By Ntombi Mhlongo
From just a piece of paper or material, he uses pencils and brushes to create work and value, something which has made him one of the most sought-after creatives in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
His name is Honest Lihle Mhlanga, and he boasts of being the country’s highest auctioned artist with a record of E75 000 on a painting created and auctioned within an hour.
Under the brand Honest Artworks, Mhlanga has not only made money from his creative art pieces but has also lifted the country’s flag high by showcasing his work at some of the biggest exhibitions outside the country, mostly in neighbouring South Africa. Whenever he participates in an exhibition, his art pieces stand out.
In a sit-down interview, Mhlanga relates that his inspiration has always been women and children which made him seek to tell their stories from his own observation. His own surroundings and everything he sees daily also inspires him to tell it better through creative art. Having taken part in many exhibitions, he has learned a lot of lessons which he says have made him want to do better.
“Exhibitions are always nerve-wracking, from the preparations and to still working on launch night so it’s a tricky one,” he says.
From the exhibitions he has participated in, there are two that stand out for him. First, it is one that was themed ‘Pieces of Me’ which was incorporated in South Africa, and he says it stands out because it was his first international solo show, something which had been his dream for six years.
“Seeing the dream eventually come to fruition was so amazing. Then there is the other one which was themed ‘Pieces of Me Two’ which was held in Manzini. It was great being back home to showcase my work. It was my first show locally after the lockdown craziness and of course being excited about collaborating with Stucky Motors and The Wine Boutique,’ says Mhlanga.
Having made as many art pieces as possible, there is no way that he cannot have one or two that he will forever be proud of. Indeed, he honestly states that he finds it a bit tricky to even make that selection as all his art pieces are his favourites.
“I’ll pick from my latest exhibition and go with a piece recently sold in Durban. It tells the story of my childhood, who most kids from our generation and before experienced, turning junk into toys. So that felt like recreating a small part of my childhood”.
Despite all the success, he believes that he still has a lot to offer as far as his career in fine art is concerned. Most of all, he wants to ensure that he is consistent and maintains the standard.
“I’m constantly thinking about doing better than last time. Finding ways to keep myself and work relevant. I’m always looking for opportunities, trying to make sure I stay, if not better, at least maintain the standard I’m at”.
Just like all other sectors, the creative art industry has its own fair share of challenges and Mhlanga has faced his own.
“There are quite a lot but perhaps I’ll speak on us struggling locally to get our work’s worth. You find that one has to lower their prices a lot so as to accommodate clients. It also would be nice to get more support from the big corporations. We are perhaps the only group of creatives where if you hire us for a service, we give you work you will hold onto forever. And of course, we could use more support from our parent bodies, some of the doors we are trying to open could open easier with their assistance, especially getting exhibition opportunities beyond the borders”.
Going forward, Mhlanga says all he wants is to get bigger than what he is now and become one of the most sought-after creative artists in the world. This, he says, can be made possible if he manages to exhibit on bigger stages abroad and then return home to empower or groom locals who will continue flying the country’s flag high.
As advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps he says, “Stay true to your craft, stay original, it’s important to have your signature that will stand amongst the rest. Do not quit and go easy on yourself. It is a frustrating journey so you may want to quit but if you are sure of your work, keep going”.
Mhlanga says corporates must make it a point that they offer the much-needed endorsement deals to artists something which will allow the latter to spread their wings.
“If you look at South Africa, the big banks are bringing artists on board for campaigns, which help one grow and be recognised beyond their borders. It would also be nice to have a national gallery or museum. I always say it would be great to walk into any banking hall or office and find local art like other countries are doing”.