Sakhumzi Nyendwana, 35, and his brother Msindisi Nyendwana, 31, are the proud owners of Hand in Hand Art Gallery, which they operate from their family home in Motherwell in the Eastern Cape.
But before there was a gallery on Ingwe Street, there was an illegal dumpsite that made life highly unpleasant for the Nyendwanas. “I tried every possible means to discourage them [the community] but it seems this was falling on deaf ears,” said Sakhumzi.
“Each time we cleared the dumpsite, we would wake up to find new heaps of rubbish thrown on the site. We then devised a plan in 2014 to collect dumped concrete pillars. We erected them on the dumping site. My mother gave us money to buy paint and brushes to beautify the murals.
“My mother is ageing and she had a young grandchild who could have contracted diseases from the dumpsite. The area had a heavy stench hanging in the air, while rats and flies swarmed the dumpsite.”
Sympathetic residents and a group of overseas student volunteers who were on vacation in the country helped the brothers clear the area. This togetherness is what inspired the community initiative’s name, Hand in Hand.
The gallery was created in 2016 with money their mother earned as a part-time domestic worker. She has since retired.
When you visit the gallery for the first time, it’s easy to be convinced that the artists are well trained, but the brothers have no formal art education. The walls and shelves are breathtaking, nostalgic and richly decorated with contemporary artworks. Topping the list are iconic portraits of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, the Cradock Four and other eminent individuals whose sacrifices helped shape South Africa.
There is also a rich and colourful collection of artworks inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic. All the work comes from self-taught hands, as the brothers attended workshops only after they were already established artists.
“These workshops are critical in that they teach us more about marketing our art than producing the art. I am convinced that an artist is born, not made. Workshops are good to perfect our skills, but the most important thing is the talent embedded in an individual and how they use it,” said Sakhumzi.
Art and fashion
The brothers have started a clothing brand alongside their artworks, which are created on canvas and cardboard boxes, and by transforming discarded wooden pallets into benches and flower pots. They print their art on T-shirts and caps by hand, and named the clothing label after their gallery, Hand in Hand Fashion. It is through their T-shirts that they raise awareness about Covid-19, which has had a negative impact on their business.
“As artists, we should always be abreast of what is happening around us,” said Sakhumzi. “It is a fact that Covid-19 has affected many people around the world and we felt compelled to create artworks reflecting its impact and on how the world is responding to the pandemic. We have met people who recounted heartbreaking experiences at the hands of this disease.
“Some people were direct victims of the pandemic but were lucky to survive, while others have close family members and friends who passed on. We then captured these horrendous stories and printed the emotions on T-shirts and caps.”
Their T-shirts have attracted interest overseas. “Everything is created by our own hands,” said Msindisi. “There is no use of machines but our own hands only. We have always wanted to create our own brand of clothing and this was the opportune moment.
“We have plenty of time to do the job and the project has been receiving positive responses from our friends and clients. We got our first order of caps from an overseas tourist who once toured the gallery. We are now working on another order.”
Msindisi continued, “We are open to working with anyone prepared to add value to our initiative. We intend to display our fashionwear in galleries where our artworks have been exhibited before. We have established a good working relationship with most gallery owners whom we have previously worked with.”
Using art to inspire
A once common destination for local and international visitors, the Hand in Hand Art Gallery is struggling to lure visitors because of the government-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. To draw more visitors and buyers, the brothers are using the internet to market their award-winning work.
Msindisi and Sakhumzi have taken part in several art festivals and exhibitions, including the annual National Arts Festival in Makhanda. They have also bagged several awards between them. The brothers won the Nelson Mandela Bay Fruits of Democracy award in 2017 and Sakhumzi’s Journey to South Africa was exhibited at the Ritz Museum in Florida in the United States in 2019.
Sakhumzi was selected to represent South Africa at the Global Mural Conference in Hua Quan Village in China in 2020, but this trip was postponed after the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The brothers’ achievement in the field of art was honoured last year, when the Hand in Hand Art Gallery was appointed as an ambassador for inspiring content that promotes Nelson Mandela Bay as a tourism destination.
Msindisi vividly remembers times when they walked the 15km from Motherwell to Port Elizabeth to attend workshops because they could not afford the bus fare. As a result, before the Covid-19 lockdown, the Nyendwanas spent time visiting schools to give art lessons.
“We use art as a tool to inspire and to encourage people to lead a clean life. We hold workshops both at the gallery and at schools. We recently finished a programme where we taught children living in shack settlements how to paint and beautify their shacks,” said Msindisi.