Nonzaliseko Hodini has a valuable collection of artworks received as individual gifts from artists she met during nine years of working at Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, Cape Town. Picture: SUPPLIED
Nonzaliseko Hodini has a valuable collection of artworks received as individual gifts from artists she met during nine years of working at Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, Cape Town. Picture: SUPPLIED

An unusual collection of valuable local art owned by a former cleaner can be seen for the first time at Greatmore Studios in Cape Town.

Titled Imbewu, it is the first public showcasing of Nonzaliseko Hodini’s art collection, comprising the works of 30 contemporary artists. Unlike collectors who buy and sell art as a commodity, Hodini received all the works in her collection as gifts from artists she met during her nine years of working at Greatmore. She has decided to share her collection as a way of thanking the artists.

Greatmore Art Studios, a noncommercial art centre that houses artist studios, workshops and residencies, offered to fund Hodini’s computer studies in 2009. In exchange she volunteered there for a year. After that, she worked there once a week as a cleaner.

Her job description slowly expanded — catering for artists’ workshops, helping artists with orientation and organising outreach programmes — until she was employed full time in 2012. Today she is responsible for visiting artists’ co-ordination and housekeeping at the Greatmore artists’ house in Observatory.

"When I started to work at Greatmore I was not interested in art, I was just doing the work and going home," says Hodini.

"But one of the trustees, Jill Trappler, invited me to attend her drawing classes. I started to understand the power of art. I also got the chance to chat with artists and share stories."

One of the artists was Mercy Moyo from Zimbabwe, who gave her as a gift a series of three paintings titled I am Black and Beautiful . It became the first item in Hodini’s collection.

"Mercy said it will be an investment for me and my future kids because I was not earning money. At the time I wasn’t excited about art, because I didn’t yet know its value," she says.

"I wasn’t sure what to do with the gift. I was staying with my brother and couldn’t hang them on the wall, so I stored them under my bed."

The second artist to give Hodini a work of art was Alberta Whittle, from Barbados in the Caribbean. More gifts followed, mainly from SA artists, and before she knew it Hodini had an impressive collection.

She has lost count of how many artworks she has, but she knows they were given to her by 30 artists, and some gave her more than one piece.

Among artists who contributed to her collection are Peter Clarke and Mogorosi Motshumi; and contemporary younger artists such as Ayanda Mabulu, Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi, Nomthunzi Mashalaba, Simphiwe Ndzube and Mongezi Gum.

Hodini says she loves the surprise on people’s faces when they discover that she received all those artworks as gifts.

"People are shocked and ask how did I do it. My colleagues teased me and asked how did I convince artists to give me their works," she says.

A work by artist Peter Clarke, one of those who contributed to Nonzaliseko Hodini’s art collection Picture: SUPPLIED
A work by artist Peter Clarke, one of those who contributed to Nonzaliseko Hodini’s art collection Picture: SUPPLIED

"But I haven’t done anything, I didn’t even ask.

"Artists just decided to invite me to their studio and give this or that piece to me."

Most of the artworks in Hodini’s collection are in storage and a few are hung in the Greatmore house, where she lives and hosts visiting artists during their residencies.

"I only realised recently that I am a collector. I had no thoughts about the financial value of those artworks. Since Greatmore is an NGO I don’t have any savings, but I feel that this collection gives me some sense of a saving for my financial future," she says.

For her, the collection symbolises the personal connection to the artists she met in the past two decades.

"It serves as a reminder of my growth and the ups and downs I’ve been through in my past," she says.

Most of the contributing artists know her by the name she used when she was a cleaner, and some of the works have a dedication "To Wendy". As part of her process of healing, she recently changed her name from Wendy to Nonzaliseko.

The idea to exhibit the collection came when she wanted to express gratitude to Greatmore for her journey.

"I want to thank the trustees for believing in me. I feel Greatmore is my home and the artists are my family," Hodini says.

"I want to thank all the artists for what they did for me — giving away something that took time, materials and energy to create.

"They never expected to receive payment. It shows love, care and ubuntu."

Hodini now has to face the hard task of selling the artworks she is exhibiting.

"I know it will be hard for me if one of my babies will be gone, but losing something can turn into gaining something else that is positive," she says.

"I have a dream of starting my own artists’ residency in the countryside, so selling some of the works can help me make that dream come true. If an opportunity to sell presents itself I will need someone to help me to price the artworks."

Imbewu will be at Greatmore Studios, in Woodstock, Cape Town, until September 7.

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