Salvaging moments with oil, charcoal and metal: The art of Banele Njadayi
By Dave Mann
Banele Njadayi’s career began on an interesting note. His first encounters with art came through days spent on the streets of Eastern Cape’s Grahamstown, with salvaged materials and makeshift canvases as his tools. Dave Mann speaks to the growing artist about capturing the day to day lives of Eastern Cape residents.
As a youngster, Banele Njadayi would opt out of afternoons spent playing soccer with friends to go in search of charred wood and wanting walls to practise his drawings.
“I would go around to the homes in my neighbourhood which burnt wood and I’d pick up charcoal from the burnt out fires and use them to draw on the tarred streets and the walls at the back of our house,” said Njadayi. “Sometimes, I would find an old vandalised or abandoned building and express myself on the half broken walls.”
It wasn’t until a family friend happened across a few of his drawings and suggested to Njadayi that he pursue art in school, that the artist seriously considered it as a career. Now of course, after a degree specialising in Graphic Design at Port Elizabeth College, The PE based artist’s work is well known both throughout the Eastern Cape and the rest of South Africa. Working mainly with the mediums of oil paints on zinc, Njadayi creates striking portraits, and engaging vignettes of seemingly ordinary individuals and scenarios, highlighted and brought to life through the choice medium.
“What I enjoy about oil on zinc is that it is versatile and the medium gives me freedom to do whatever I want to do, be it knocking, drilling in holes, adding reverts or more materials like pieces of metals, weld bolts and nuts,” he explains. “Zinc additionally gives me the opportunity to metaphorically bring my subjects closer to ‘home’ as this is one of the predominant materials used when they are constructing or extending their dwelling places.”
The characters themselves are part of Njadayi’s process, translated from the photographic medium to that of oil and zinc.
“I chose to document this part of our world not only because I am inspired by people, their movement, their day to day life activities, their struggles and challenges but also to capture and hold in context the way they live life,” said Njadayi. “In most of my works, I use photographs as my reference. When time permits, I cycle around with my camera photographing the scenes and unsuspecting persons.”
Njadayi’s works also include metal work made from salvaged materials and scrap metal, resulting in 3D, almost otherworldly sculpture works. Selected works are currently on show at the Port Elizabeth based gallery, Galerie Noko as part of a group exhibition entitled ‘Ambassador’s Footprint’ which brings together artists from various backgrounds who work in diverse media.