Sakhile Mhlongo
The man behind the mural

KZN born Sakhile Mhlongo is one of Durban’s quiet, hidden gems, his work easily recognisable, with the iconic Anton Lembede Mural Durbanites are so familiar with.

But the man behind the art is a mystery.

Sakhile has been perfecting his passion for painting since childhood, drawing inspiration from his personal experience and the people around him.
This DUT Fine Arts Graduate’s experiments with different mediums when painting ranging from canvas to fabric, working with oil paint, acrylic & charcoal.

He strives to bring attention how black people are perceived, and to question why this is so.
This emotion translates through his portraits of the various people in his life, as well as his self-portraits.

He’s had several exhibitions over the years. Starting off at Durban University Gallery and Izikhwepha Zethu Group Exhibition at Durban art Gallery both in 2011, Space Group Exhibition at Artspace in Durban and ‘Elements Yet To Be Discovered’ also held at Artspace both in 2013. The Rust-in-Vrede Gallery in 2017, Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, Kunztmatrix online and numerous other online exhibitions.

His talent has earned him well deserved recognition, with him being commissioned by Urban Lime Properties to create a 600 square meter  Anton Lembede Mural on the side of Six Durban Club Place on Anton Lembede Street, a project centred on Urban Regeneration, incorporating art in public spaces around the city.
It was the biggest celebration of African Nationalism.
The mural of Anton Lembede, Founder President of the ANCYL is now an iconic landmark in the Durban CBD.

Collaborating with other artists such as Sphephelo Mnguni and Mookie Lion,  he has also been involved in painting  of several murals of other prominent figures around the City of Durban.

His signature style, which has seen his a significant increase in his popularity as an artist, is distinctive and unique.

He remains an enigma, preferring to keep a low profile and focus on doing meaningful work and letting the work speak for itself – this in itself speaks volumes about the artist..600 square metres of volume.

Isaac Lediga catches up with enigmatic Sakhile Mhlongo

Isaac: What inspired you to be an artist and in particular a painter?

Sakhile: There are people I’ve looked up to when I was still in school that made me want to develop my talent. One of them is Thabani Mthethwa who was also a student at that time and Lee Klein who was painting portraits of people in town at the time. He even gave me an easel to make it easier for me to produce artwork, and shared his knowledge with me, allowing me to develop my taint.

All of this inspired me and created a hunger within to excel in my painting.  

Isaac: What goes into your creative process? How do you prepare for a new project?

Sakhile: I am a person who usually makes sketches with charcoal in the studio before painting on canvas or fabric.  When I plan to do a mural project, I start by taking pictures of that specific area and then go and sit down in my studio and create a design for it. When I’m done with the design I then calculate the amount of material I will need for the job, and then purchase the material and commence with sketching on the wall.  

 Isaac: Who are your main influences?

Sakhile: Mustafa Maluka and Kehinde Wiley

 Isaac: How has your environment and upbringing influenced your work?

Sakhile: My upbringing has had a significant role in the work I produce. The things I grew up seeing and my experiences inspire my art and my thinking process.

Most of the work I produce in my studio is based on my life experiences.

Isaac: Tell me about the experience of taking on a big project like The Anton Lembede Mural.

Sakhile: It was a great experience for me to have the opportunity to do a job like the Anton Lembede mural. This is one of the jobs that made me feel like I accomplished what I had set out to, and tells me that I am growing as an artist. And of course it gave me a great confidence boost.

Isaac: What did his legacy mean to you?

Sakhile: I think I’ve learned the importance of doing things that will make a difference in other people’s lives. Even small actions for the people you live amongst can contribute to social change. At the end of the day that’s the best legacy we can leave behind. 

Isaac: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Sakhile: Not be self-conscious but to work with confidence – to use the opportunity even if it is small because great things can from the small beginnings. 

Isaac: Are you working on any new projects currently?

Sakhile: I am not doing any project currently, but I have been producing paintings in the studio and preparing work for future exhibitions.

Isaac: When you look back on your life and career, what do you want your art to say about you as a person?

Sakhile: I wish my entire career would make more people change the way they look at artists and have the same respect for their work as any other job.

I would also like my work to be a legacy and be remembered as someone who dedicated his life to his art. Something to understand my journey.


Check out more on Sakhile’s works on Instagram @sakhilemhlongoartist