Blending art and religion: a look at emerging artist Sonwabiso Ngcai

Sonwabiso Ngcai was the overall winner in sculpture category with "Isigu" or "The Snare".
Sonwabiso Ngcai was the overall winner in sculpture category with "Isigu" or "The Snare".

Emerging artist Sonwabiso Ngcai's ability to blend art and religion with his passion for creating three-dimensional artwork has put him on the map as an award-winning artist.

The 37-year-old sculptor comes from Buntingville, a rural village near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. When he is not sculpting, he spends his time as a lecturer at Walter Sisulu University visual arts department in East London, where he also resides.

He says he can't remember a time when he was not moulding, carving or playing with clay. "My love for creating began at an early age on the banks of the Cumngce River, making clay cows and figurines."

Even though he has been creating artwork his whole life, he says the pivotal moment came in 2004 when he created his first artwork at university and hasn't looked back since.

Isigu or The Snare by Sonwabiso Ngcai
Isigu or The Snare by Sonwabiso Ngcai
Image: Supplied

Gcai says his work draws inspiration from culture and religion. "During apartheid, Resistance Art in SA was very instrumental in addressing injustices and inhumanity. In contemporary SA much has evolved, especially in religious spaces. I firmly believe that contemporary art should chart new ways to communicate and redress unjust conditions," Ngcai says.

His latest work speaks to how certain religious cults are ensnaring their congregants. His sculpture entitled "Isigu", or "The Snare", bagged him the title of overall winner of this year's PPC Imaginarium Awards at an awards ceremony held at the UJ Art Gallery earlier this month.

Explaining the thought process behind his winning sculpture, Ngcai says, "In my work I use a very simple but effective hunting tool as an analogy for how certain religious cults are ensnaring their congregants. I hope the artwork can galvanize our society and help them re-define and re-imagine religion."

The PPC Imaginarium Awards is an art-and-design contest that aims to maximise the opportunities available to emerging artists by providing them a platform to showcase their work. Participants are encouraged to blend imagination and design using cement and raw materials.

"This is my first major award after almost a decade of participating in various art competitions, and it arrives on the back of The Best 3-Dimensional Artist award I received in the Eastern Cape Cultural Awards in December 2018. To be recognised and acknowledged as an emerging artist is encouraging and motivating."

The artworks by the finalists in this year’s PPC Imaginarium Awards will be exhibited at the UJ Art Gallery until May 16 before travelling to the Turbine Art Fair and 100% Design SA 2019.

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