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Homeless woman's love for art saved her

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Cape Town - Miracles, the song by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey is personified in the life of Chuma Somdaka, who made a bench in the Company’s Garden her home for four years.

It was here the 31-year-old was discovered, creating art, by photographer Sarah Schafer who took an interest in her work.

She helped Chuma receive sponsorship for a bursary to study fine art at Ruth Prowse School of Art in Woodstock. Accommodation was arranged in Observatory by 100ForChange and Zapper.

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Danny Oosthuizen and Chuma Somdaka, who has found a home with her art. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures

Chuma is now designing T-shirts and artwork for shoes in collaboration with Caryn Wilensky from Coast and Koi Luxe Designer Shoes. 

“Adapting to social norms and to be part of a society you were not part of for a long time is challenging,” she says. “Getting used to routine takes discipline. It was challenging to disconnect from friends on the streets. I felt isolated and alone. I became miserable. Being inside a room was tough. I had to fight the urge to return to my bench.

“Here I have something precious but I felt like running away. I overcame this with the support of a new friend I made.”

As we chat, Chuma is drawing a face at multispeed. I am in awe at how easy she makes it look. “Class was challenging. I felt restricted. However, I am learning so much and developing as an artist. I will stay true to my own style by bringing it together with the new things I learn.

“You know, I thought I was going to die in the Gardens. I used to sell my pictures for R20 each to get food. You wake up with nothing. People look at you like you are nothing and you believe you are nothing.

“But in the ‘nothing’ came something so great, so precious. The best thing I ever did was to listen to my inner voice - I started to draw with a stick. And it all started here.

“Now, with the support of others, I can blossom. I can prosper. I want to start my own foundation; to inspire other artists.

“And I will visit my bench now and again."

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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