In the short space of sixteen years Mbongeni Buthelezi has made a name for himself as a professional artist of note. He has emerged as a powerful force in the Visual Arts in South Africa and Internationally in the 21st century.
Before coming to Funda Community College in 1986 Buthelezi lived in his hometown of Springs, studying art privately with artist Lucky Moema. Buthelezi received lessons in perspective and drawing from Moema in exchange for bread and tea. Eventually he made his way to Johannesburg, where he began studying at Funda.
Buthelezi originally started as a part-time student who wanted to be a sculptor. At the centre, however, he met Charles Nkosi, who convinced Buthelezi to try out other media, including drawing and painting. In 1989 Buthelezi won his first prize, the top honour in a drawing and design competition hosted by South African Breweries.
Determined to be an artist, he enrolled at Funda full-time. Buthelezi had to look for alternative materials, because he couldnt afford to buy expensive paints and canvases. In a workshop with a Swiss artist who used plastic as canvas for his artworks Buthelezi got his initial inspiration. His idea was to use plastic not only as a canvas but also to paint with this cheap material one can find everywhere. Soon he found himself experimenting with a heat gun, applying the melted material onto a black plastic background. In that year he received best marks for his plastic works and from then on he continuously improved his technique- making a virtue out of necessity. Buthelezi has consulted the Plastics Federation of South Africa on the technical and health considerations of using plastic.
Buthelezi was hired as a part-time lecturer at Funda in 1990. In 1992 Buthelezi completed his courses. He continued teaching part-time and ultimately became a member of the full-time teaching staff, as he currently remains. Since then he has also received commissions and several prizes in addition to SA Breweries, he has won awards from Development Bank of Southern Africa, Martel V.O., and Momentum Life, to name a few. In 2007 Buthelezi was a semi-finalist for the Sasol Wax Art Award and in 2010 he was nominated as a top ten finalist for the Absolut VISI Designer of the year award.
Buthelezi’s recycling of plastics into artworks is a symbol of hope in this new age. Buthelezi was presented with the Weekly Mail and Guardian Green Trust Award for his commitment and contributions to the environment. He was honoured by the judges for his social conscience, creativity and sheer hard work.