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Spray It Out – Graffiti To Protect Animals

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street art graffiti Sonny conservation

It was a passion for art. He quit his job after being influenced by international street art. He started small then grew to spraying walls in the city of Johannesburg. Now he travels the world spraying more walls for nature and conservation.

It’s a sunny midweek afternoon and FORBES AFRICA is off to meet Sonny in Rosebank, Johannesburg. He is a self-taught artist, painting murals big enough to challenge the animal poachers in Africa.

“I decided to teach myself how to paint; had to start from scratch. Had to learn to mix colors, learn to airbrush with a gun; my main passion was just to make things bigger and better,” says Sonny.

The Buitengracht Wolf, Cape Town (Photo by Sonny)

The Buitengracht Wolf, Cape Town (Photo by Sonny)

Sonny never went to art school. It all began when he started losing interest and slacking at his sales job. He started digital art and mixing PVA paint at the age of 23. That’s when he started getting commissions for indoor murals. It led to his first street mural, using a spray can for the first time, three years ago in Maboneng, the art heart of Johannesburg.

Sonny never looked back to his desk days in sales; he has become an international artist.

What gives him a kick is seeing passers-by – who might have never stepped into an art gallery – stopping to stare at his work.

Art For Art’s Sake – But Give Us Your Cash

A few years after his first painting, it’s now his living. He charges between R1,000 ($75) and R2,000 ($150) per square meter and some of the murals can be as large as 400 meters squared.

The long-haired, short and soft-toned 30-year-old’s work is influenced by Africa, where he was born and bred. His work focuses on nature and animals, combining realism with fantasy.

“At the moment, I’m busy bringing more abstract elements in my work which hasn’t been seen in my paintings yet, but all my new murals will slowly have abstract elements and incorporate people,” he says.

The Mosaic Man With Magic In His Hands

Sonny recently completed a body of work for a solo exhibition titled To The Bone.

This work combines wildlife imagery with a social message about the importance of animal conservation; a passion he truly has. He hopes to create international awareness of the fragile state of wildlife in the world.

“I aim to inspire people through the pure beauty of these animals, while reinforcing their importance in shaping our cultural identity.”

Sonny's Transkei Cheetah artwork, in Transkei (Photo by Tessa Cunliffe)

Sonny’s Transkei Cheetah artwork, in Transkei (Photo by Tessa Cunliffe)

Sonny has partnered with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) to raise awareness through the murals and artworks and has a campaign to sell artwork online where a portion of the proceeds will be given to this fund.

“Anybody that sees the murals and follows the link will see what it’s about, and can give R10 or R20 ($1.50),” he says.

He also has a sponsorship drive, where companies or people can sponsor a wall or part of it. The money will be used to spread graffiti to more parts of the world. The sponsorship will enable him to fly over and paint a wall.

The Future Of African Women In Art

He has recently painted in New York and other parts America. He will be moving on to Canada, London and then Amsterdam. He also has a series of murals to sort out for the rest of the world.

“I paint in third world countries where they have the animals but struggle to see the importance, but I also paint in first world countries where they have power over the rest of the world to try change legislations to help protect the animals,” he says.

African art is been noticed around the world thanks to the likes of Sonny. Not only is he making an income, he is making a difference in society by conserving nature with a spray can and walls.

(Featured photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

Stay up do date with Sonny’s latest work on Facebook and Instagram

Little Girl, Johannesburg (Photo by Sonny)

Little Girl, Johannesburg (Photo by Sonny)

 

Speakers Corner, Cape Town (Photo by Sonny)

Speakers Corner, Cape Town (Photo by Sonny)

 

 

 

Life

Kingdom Calling At The Bushfire Festival

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It’s an early morning in May and as the sun rises, red, orange and yellow hues bathe the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small town in the landlocked southern African country of Swaziland.

Swaziland, renamed ‘the kingdom of eSwatini’ in April this year on its 50th birthday, awakens to the sounds of the rustling wind and chirping birds. Very soon, these natural notes will be replaced by the cacophony and camaraderie of thousands of guests jetting into the country for the annual Bushfire Festival, a three-day fiesta of art, culture, music and food in the last week of May.

It’s a busy time of the year for a kingdom that is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.

Within the Bushfire Festival arena, djembe drums beat to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Africa. Revelers indulge in traditional feasts at the food markets as the musicians take center-stage.

The likes of South Africa’s Samthing Soweto, Brazil’s Flavia Coelho, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade and Mali’s Salif Keita are present, offering a profusion of sounds and melodies.

In the camping arena is a confluence of cultures, as over 29,000 guests who have traveled here to attend the festival make new friends and form unlikely collaborations.

Many stop to admire a hand-crafted grass hat worn by a young woman who has traveled from Lesotho. Anna Thai is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States.

“The people here are very relaxed and accepting of each other. There are so many from different countries, so many languages and so many different faces and I really enjoy the diversity of it,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

What started as a cultural meet around a small amphitheater, where artistes performed in front of a crowd of no more than a hundred, is today one of Africa’s most talked-about festivals.

 

Swazi-born Jiggs Thorne. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

“We started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity.” – Jiggs Thorne

Swaziland-born Jiggs Thorne, the founder and director of the festival, always had a passion for the arts, but admits he had to learn the business aspect of the festival the hard way.

“The important thing is I never studied to become a festival director and that’s the thing with entrepreneurs, you are driven by passion; the kind of passion that gets you up and creates that drive you need to make something work. And you have to be incessant,” Thorne tells us.

Born in Manzini, he was inspired by his parents who owned a restaurant. He went on to pursue a degree in drama and politics at the University of Natal in South Africa.

In 1994, when he finished his degree, he decided to return to his home country and apply his passion for the arts. Thorne wanted to develop the local arts scene.

In 2000, he set up House On Fire, the eclectic venue where the festival is now held.

However, its business model wasn’t sustainable, and Thorne realized that if he didn’t act quickly, his dream would slowly fade away.

“Well, I was very much an artiste and I think I’ve become entrepreneurial along the way and we started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity,” he says.

The Bushfire Festival came into being.

“It was always about a positive light, warmth, about celebrating diversity,” he says.

A majority of the funding came from sponsorships, and partnerships – the festival is called MTN Bushfire.

With his brother Shelton, Thorne fine-tuned the business model to keep its mandate as a creative arts platform and business at the same time. As Thorne came from an arts background, he had to depend on others to make his dream work.

Read More: Setting Fire To Swaziland

“There needs to be integrity in the way in which you deal with people so I think that’s kind of paramount in this equation where you are dependent on others to make it happen,” says the 48-year-old father of two.

The festival grew beyond what Thorne had imagined, he says, contributing over E50 million ($3.7 million) to Swaziland’s economy.

“When the king travels overseas, people ask him about Bushfire, you know. So it’s quite a surreal thing that the concept that came up all those years ago in a sense has become owned by others,” laughs Thorne.

This year, the local newspapers, radio stations and social media were abuzz with news on the festival.

Thorne owes its success to his team and his parents who left the legacy for him and the family to build on.

“It was kind of the fire they started and it’s a light that we’ve been able to follow. They are the legacy, says Thorne, who runs the festival with his siblings and extended family.

“Entrepreneurship is something that you don’t really study, you learn, and it’s something that takes over, and it’s kind of all-encompassing,” he signs off.

After the curtains come down on the festival, it’s back to the idyllic sights and sounds of Swaziland, until next year, when the little town of Malkerns will fire up again.

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Life

Challenging Social Norms Through Body Art

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Imagine a pinup calendar that revisits history through color, and woven in a manner that depicts your past and future in an amusing way. Confused?

Well that is what the future looks like for South African performing artist Athi-Patra Ruga, known for his flamboyant performances and tapestries that challenge social norms.

Growing up in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Ruga knew at a young age he would become an artist, taking lessons, after school, at Belgravia Art Centre. He then received a scholarship to the Gordon Flack Davidson Academy of Design in Johannesburg.

“I had always known my body would be a site for telling stories. I feel the drive to tell stories, [I] overcame my fears – about it never been done before,” he says.

When he cut his teeth in art, he dabbled in fashion designing, incorporating fashion and art into one.

“Fashion has the power to dictate our movements physically and socially, to [a] great consequence. I have never seen it as a huge leap as both those mediums are concerned with the body,” says Ruga.

His current body of work is Queens in Exile, addressing issues of belonging and identity. However, it is his piece on the queens of Azania that put him on the cultural map.

“I feel it sparked something in the audience that [binds] our generation together. Witnessing the betrayal to the constitution I was raised with and also rainbowism, a utopian construct, played out in the country that is economically the most unequal in the world,” says Ruga.

Ruga was the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year in 2015 and has done work for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. Believing the world is alive with possibilities, he held on to the hope he would one day travel the world.

“I had always dreamt of going to the south of France and now for the past five years, my husband and I have been going to Toulon for the Hyères festival,” says Ruga.

The Eastern Cape has produced some of South Africa’s great political leaders, from Nelson Mandela to Steve Biko, so it is little wonder Ruga’s work has strong historical references.

“History has the ability to arm us as a dispossessed youth, with knowledge that our forefathers went through the same things we are going through and we need that knowledge to arm us to find sophisticated ways of mobilizing for economic and cultural currency,” says Ruga.

He desensitizes “uncomfortable” topics using vibrant colors. His work is represented by the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery in Cape Town, and in Paris, by InSitu Fabienne Leclerc.

There is also a lot of story-telling in his work which comes from his father being a journalist.

“I come from a family of people who enjoyed telling stories and I gravitate to that tradition of storytelling in my art,” says Ruga.

His industry is faced with numerous challenges, but Ruga chose early on in his career to not focus on the negative.

“I’m honestly not concerned with focusing on challenges, that’s not how I got here. It is the attitude that defines how I will overcome that is ultimate. Our education system is something we all need to face and improve as that leads one to art and in return empathy for others,” he says.

Ruga encourages upcoming artists to venture into different spheres such as photography, art and designing as they are lucrative.

He says there are more than enough role models across the continent one could look up to such as Nicholas Hlobo, a South African contemporary artist who creates sculptures and explores ethnicity, masculinity, and sexual identity. He too looks up to him.

Despite the global exposure and success at home, Ruga is convinced the best is yet to come.

“I always feel my big break hasn’t happened yet,” he says. That will be a story for another time.

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Entrepreneurs

Making of the July Forbes Africa cover with Gbenga Oyebode

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The July cover of the prestigious Forbes Africa magazine features Gbenga Oyebode, of Aluko and Oyebode, one of the largest integrated law firms in Nigeria with over 70 lawyers and three offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The Firm provides a comprehensive range of specialist legal services to a highly diversified clientele including top-tier Nigerian, international and multinational clients.

READ MORE: The Tall Lawyer, Investor And Philanthropist In A Power Suit

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