Black coffee puts painter Mlangeni on the map
A lack of art materials forced artist Ennock Mlangeni to be creative with whatever was at his disposal — with sensational results
Poverty and a lack of art materials inspired artist Ennock Mlangeni to reach for a coffee tin in search of a dark-coloured substance to complete his work, and this choice has catapulted him into the limelight.
He trended on social media platforms earlier in 2018 for a painting of internationally acclaimed SA DJ Black Coffee — using coffee to get the colour of his skin exactly right.
Mlangeni, 27, of Sasolburg in the Free State, says that he sometimes cannot afford to buy materials with which to work, forcing him to be creative with whatever is at his disposal. So he stumbled upon the idea of using instant-coffee granules, earning him the nickname Coffee Bae.
"That was actually a coincidence, because as a creative person I test a lot of different materials to create my art pieces — like newspapers, pens and charcoal for instance — as I do not have paint at times. So one day I was playing around and I saw a coffee can, I tested it out, and it worked," he says.
The self-taught visual artist is also striding a path to give the world a different perspective on women, one brush stroke at a time. He wants to show that women are more than just their external beauty; that they are strong and powerful.
Raised by his grandmother, Mlangeni discovered from a very young age that he had a talent for art.
"I started art in primary school and when I was in high school I won awards at the Sasol TechnoX for three consecutive years, in grades 10, 11 and 12," he says.
Mlangeni, who has had no formal training, dreamed of going to art school after he completed matric.
"Due to financial difficulties I could not go to art school. I was raised by my grandmother after both my parents passed away and all 12 of us in the house relied on her government pension," he says.
Mlangeni says his paintings are mostly about women because he is inspired by them, especially his grandmother.
"With all the negative things happening to women, such as violence and abuse, I want to do my part to bring awareness to these social ills and have people look at women differently and see how special they are," he explains.
He says being based in a township is a disadvantage because he struggles to reach art markets. But with an adept use of social media — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — to showcase his paintings, he has gained an impressive following.
Mlangeni has painted and sketched portraits of many prominent people — including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Patrice Motsepe and Trevor Noah — and was commissioned to do a portrait of an actor for the TV show Skeem Saam.
He is now raising money to open a proper art studio in Sasolburg. He currently exhibits his work in his tiny shack and wants a space where his work and that of other artists can be viewed by people who are hesitant to enter townships.
"The studio will be also used as a space to showcase talent in the local community and hold exhibitions. As we have a high unemployment rate in SA, such facilities can help develop the youth to be self-sufficient using their talents," Mlangeni says.
"My dream is to open an art academy and every day I am getting a step closer to that dream. The art studio will grow and hopefully become an art hub, where other experienced artists can teach and develop young kids, who are interested in arts, through workshops."
Mlangeni says this is also a way to get children and unemployed young adults off the streets and get them to use their time more productively.
"By having this studio, we will be fighting so many things that are hindering us to progress. Some people resort to drugs such as nyaope because of boredom, and the fact that there are no facilities to express their skills," he says.
He has been invited to showcase his paintings at a number of exhibitions, including at the centenary celebrations of Africa’s Excellence Through Arts and Culture and at the Art Eye Gallery in Johannesburg earlier in 2018.
To view and purchase Mlangeni’s paintings, visit his social media pages. Facebook: Ennock M Art ZA; Twitter: @ennockmartza; Instagram: @ennockmart