For Madoda Msibi, a mosaic artist and teacher in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, there is power in making art. He uses recycled materials to create new designs. Msibi said his creations are designed to “share.” Msibi added he uses mosaic work to take him out of his comfort zone and connect him with other people.
“The world is a big place,” Msibi said. “Art is what connects you. There’s no more fear, you’re not afraid. You tell an artist, ‘There’s a lion there. Don’t go there!’ and he’ll say, “But I want to see it!”
Msibi first became interested in mosaics when he saw a woman on TV experimenting with broken tiles. Having had previous trouble with the law, he had just lost his job and thought he could do something similar.
“I could make a picture of Mandela or my mother or my son, so I started doing that,” he said. “I would practice, practice, practice until it came out exactly how I wanted. A lot of [art] is self-taught…it’s in your heritage. A lot of sickness is inherited, art is also like that.”
Msibi always liked art growing up, despite his parents trying to pressure him to pursue a more traditional career path.
Msibi believes that art in South Africa suffered under the Apartheid regime because artists were oppressed and couldn’t fully express themselves.
“[The government] just wanted everyone to work,” he said. “They didn’t want you to do what you wanted to do. They just wanted to keep you productive for them, never really productive for yourself. Just productive for the regime.”
According to Msibi, the international community played a huge role in uniting the South African people, a large part of which was based in the sharing of artwork. He said the people who supported art during Apartheid understood art didn’t have a color; it didn’t matter whether a piece came from a black woman or a white man.
“The demon of Apartheid could never have been defeated if it wasn’t for the international community,” he said. “Art, sports, culture.”
When Msibi isn’t making art, he says he feels spiritually sick and it ends up taking a physical toll. He’ll have a difficult time waking up in the morning, which he attributes to not doing what he loves.
Msibi said this spiritual connection inspires his designs. In his culture, many people say art is God and is linked to “knowledge of your soul.”
“Knowledge of your soul is life after death,” he said. “Your soul knows where it’s going and where it came from, and that’s what puts me in what I want to do [with art].”
“If I have something that I don’t understand, I just sit down and pray for an idea and then something comes up and ill make that from the back of my mind,” Msibi added.
In this way, Msibi said making art calms him and he likes to share his skill with kids also interested in art. He teaches community courses where he provides kids with pre-broken tiles and a template to arrange the pieces into designs like maps of Africa or animals. Msibi then sells the kids’ creations at his stall in a Soweto craft market, splitting the profits between himself and the child’s family.
In addition to mosaics, Msibi uses reeds to weave mats and baskets. He said art is an emotional craft in which the limits are at the edges of what is thinkable.
“This is something that’s inside me and then I put it out,” Msibi said. “That’s why I call it art.”