Blessing Ngobeni wins 2012 Reinhold Cassirer Award

Blessing Ngobeni, a little-known artist living in downtown Johannesburg, has shot into the public eye after winning the Reinhold Cassirer Award for 2012. Started by Nadine Gordimer in honour of Cassirer, her late husband, the award recognizes excellence in visual art and provides an opportunity for career development for an artist whose life circumstances make the ordinary steps of artistic progress possible.

Blessing Ngobeni, a little-known artist living in downtown Johannesburg, has shot into the public eye after winning the Reinhold Cassirer Award for 2012. Started by Nadine Gordimer in honour of Cassirer, her late
husband, the award recognizes excellence in visual art and provides an opportunity for career development for an artist whose life circumstances make the ordinary steps of artistic progress possible.

Ngobeni, who lives in a room in Hillbrow with his two-year-old son, has been struggling to produce work from home, without any connection to the broader arts community. The award will enable Ngobeni to take
up a studio for three months at the Bag Factory Artist Studios under the mentorship of artists including David Koloane, Sam Nhlengethwa, Pat Mautloa and others.

Born in Limpopo in 1984, Ngobeni fled a broken home at the age of 10 and relocated to Johannesburg. Poverty drove him to crime, and in teens he was arrested and spent six years in prison. It was in prison that Ngobeni discovered art, and with the assistance of wardens and friends, he began to turn his life around.

After his release, he attended art classes at the Artist Proof Studios in Newtown, and worked as a trainee at David Krut Projects. Subsequent jobs in the arts and culture industry have tided him over, allowing him to continue making art while supporting his son.

An accomplished painter, Ngobeni is inspired by the Spanish surrealists and by South African artist Norman Catherine, whose work in the 1980s and 1990s addressed South Africa’s political malaise. According to
Ngobeni, that malaise has reemerged in a different form under South Africa’s current political dispensation. His work addresses the corruption of African political leaders and the felt effects of this on the most vulnerable of the country’s citizens, the poor. His work is also distinctly urban, and tries to articulate the volatile and often precarious conditions of living in the heart of Johannesburg, a cosmopolitan, growing African city.