Rasta’s paintbrush knows no boundaries
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Pretoria – With a solid following of more than 32,000 Twitter users and arguably the talked-about paint artist on the streets of South Africa, one can fully understand why Lebani Thaka Sirenje, aka Rasta, describes himself on his Twitter account as “the best-rated paint artist in SA”.
He set tongues wagging with his not-so-striking portrait of adored SABC news anchor Leanne Manas in October for the television personality’s 46th birthday.
As the “Leanne Manas portrait” topped the trends in South Africa and neighbouring countries, the Morning Live presenter also quipped: “Thank you so much, Rasta. I really enjoyed my birthday! Who is the lady in the picture? She’s got a very unique look. Love your work, Sir” – sending Twitter streets into overdrive.
Rasta’s paintbrush certainly recognises no boundaries. He has painted almost everyone who matters, from the venerated cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to the man occupying the Union Buildings – President Cyril Ramaphosa.
As if scribbling the face of the country’s first citizen was not enough, the brave Rasta also included the media-shy first lady, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, in one of the portraits.
In September, Rasta painted the powerful Johannesburg preacher and businessman Prophet Paseka “Mboro” Motsoeneng and captioned the portrait “Let’s take it to church”.
Rasta has painted images of one Africa’s richest men, Patrice Motsepe, and got Twitter moved.
Even the late ant-apartheid stalwart Advocate George Bizos and the street-smart Genius “Ginimbi” Kadungure were honoured by Rasta’s daring brush posthumously.
In an exclusive interview, Rasta oozed confidence, saying his spirit is never crushed by the critics as he has amassed thousands of fervent followers who appreciate his artwork.
“Some people criticise just because it is Rasta who has done a painting. If the same painting is posted by someone, or I say it is not me who painted, then will say, yeah it’s better than Rasta’s work. I have seen and experienced that. Sometimes people think it is me, when it is not me who did (some of the) paintings. For me, I do hear my critics,” said Rasta.
“Each and every one of us gets criticised. If you listen to Cassper Nyovest when he releases his songs, some say that is kwaito or that is hip-hop or Afrosoul… People will criticise regardless. Who am I? Even the ministers or the president, when they give a speech, afterwards people start criticising. So with the critics, I just read them, pick up the constructive ones and move on.”
Rasta, whose father hailed from Mozambique, said he has been painting since childhood, from the dusty streets of Bulawayo’s Pumula township, Zimbabwe. He said his grandmother is the heroine who spotted his talent with the paintbrush from an early age.
“I can say for 24 years now as a professional artist, I started long back when I was seven years old. My grandmother from Plumtree, in the Zimnyama rural areas, used to come to Bulawayo, Pumula East, every season when school closes. She would come and buy plain white fabrics, then I would sketch animals, flowers, birds and she would follow up with different colours of threads and make nice designs for couches and table design fabrics for sale,” Rasta recounted.
“From there, my grandmother, NaKhebheni, told everyone, including my mother, this boy is gonna be an artist. I think she was also an artist crafter as she was also doing those African mats made from grass with designs. As I grew up, at school we had no art at Ingwegwe Primary School, but during spare time we would be sketching wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior. I would sell my drawings to my fellow schoolmates and my teachers would ask for help with charts. So I was a bit of a celebrity then.”
The fledgling Rasta attended Magwegwe Secondary School, where he got the opportunity to perfect his art skills.
Rasta said his daughters, 16-year-old Angel and 6-year-old Angelic, are now following in his footsteps. The self-taught painter said he doesn’t seek controversy, although it seems to follow his every work of art.
“I can safely say we are born with it and I am a self-taught artist. Art is my calling as I was born to do art. Controversy follows me as I started painting public places long back when there was no Twitter or this social media. No one knew me, but I was there. It’s just that my paintings have become controversial. I did not push them there.”
African News Agency (ANA)