beginning at the end …

In the picture at national festival

LWAZI Xaba, also known as King Zorro, comes across as one who won’t let means, or lack thereof, determine his success as an artist.

A native of Estcourt in rural KwaZulu-Natal and Umlazi in Durban, Xaba’s grown up hard and learnt the art of using your passion and opportunity to maximise advancement in the industry.

Seven or eight years ago he visited the National Arts Festival for the first time – and hitch-hiking was the only way he could get there.

What started out as a chance visit resulted in him meeting and impressing the right people.

The following year, 2006, he performed alongside Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane in The Hungry. He later earned the opportunity to work as an accredited photographer at the festival.

It’s been a long climb, but this year will mark his official solo break at the festival, where his collection of photographs, entitled Abantwana (children), will be exhibited on the fringe.

Xaba is a self-taught photographer. “The street has been my university,” he explains.

While over the years he’s been involved in poetry and dance performances, including at the Poetry Africa Festival, and theatre, he’s now found his passion and his niche in photography.

In 2009 he held an exhibition called Abantu at the Citizen in Florida Road, Durban, and again in 2011 at the Durban Art Gallery. But he smiles as he recalls where his first-ever exhibition was held: “My first one was actually at a place I was renting in Morningside… on my walls,” he laughs.

In Abantwana, Xaba explains that he wanted his big break at the festival to be about something he holds close to his heart.

“When someone says umtwana in Zulu it also refers to your honesty and innocence. Abantwana is a reference to the innocence I see in children from different backgrounds.”

He goes on to explain that Abantwana is an exploration of different themes around children; those who are fatherless, the emotional effect children have on us, children who always seem free in their environment, children in a struggle.

“Each photo tells its own story. Capturing children in their own environments and telling their stories,” he said.

Xaba is particularly vocal about his photograph entitled Inkulumo. It captures the arrest of a woman allegedly using small children to beg on the streets for her benefit.

“These women collect kids from the townships and rural areas and bring them to the city to beg on the streets while they sit nearby waiting to collect. Some of these children end up on the streets, some even as prostitutes.

“Even if you go and offer these women help, they refuse and don’t want the children taken away from them,” he said.

There’s a particular wall in the Warwick Junction area at the downtown market in Durban which is the reason why most people on the streets know Xaba.

Every now and then he creates a mural on the space.

“It’s hard as an artist to break into the mainstream and get your work in galleries. This is my home (the street), I’m at home here, so I use it and it’s helped me get noticed. As an artist it’s for you to push and make it happen,” he said.

Well, he’s made it happen, but he won’t accept that without thanking those who helped him get here.

“Special thanks to the Durban Art Gallery for making this exhibition at the NAF possible, Foto Max, Art Spectrum Framers, my parents, family and friends who’ve supported me over the years and the whole Abantwana team…”

• You can view Abantwana (children) at Victoria Girls High School in Beaufort Street from 9am to 5pm daily. For the full festival programme visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

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