Interviews

Questions with Pitka Ntuli 

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Pitka was born in 1940 and grew up in Mpumalanga, South Africa. During the apartheid era Ntuli was arrested and made a political prisoner until 1978, when international pressure forced his release. Thus he embarked on a prodigious career in exile. Since completing a Master of Fine Arts, at Brunel University in London, in 1985, he has lectured art at various international and South African universities including; Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Wits University. He is primarily a sculptor. His stark skeletal structures are created in any physical medium he can find; metal, wood, stone, and bone and can range from small to monumental works in granite that weigh in excess of 19 tonnes. He has held numerous solo exhibitions and participated in a myriad of group exhibitions, mostly in London. His works are held in numerous important public, private and corporate collections.

Your latest exhibition Azibuyele Emasisweni (Return to the Source) with The Melrose Gallery(hyperlink, https://themelrosegallery.com/ ), is inspired by nature. What about nature calls out to you

The African worldview is holistic. That is, every aspect of life from plants, rivers, forests, mountains, animals, humans and heavenly bodies is interconnected and interrelated. In other words, nature is the starting point of every narrative in African thought. When I was born my umbilical cord was not cut. It was left to its own devices and where it fell a tree was planted, and this was ‘my’ tree. When I was about two months old my grandmother took me outside as a full moon was circling the universe. She gave me a stick, held my hand and guided it so that I was pointing at the moon. As I grew older I was told of the animals that were my totems so I would know that it is my duty to protect these animals. These lessons have remained with me  throughout my life. And it is among the valleys, rivers and mountains that surround my home in KZN at the foothills of uKhahlamba that my creativity soars like an eagle.

The moon for the heavens I must reach

My umbilical cord my anchor on earth

My totem for me to guard and protect

Rooted in nature I belong!

What Inspires you?

Brought up with nature and constantly reminded of these lessons through proverbs and adages, I have never been able to look at a brilliantly twisted, dancing, posing, yoga practising tree without being inspired to create! Greed and corruption inspire me to produce even more sculptures and poems! Femicide, xenophobia, child abuse and rapes inspire my wrath to create!

Sculpture was a way of expressing strong political views that could not be silenced under the brutal apartheid regime. And a way for me to work through and resolve some of my existential challenges.

You’ve lived through eight decades that have experienced drastic changes through the times, how have these experiences shaped you and what is your advice for younger artists? 

I was black in a world governed by whites who thought I was not worth much. My family house, my family church, my school, my playground, my entire world was fourth class. In current language, my life did not matter. I was harassed, detained, and tortured. I had to flee into exile at the tender age of 20 and face the hostile world on my own. In exile I was compelled to live a life of double consciousness: Home and Exile!

I witnessed our continental liberation struggles. Africa shedding our colonial cloaks. I learnt of struggles in Chile, Palestine, El Salvador and many other countries. While in exile, poets, musicians, dancers, visual artists also in exile from these countries joined with us to strengthen our resistance to the acts of depersonalisation! South African liberation efforts and struggles of other countries fuelled my existence! 

Young artists must be sensitive to their surroundings – mental, emotional and spiritual – and draw their inspiration from the struggles of their people. I believe that artists must open themselves to the world with a critical eye and open mind; they must cultivate their love for the environment and for humankind, they must be true to themselves and tell their stories as they see them without compromising. 

In my 80 years of life

I have been to places where dreams suddenly

Turned into nightmares

I have been in prisons in several countries

Detained in solitary confinement in the death cells

Of eSwatini!

I have watched black people in the US, the UK and South Africa

Routinely murdered

Often ‘slipping’ on wet soap

In prison cells!

But all in all

I cultivated my elastic heart to embrace life

People of all colours and creeds!

I still walk tall!

What does a perfect day look like to you?

Waking up in the morning and, with my wife, taking our dog for a 5 kms walk in Emmarentia park where I see the dancing, posing, swaying, dreaming trees and listen to the rippling songs of the river!!! Then to my studio where my every nerve and nerve-end are stretched to the limit as I match my brain and emotions against a challenging bone, stone, wood, or metal piece, battling  to make meaning for myself. I return home to read and listen to music! And then supper with my wife and my children, being told by my family not to take  myself too seriously!

How is the current pandemic affecting your work and how are you surviving through it? 

Azibuyele Emasisweni was originally  intended to be a traditional exhibition which would tour the country. Its current form, online, with collaborations from artists, intellectuals and creatives around the world, is a tangible product of how the pandemic has impacted my work, and how it has made me walk through doors that I had not seen coming!  During lockdown I have been working on bone and wood artworks and writing poetry! The pandemic has given me a lot of time to meditate, think, will into being my artistic dreams!

Discover more about Pitka and his ongoing projects via the link here (hyperlink, https://pitikantuli.com/ ) & here (https://themelrosegallery.com/artists/30-pitika-ntuli/overview/ )

Author

Azeeza Sanni is the General Manager of Art News Africa. She is a graduate of Middlesex University of Mauritius & Monash South Africa. You can reach her with information/requests on mail@artnewsafrica.com.

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