From failure to artist – Given Sithandi Interview
January 24, 2018
We had a good time with Given Sithandi. The man developed his career by maximizing his talent. He believes that we should give children a fair chance to determine their future.
After some time I realized the truth in what Transworld Education College meant when they said, “Say bye to unemployment”.— Given Sithandi
Linkfiler: Let the world know who you are and what you do?
Given Sithandi: My name is Given Sithandi. I am a visual artist. I am into drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design and various crafts.
How did Given Sithandi get into drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design and various crafts?
Given Sithandi: I started drawing when I was still young. When I finished my ‘O’ level in 1987 I did a home study course with Transworld Education College and earned a Diploma in creative Art in 1991.
In 1993 I started studying fine arts at the National Arts Gallery. BAT funded a school there. While I was there I also managed to do my ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level Art. I advanced my skills in drawing, painting, prints and sculpturing.
Linkfiler: When you started doing Art, was it well received at home?
Given Sithandi: My mother is the one who helped me the most. I wanted to be a Musician. And I actually got a place at the School of Music. I had met Jethro Shasha at his office in Robert Mugabe Street. Jethro encouraged me to go to the school of music. When I got home, my family said music for failures. I then proposed visual art and my mum welcomed it. She supported me very much. Other people would mock me but my mum persisted in her loving support. After some time I realized the truth in what Transworld Education College meant when they said, “Say bye to unemployment”.
What kind of Challenges did you encounter along the way?
Given Sithandi: School was great in our times. We had many teachers, some even coming from outside the country to teach us new things. When I finished I went to the National Gallery in Mutare where I learned about batik art, Sanskrit art and other arts from a lady named O’Donnell. I was there for a year and half and I learnt a lot of things. We stayed at a farm and it was a hive of activity, many customers coming to buy art.
I then returned to Harare Around 1995. It was good those days but now we are commercializing the art so that we can get some money. We used to do a single piece and consign it with the gallery. At that time we would get decent earnings. But now we have to mass produce the pieces to get a reasonable payment. We end up doing all sorts of crafts just to get a dollars for the next meal at the expense of creativity. We don’t get the time to work on more involving pieces. There are fewer customers now. We end up producing lower quality works. We can’t afford good quality paint and brushes.
Linkfiler: Do you have a piece that you produced with much passion and time?
I worked one that I called Landmine victim. Now thinking about it, I was at my creative best those days. It was a mixed media piece. I made it from metal and stone. My plan was to sell it to Mine-tech and donate some of the proceeds to landmine victims. Unfortunately the person I dealt with failed to deliver so the piece is now in pieces. Maybe I will put it together again.
Lessons, Impact and ideas
I love children, they inspire me a lot. That is why I started a program that I call Small is Beautiful. I worked on this program with a friend of mine and one of the major organization we worked with was Girl Child Network. In this program Art was for therapy, recreation, communication and career development.
Sometime around 1997 and 1998 we organized an exhibition. It was a speak-out conference about HIV and AIDS. With funding availed by The Stephen Lewis Foundation through Girl Child Network we helped the children to speak out about the pandemic through art and we made the headline of that day’s Herald.
I am mostly touched by Children because in our community there is little room for art. Some children are not good in other academic subjects but they are talented artists. Unfortunately for them, their talent may not be discovered or developed. My plan is to establish a proper school of art for the underprivileged children in our community. I am planning to do an exhibition in which I hope I will sell enough artefacts to start the school.
After 1999 I was given space by Chitungwiza Publicity and I would attract between a hundred and one fifty kids who I would teach art. I also got involved with Chitungwiza Hutano project which had what they called children’s corner.
After 2011 I had to respond to pressures in my own life and I had to stop the major projects. Currently I am trying to source materials and facilities to restart the program.
Linkfiler: Who inspired you?
My brother; Harry Mwatse. He is into printing. Harry went to Germany in 1974 during the war. He noticed my talent when he came back in 1983. He taught me many techniques and inspired me a lot.
What not to do when you are an artist.
Given Sithandi: As we grew up artists were portrayed as rogues, scallywags and rascals. Artists were known to be defiant and so engrossed in art that they would be in a world of their own. They would be shabby. That mentality cost me many things. I mismanaged my money. In my years of experience I have learnt that an artist should not be reckless and wild.
There is a time I jumped the border and went to Mozambique. Someone liked my art and set up a market and workspace for me. Unfortunately this promoter wanted to see my documents which I could not produce. I learnt at that time that you should always strive to do things the right way.
Words to young artists
Continue working. Do not get into art because of the money, it should be from within, otherwise you will get frustrated and fail to come up with even a single piece. Do not rush into selling, perfect your skills. I don’t impose art on my own children, I try to inspire them and I believe it’s working.Given Sithandi 2018