Award-winning UJ Visual Artist at It Again

The 23-year-old student won the 2022 Ricoffy Heritage Tin Design Competition despite having discovered it through a post on the Nescafe Ricoffy Facebook page a mere five days before the deadline.

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By Aviwe Tobi
Images supplied by Arthur Mahlangu

Arthur Mahlangu, a first-year student at the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, triumphed in the 2022 Ricoffy Heritage Tin Design Competition. 

The 23-year-old student won the competition despite having discovered it through a post on the Nescafe Ricoffy Facebook page a mere five days before the deadline. He managed to submit his design late at night on the day of the deadline. The late-night submission was due to his dissatisfaction with the first design he created. He was expected to submit two designs. 

Mahlangu was not optimistic about his chances in the competition due to his late submission; however, he would later be informed that he had won. “I was so excited. I remember leaving the lecture hall, going outside and telling my friends,” he exclaimed.

His excitement was short-lived though as he was asked to submit a high-resolution image because his design was done on his phone and was pixelating. He had five days to finish the computer design, or would be disqualified as the winner. “That was frustrating,” Mahlangu admitted. Despite experiencing load-shedding in the process and being discouraged, he eventually submitted. 

Mahlangu drew inspiration to enter the competition from Ricoffy’s African aesthetic themes  because of his enthusiasm for the aesthetic. His designs incorporated the Kasi (township) lifestyle and traditional Ndebele patterns.

Winning the competition meant a lot to him because he believes he has inspired the youth and changed parents’ perspectives on art. “It meant a lot: it was empowering, and my peers were empowered, and it felt amazing as an artist,” Mahlangu explained. 

Emerging as the winner also convinced him that what he does is more than just for fun, there is a career path for him.

Falling in love with art. A visual artist best known for his artwork, Mahlangu grew up in Mpumalanga before moving to Mamelodi, Pretoria. “I fell in love with art as it allows me to visualise my expressions and imagination for the rest of the world to see,” said Mahlangu. 

He discovered his passion for art at an early age. He recalls that it all began with doodling cartoon characters like Dragon Ball Z.

Due to the high demand for his artwork and people’s willingness to pay for his pieces, it dawned on him that art was his passion and could be a livelihood. He began entering competitions in Grade 7 and gradually rose to prominence.

His art draws inspiration from various artists such as Dr. Esther Mahlangu, who is well-known for her large-scale contemporary paintings that pay homage to her Ndebele heritage. Other artists include Karabo Poppy Moletsane, Ennock Mlangeni and Laolu Senbanjo, otherwise known as ‘Laolu NYC’.

Upon realising he could make art his profession, Mahlangu opted to study a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts. “I could have just been an artist without studying art, but there’s a lot you don’t know as a person. Besides, the course acts as a catalyst for my talent, giving it momentum and power,” Mahlangu said.

The creative process behind the tin design. To produce the design that incorporated Kasi lifestyle along with traditional Ndebele patterns, Mahlangu studied patterns of different cultures and their meaning. He also studied Kasi lingo and lifestyle. According to him, the design is a fusion of different South African heritage elements. Unity is portrayed in the tin design: a taxi driver is depicted giving a cup of coffee to a skater.

To avoid straying off the brief, Mahlangu delved deep into Ricoffy’s aesthetics, he used natural elements such as coffee beans and grass to represent the South African heritage and feel. His personal experiences inspired him to recreate Kasi culture. 

“I wanted to show the world my imagination of Kasi culture,” Mahlangu added. His heritage inspired the incorporation of traditional Ndebele patterns to draw the world’s attention to its rich culture. 

“I’m introducing my culture to all the Ricoffy customers; now they’ll know there’s a Ndebele culture and a Kasi culture,” Mahlangu stated. “As an artist, you shouldn’t let your culture die, but let it live through your art.”

Other accolades and future aspirations. Mahlangu has participated in several other competitions, most of which he has won. For instance, the Ricoffy Heritage Tin Design Competition was not his first victory with Ricoffy. He took part in a Ricoffy tin recycle competition in which he recycled a Ricoffy tin into a birdhouse and won.

Other competitions include the Pep Design A Tee competition, where he designed t-shirts. For Mahlangu, this was just an exploration of the fashion industry, “What if I designed t-shirts.”

He also competed in the Sepako sneaker illustration competition and the Comic-Con competition, which required him to draw a pop culture-themed hero. He won both.

Mahlangu’s long-term goals include making an impact on the youth and inspiring them to put themselves out there. “I was once an adolescent, and I know what it’s like to be in a place where there are no artists. I understand how it feels to be isolated,” he added. 

Mahlangu also intends to collaborate with international artists and intends to learn more about African aesthetics.

A visual artist with a head for business, Mahlangu customises sneakers and sells drawings. His entire business revolves around visual art. He continues to win through his art while embracing his culture and ensuring that it lives on for future generations and for the world. YC

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