WSU Arts lecturer and born creative Sonwabiso Ngcai recently added a runner up certificate from the Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) Awards to his list of accolades.


Born in a village town called Ngqeleni near Mthatha, Ngcai has always been surrounded by the arts alongside his twin brother Monwabisi, whom they both registered in 2004 for an Arts Diploma whilst under Border Technikon.


In 2008 he enrolled at WSU for his Btech and moving to a Masters qualification from Vaal University of Technology researching “amaXhosa twins as a theme in a conceptually motivated sculptural artworks.”

The paper explored myths, beliefs and ritual practices pertaining to birth, life and death of amaXhosa twins.


Upon entering his office, one firstly notices an unofficial open door policy, free for all students to enter for anything they need, with a student even asking to charge his phone with a charger cable and another leaving her bag for safe keeping. Second to catch your eyes are the various grand displays of excellence on the wall, with the Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) Imaginarium award being the latest addition.


The PPC Imaginarium Awards are a platform to showcase the designs of emerging designers and artists through the use of concrete. Held at the UJ Arts Gallery on May 18, Ngcai scooped second place after another WSU Alumni, Mziwoxolo Makalima.


His winning work of art, Emweka, was initially hanging coins, but due to space concerns had to be rearranged. The work represented two terminologies; the first being a look at the Nguni people’s belief on twins. How they are viewed as beings who possess a certain amount of power within themselves, how culture believes they stem from the sea, that twins are people of the waters, hence they are called Ongele Ngele, Abantu Bolwandle in IsiXhosa. The artwork was inspired by Ngcai’s remembrance of his first trip to the beach in 1997, and how his mother gave the twins coins, ten and five cents.


The instruction was, they must both throw the coins to the sea before they enter. They had to speak to the sea and declare their presence and request calm and safety. Ngcai recalled what kind of traumatic experience it was for him, having to face his primary school classmates and tell them why they are throwing money to the sea.


The belief is if the twins do not introduce themselves, because the sea knows them, it gets excited, [which is confused by many to be rage] and takes a person, sometimes even both the twins. So the dropping of coins then symbolises an appeal to the ancestors for protection for them and that of others. Another segment of Ngcai’s winning artwork is the evolution of culture and the effects of colonisation on black cultural practices.


Ngcayi explained how money was foreign to the African people, where in the Xhosa culture, beadworks were used for these sort of exchanges but the introduction of money completely changed the people’s practices.


“Money robbed society of its values and what it deemed precious, people lost their cattle and land after the introduction of money by colonisation. The artwork is a piece that tries to relate to all Africans” said Ngcai.


It is clear that the concept of the self, learning and knowing the now and after of one’s life and life with a twin, constant questioning of culture and the beliefs it has with the idea of twins and tradition are Ngcai’s deep interests as it resonates in his artworks and the spaces he gives of his energy.


Ngcai has already entered another competition taking place in September. Wasting no time, the arts lecturer returned to knocking on more doors for his work to be seen and curated at the Sasol New Signatures Arts Competition, for the second time around.


The awards are aimed at discovering and promoting South Africa’s wide ray of talent in the arts and encouraging the growth of the sector. Ngcai’s artwork is labelled Inkaba (The umbilical cord). Inkaba talks on the meaning of the umbilical cord in African culture, stating that when children were born, the cord would be wrapped and buried under the earth at the home of the child, with only a few knowing where it was buried. This signified an important part of African culture as the land belonged to the family where the inkaba is buried under; forming part of the history of the family and sealing attachment with the ancestors, where the body would be laid once human life is over.


The artwork depicts the loss suffered by black people upon landlessness and cultural change thereafter.


With a magnitude of knowledge, from Walter Sisulu University, Lovedale College and the Vaal University of Technology, Ngcai said he believes art is a calling and attending formal schooling only supplements, refines and polishes it. For him, his job is to make each student reach their best level of style and design, moulding them for the outside experience.


“Being underestimated drives us as WSU and Artists from the Eastern Cape even harder, and it always gives us pleasure because we always rise above it all” concluded Ngcai on the drive behind WSU’s Art students and the state of the arts in the Eastern Cape.


By: Simo Cele

Comments are closed.