Choosing to be an artist in Grahamstown

By: Tumelo Nkuna

They are the stars who often shine bright like the sun. Their work defines them more perfectly than a slim-thick dictionary of words.

Ruff’s Art Studio

It was the day that Ruff the painter has been looking forward to. His eager childlike joy of wanting to talk about   why anyone would want to be an artist in Grahamstown had grown enormously as the long nights slid by so fast yet so slow. Eventually, the day came slowly as the sun slid over the earth’s body. It was time for him to express himself. He has the appearance of a black kinglike warrior. He is one that is easily spottable in a crowd because he is as tall as a giraffe. When asked why he became an artists in such a small town where art does not make the many Rands as it does in the city of gold…The response was much unexpected. He said, “I do not do this for the money, I do this because I love home and I want to eat”. It could appear to be shocking that a man as wise as Ruff would want to stay at home but according to him-family is key. He often expresses how much he has learned by not giving up and believing in himself deeply. He states that his paintings have taught him patience and have taught him that being an artists is often overlooked.

Guy 2


However artists like Ulizwi Mvuyeni who is a very well-known poet in this town says that what pushes him to carry on with doing his art is that the more you keep going- people pay more attention. He also said that “although unemployment is a big issue – in life you have to do what you love”. In other cases he states that he does perform for free with the hope of getting to spread his art to other parts of the world. Ulizwi has learned through a hard process to fight for what he loves. He is such an old soul that can be compared to the likes of Chinua Achebe. He stated that he recalls a moment when he wanted to give up on what he loves because his family did not approve. He can still hear the shaky wise voice of his mother on the phone saying ’Humba’ uyo sebenza’. According to Ulizwi- It was that moment that he had a moral dilemma of deciding to do what his mother expects or to keep on being the family disappointer who makes pennies once in a while. It was during this process of dilemma where he decided that poetry was his love. He has a degree but he does not play on using it too soon. He described his degree as, “It was done when I was scared to be honest with my family and I tried to make them happy but I was not happy”. Furthermore he has befriended Phura the musician.

PhuraPhura is an artists that is well known in the small downtown cafes and township due to his love for music. He is well known for carrying a guitar everywhere he goes. He pulled out a joke stating that “sometimes I go to the club with my guitar when I do not have a gig. I just love it. It is my lover, my girlfriend…” Phura does not really want to leave home. He is one of the artists who fears change. He fears that he will not have an audience in another city. According to Phura-he did not plan on staying in Grahamstown and being an artist. He did not have the financial benefits of being able to move to the gold city. This led him to pursue his art in Grahamstown where he now has a big following. He does not wish to relocate anymore due to fearing the change of the environment in another city. He fears not being fully accepted and losing his audience in Grahamstown. He stated that “It is easy to be forgotten as an artist if I go to Johannesburg“. Throughout the whole process-Phura has learned to use his art to educate the young youth about their history through music. What keeps Phura to keep doing his art is that he still finds that he has to do shows for free but he states that “You do not know who is watching in the crowds”. According to Phura one person can be interested in his music and that person can have the power to change your life.

It is everyday stories about artists that we often seem to forget and frown upon. It is easy for many of us to pass artists sitting and showcasing their art on the pave walk as we gaze and have no interest. However, each artists has a lesson to tell and a story to be heard. It is the artists that we pass on a daily basis that can have an impact on our lives and teach us about life’s life lessons.


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