An eye for natural beauty
KWAZULU-Natal’s Sibonelo Chiliza epitomises the term “raw talent” when it comes to his skills as a botanical artist. In fact, so talented is he that he has emerged as South Africa’s first black artist in this field.
Chiliza was recently the featured artist at an exhibition by The Botanical Artists’ Association of South Africa at the KZNSA Gallery – an event that attracted positive feedback and demand for his work.
In an interview, Chiliza chatted about his early experimentation with art as a child growing up in rural Mtwalume on the KZN south coast in schools that did not offer art as a subject.
“I remember at primary schoolgoing age my friends and I used to make clay cows and houses and wire cars to play with. This was the closest thing to art that we knew, but I loved drawing. I used to draw from young and eventually, after matriculating from Kwa-Fica High School in 1998, I tried to get into art school at Technikon (now the Durban University of Technology),” he explained.
Because he had no training in art, he could not get into a fine art course and had to settle for textile design. In his second year Chiliza chose to work in a botanical theme – a move that worked with fate’s plan for his future.
“From there I was invited to exhibit more and more. For a number of years I’ve been mentored by the KZN members of the Botanical Artists’ Association of South Africa, like Jean Powell and Gillian Condy, with whom I’ve had a number of exhibitions. In South Africa, I’m the first black person to do this kind of art,” he said.
But it has not been smooth sailing for Chiliza, who faced a fork in the road in 2009 when he had to make a tough decision.
“I had worked for a textile company in 2007, but I could not draw in that capacity. In 2009 I decided to resign and go full time artist advised.
Although this young man has achieved so much in life, he still believes there is more on the horizon.
“I want to go international and do something big. I want to be internationally recognised. I’ve laid the foundation, now it is time to work even harder,” he said.
In her introduction for the recent Past Imperfect, Future Tense botanical exhibition at the KZNSA, renowned botanical artist Elsa Pooley commented on Chiliza in the context of the exhibition, saying: “When working on this project it was recognised that he was not only an artist, but a rare breed; an artist with a true botanical eye. Without any training in botany he captured the subtle shapes that define the leaf, flower, fruit, bulb of one plant from another, even when working in simple black and white line drawings. Like Thalia Lincoln, one of South Africa’s great artists, who also worked in coloured pencil, Chiliza does little or no preparatory work, but works directly onto paper, his botanical eye and memory serving him well.”