question what they see and [learn]," he said.

After 10 years as a teacher, Kunene took a leap of faith in 2018 and swapped his pen for his paintbrushes.

MondliART is born

"I left teaching because I disagreed with the content we are prescribed by the government to teach the future of this country, and that is why I created MondliART. I wanted to tell our own stories authentically because if we don't, other people will tell our stories for us," Kunene said.

He refers to himself as an "artivist" because he uses his paintings to foster social change.

His art tackles poaching, the perils of capitalism, and provides commentary on South African leaders.

International appeal

Since becoming a full-time artist Kunene has had many successes.

In 2019, he was listed as one of Design Indaba's 50 creatives to look out for in South Africa.

In 2020, he was the only South African selected to exhibit at the Eco Awareness Gallery in India. In the same year, he also participated in a virtual Black Lives Matter exhibition in the United States.

"Most of the artists struggled during the pandemic. God showed me his power and wiped my tears, as I sold more artworks and made more money than I have ever made during the Level 3 and 4 lockdown. It encouraged me to create more artwork."

With increased interest in his art, he has started working on building an art hub in the Vaal area for young aspiring artists.

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