Artist Proof  Studio invited Mongezi Ncaphayi, who now lives in Cape Town,  to come to Johannesburg for a one week residency to develop a new body of prints for the FNB Johannesburg Art Fair in September. He stayed in our home, and so I had the opportunity to speak with him about his journey since his return from his study at the Museum School in Boston almost 10 years ago.

Mongezi Ncaphayi working at Artist Proof Studio – A Spring of Becoming

It has been many years since he was last here, and Mongezi describes his coming home to work at Artist Proof Studio as “so exciting to come back to my roots from where my career as an artist started.

“I needed to go back where I started, to develop further and stretch further my artistic language. My thought processes come from my training as a printmaker”.


He talks nostalgically and enthusiastically about his APS family and his years as a student. He lights up when asked about the value of working with the incredible team of master printmakers, and “rekindling the excitement of collaborating with students and printmakers who improvise and bounce ideas back and forth spontaneously”.  He also refers to the time that APS arranged for him to go to Boston for a year. We selected him to be a visiting post graduate student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, (my alma mater), where he was housed by my former printmaking mentors Jane Goldman and Catherine Kernan. While there, Mongezi had full access to their printmaking studio, as well as their guidance and remarkable expertise. The experience in Boston changed his life, and he returned with a stunning work that won him first prize for the Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award .  From that point, his career catapulted him onto the national and international stage. Since his return, he has had three highly successful exhibitions, while with SMAC gallery in Cape Town.

During the beginning of Lockdown in 2020, I partnered with entrepreneur Carl Bates, and Lauren Woolf, a creative leader in branding design, and we invited 21 artists to respond to this historic moment of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through The Lockdown Collection, a different artist’s work was released on social media each day; the works were auctioned and generated a remarkable R2,5m, which was immediately disbursed as emergency grants in R3000 increments over the three months of the hard lockdown. Mongezi’s work was released on the 15th Day of the lockdown (April 10, 2020`). The beautiful work, titled A Place in Time, gave voice to the despair, anxiety and physical and spiritual sickness of the moment. He spoke about being in a very dark place…

“I was not grounded, my world was in chaos. It was not easy looking at myself and seeing how desperate people were behaving around me. I was surrounded by confusion, hopelessness, uncertainty and struggle. My work is a kind of meditation, trying to put out questions.”


When I feel despair, I always turn to my best friend in music. I find a soft balance when I play my sax.  The problem may still be there, but playing a playful or funky melody helps me find the joy, in spite of the unhappiness.


In the United States, contemporary art critic Pam Allara and historian-anthropologist, Mark Auslander, wrote a blog commenting on each of the 21 works released by the TLC in order to record this period through the eyes of the artists. They wrote the following about A Place in Time: See

Diviners do not shy away from engaging with life’s hardest truths, and the painting is unflinching in witnessing the terrors of the present moment. The virus that cuts across the shadowy figure’s midsection is terrifying, and seems to be proliferating outwards, suggestive of mounting danger to the whole community (Auslander; 2020).

…are the spots of red referring to blood, the metaphorical wounds of the plague? And the beautiful yellow-green bough that floats over the whole might be a healing balm. Seen in that light, Ncaphayi’s image may not be entirely one of despair; might it serve as a transformative act of witnessing, a gift to the deceased, a promise of hope, to all of us who now shelter in fear? (Allara, 2020).


Mongezi Ncaphayi | A Spring of Becoming


Following this very dark period in his life, Mongezi emerged and produced a beautiful series of paintings  shown at SMAC Gallery in 2021  titled Let the Waters Settle.

He describes these works as dealing with his trauma and hope for a better future.

In the published press release, Olivia Barrell describes the work quite poetically :

‘Let The Waters Settle…’ is centred around landscapes and internal places. The latter subconscious and personal. A place that we arrive at after transcendence. …in the words of poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi: “let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being.”

Perhaps Ncaphayi’s work shows each of us how to feel. Or to look bravely into ourselves, preparing to feel the breadth of emotion that is intrinsic to being human. (From the press release courtesy of SMAC Gallery by Olivia Barrel, )

The new series of works Mongezi produced at Artist Proof Studio that he calls A spring of becoming, are joyful and musical.

Walking into the studio the energy of the space is electric and abundant. Spring is in the air. The colours of purple, pinks yellows, oranges are dancing and glowing from every surface.

Jazz is playing, the students are racing around to support the printers, layers of colourful washes are printed through the largest silkscreen, copper plates are being etched and proofed on the press.  The language Mongezi uses to describe his experience at APS is about renewal, ‘new faith’, ‘new trust’, and ‘hopeful aspirations.’ He talks about his wish for his work to “shed more light”, and “for people to grow within themselves and feel more empathy and sympathy for the next person”. He talks about the value of being in therapy as growth in a new mindset that is empowering. His fervent wish is to share this understanding with others and to work with community in the hope to foster more tolerance amid so much violence, trauma and despair.

“I feel this spark, like a light I would like to share. Our problems don’t have to be so big if we learn how to shift them”.

The prints produced at APS express this sense of renewal and joy. The colour and transparency in the works evoke hope and an internal journey that is filled with depth, dimension and complexity and are evocative of the natural movement of sky and water.

Mongezi is energised by this new body of work, and when asked what’s next, he smiles and says: “Watch this space!”

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!