Creative Fusion: With Breathlessly Clever Solidarity / Blessing Ngobeni / Tzaneen, South Africa / Cleveland Print Room


Blessing Ngobeni is a South African Artist from Tzaneen. He comes to Cleveland this Spring, hosted by the Cleveland Print Room–a community darkroom that engages the public through analog photography.

During his Creative Fusion residency, using the Cleveland Print Room as a base, Ngobeni will be working with students in the painting and drawing departments at  Cleveland State University and the Cleveland Institute of Art. He will also join John W. Carlson for a weeklong workshop at Lake Erie Ink’s Cleveland Heights location, during which he will share his experiences and expertise with kids as they create collage portraits with instant cameras at CMSD middle and high schools on Cleveland’s near Westside.

Blessing was born in 1985 and trained at the Artist Proof Studio in Newtown, Johannesburg.  He has also worked as head puppeteer, puppet show director and trainee cameraman at Red Pepper Pictures, a company serving the broadcast industry in Johannesburg.  In 2012, Ngobeni won one of South Africa’s most prestigious art prizes, the Reinhold Cassirer Award, funded by his compatriot and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Nadine Gordimer.

“I have found that most people act as if they care for the greater good, particularly those in power, but in reality they don’t. …  [T]he business of self-enrichment does not accommodate mercy,” states Ngobeni, speaking of a recent exhibition of his work at Gallery MoMo in Cape Town–as though the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulder of the artist.



Brilliantly daring, with a fusion of spiritual insight and self-realization, Ngobeni’s own work pays respect to the forgotten world of the poor and the excluded. He creates with a range of found objects, waste materials, and paint on canvas, including magazine cuttings and found cardboard canvasses.

Living as a street child under Johannesburg bridges, Ngobeni spent six years behind bars for robbery – a time that showed him life could be harsh, and the political machine unjust.  The dark side of his past is most eloquently conveyed in images that appear to him in dreams – naked and heavily pregnant figures with the heads of men but the bodies of women, with bloated breasts, oversized teeth and hands.

Ngobeni is extraordinarily gifted and skilled. His signature ‘graffiti-cross comic collage’ medium plays on the aesthetics of vulgarity with such great assurance and politically charged narratives that it’s impossible not to want to root alongside him.   With breathlessly clever solidarity, Ngobeni will teach us something about ourselves in the short time he plans to live and work in Cleveland.



Blessing Ngobeni: Cleveland Project exhibition: May 21 – 30, 2016  at the Cleveland Print Room.

Reception 5-8pm May 21

Gallery Talk: 1pm May 23