ARTIST SPOTLIGHT Mbongeni Buthelezi

'One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ 

This 49 year old South African artist has become known for “painting in plastic”, deciding to make portraits and images solely out of discarded waste as a way to emphasise awareness of environmental problems and the physical decay of the townships of South Africa, as well as making reference to general social and political impoverishment and the lack of opportunities that he observes daily. Waste is a massive problem not only in South Africa, but worldwide and Bulthelezi recognised that through his art he can take a strong environmental stance while doing what he loved.

Bulthelezi – who initially received lessons in drawing in exchange for bread and tea – couldn’t afford to buy expensive paints and canvas when he was young boy studying art at Funda Community College. It was while being in a workshop with a Swiss artist who used plastic as canvas for his artworks, that Buthelezi got his inspiration to instead use this cheap material not only as a canvas but also as a paint. He continued this method of “painting” at the African Institute of Art in Johannesburg.

Bulthelezi has exhibited his work internationally including at the Museum of African Art in New York, the Prague Biennale and the Goch Museum in Germany showing that in his vast career, he has emerged as an artist with a powerful force in the visual Arts of South Africa and worldwide.

Through his compositions, Bulthelezi wants to meditate and communicate hope, believing that his art can show people that it is possible to create a life out of nothing while still contributing something positive to the world:


I collect rubbish and create something beautiful from it. I collect something that has no value and give it new life. That's what we can do with ourselves and our lives.