ARTIST: SETH FLAUM
COUNTRY: SOUTH AFRICA
MATERIALS USED: PENCIL on PAPER
I’ll admit. Since the beginning of the Covid19 lockdown, I have done nothing but complain. I seemed to have lost all sense of gratitude and appreciation for the wonderful life that I live. I have moaned about this and that, and had somehow blinded myself to the privilege that surrounds me. It wasn’t until I began stippling a portrait of this man I photographed 2 years ago, that all these feelings were suddenly replaced with a heart of pure peace and gratitude.
His name was Siyabonga. I recall our first meeting, how he wore a weary smile that spoke of a life of poverty and hardship, unwashed clothes and tennis shoes worn to the bone. This man was a waste picker that spoke no English. At the time, I was pursuing an artistic vision of conveying the lives of the underprivileged people of Johannesburg through portraiture depictions, and decided that this man that so often passed my gate, was the perfect fit.
I gave him some money and took his picture. It was not enough. I wanted to find out more. Where did he come from? Where was he going? What is it about this man that completely captivated me? I attempted conversing with him and tried to explain what exactly I was trying to achieve with his photograph, but my Zulu speaking abilities went little beyond “Sawubona” and “Unjani”. Luckily, a man with a true spirit of Ubunthu saw us struggling to converse and offered to act as a translator. In Siyabonga’s eyes was a deep feeling of poverty and struggle that I knew would universally represent the emotions that underprivileged people experience throughout their lives.
Siyabonga was no exception. He was homeless, collecting recycled goods to keep him alive. He had lost all contact with his family and was consumed as a youngster by the extremities of the drug-infested streets of Johannesburg. I cannot fathom how coronavirus has affected him. This situation has forced Siyabonga amongst others, to be faced with two choices: continue to hunt for recyclable goods, and risk getting arrested by the authorities, or worse so, contract the deadly virus, or to die of starvation. Sadly, I have not seen him since the lockdown begun and I pray he is still alive.
During this period of the Covid19 crisis, there are many homeless people, who do not have the safety of a home, the company of a family, a warm bed to sleep in or even food to eat. Siyabonga, which coincidentally means thank you, has installed in me a spirit of gratitude that increased with every stipple of my pencil. I want him through this artwork, “Man at my gate 2” to serve as a reminder to consider those who have become forgotten in our society, that are still someone’s son, daughter, brother or sister. I want this artwork to act as a reminder to care for others in our communities, especially during this time and to be thankful for what we have.