Born in one of South Africa’s small towns in rural Eastern Cape, Mncedi Madolo is changing the face of the fine arts. He is living his dream as an illustrator, a sculptor and a cartoonist. We spoke to him to find out more about him and his industry.
BD: Please tell us where you were born and what your childhood was like.
MM: I was born in Alice, in the Eastern Cape. I grew up in between Alice and Port Elizabeth and did most of my schooling in Port Elizabeth. I then attended university in East London. My childhood wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I mostly enjoyed being in the village and being out in the open. I used to make my own toys and that did wonders for my creativity.
BD: What kind of a family structure did you grow up in?
MM: My sister and I were fortunate enough to be raised by both parents. We come from a family of strong Christian values and as a result were forced to go to church every Sunday. Our family is big when including our extended family and as such you learn at an early age I experienced the importance of family.
BD: What kind of neighbourhood did you grow up in?
MM: My family moved around a lot while I was growing up. I was never really in the same place long enough to feel like I was a part of a neighbourhood. Moving around taught me how to identify and accept peoples differences and above all, it taught me tolerance. I am able to adapt very easily to any environment because of that.
BD: What are your earliest school memories?
MM: I remember my first day of school I had to wake up very early in the morning and it was so dark outside I thought it was still night time. I was very upset and kept complaining the entire time about why I had to wake up and bath in the middle of the night. In grade 7, my class teacher had us start a school newspaper and I was put in charge of the cartoon section. I remember getting a beating by some of the other grade 7 kids because I started making fun of them by drawing them as silly cartoon characters in the paper.
BD: When did you know what you wanted to do and what was the reaction of those around you when you told them what you wanted to do for a living?
MM: Art has always been a thing before I even knew it was art. I’ve never really had a plan B. Art was THE PLAN. Even after high school it was very apparent to me, my parents and anyone else who knew me that I needed to see how far I can take my talent. I’m still pushing to this day; I’m still trying to see how far I can take this.
BD: You are the founder of Smoked Beef Studios Illustrator. How did its inception come about?
MM: Smoked Beef Studios was originally a T-shirt printing concept. I love funny writing on Tshirts, Smoked Beef was one of those I came up with and it even had a picture of a cow with a joint in its mouth. I loved the idea so much; I named the whole company after that T-shirt. I still have the original designs.
BD: How did the name Smoked Beef Studios come about?
MM: During my first year when I started with the T-shirts, I was hanging with some of my friends by the beach and started telling them about all the cool things I was going to write on my Tshirts. When I explained the cow with a joint and the name, it got such a reaction from them that the idea just stuck.
BD: There are not many black sculptors. How is this industry, especially for young black people?
MM: For the longest time, the art scene has been dominated by older white men. I`ve seen the statistics and they are very shocking. However with the advances in technology and things like social media, it has become easier to put yourself out there for young artists and potential employers. Now there is a growing trend, where African art has become the “IT” thing. As a young black artist the waves are changing in our favour. It will take a very long time before anyone can see any significant change but I`m happy to be playing a part in this change. This is a case of preparation meeting opportunity
BD: Upon starting your own company, what are some challenges you faced?
MM: They say you need money to start a business. That’s only part true, I found that access to information is really the biggest challenge. After completing my Fine Arts diploma, I still had to learn business skills, financial management and admin. If we had these courses as part of all higher education qualification or just have more organisations that offer this training for free, then, in my opinion, we wouldn’t be battling with unemployment.
BD: How did you overcome those challenges?
MM: Business skills training from some organisations like ABSA and SEDA (Small Enterprise
Development Agency) were very helpful but as a person, you have to want to learn and push yourself. That’s how I still overcome my day to day.
BD: Did you study the fine arts or are you self-taught?
MM: I studied fine arts at Walter Sisulu University in East London. Having done that, I`ve come to greatly respect those who managed to teach themselves what I`ve learnt at school.
MM: Art is a way of life for me. I envision a time where fine art will be recognised as a profession like being a teacher, doctor or an accountant. I wish to educate black people about the benefits of collecting art and later to be able to pay Lobola (Dowry) in original works of art. I am motivated by the possibilities that art affords me and those like me.
BD: For a young man or woman out there, wanting to become an illustrator, what would your advice be to them?
MM: Like anything in life, “practice makes perfect” – perfection takes time. I`ve had to let drawing consume me, be my life otherwise it wouldn’t have happen.
BD: Where do you see yourself in and Smoked Beef Studios in the next 3 years?
MM: To be quite frank with you, I don’t think that far ahead, but I do tackle today like there is no tomorrow. Do I have dreams for the future, sure I do but they change so much that I try not to hold on to any one idea but be flexible when it comes to taking opportunities.