Dbongz: from introvert to street artist

The dream is to cover the streets of the world in his work, but in the meantime, the internationally acclaimed street artist Dbongz Mahlathi is bringing derelict buildings and dull streets back to life.

This is the man behind the recently unveiled historic painting of anti-apartheid heroine Dulcie September – the hand behind Newtown’s five Jazz Legends painting and the SunEl musician mural in Maboneng.

It can all be traced back home to the celebratory painting of Winnie Mandela remembering her activism against apartheid, and the time she spent in jail for her people.

The journey to the huge portraits began with what he describes as silly name tagging on the walls of his hometown in Mohlakeng, a small township west of Joburg.

Mahlathi says he bought his first can of spray paint in 2007, during his matric year, and enjoyed the anonymity behind name tagging.

“At the time I had low self-esteem and had to be anonymous because I did not even understand where the whole thing was heading. I felt that I was nothing compared to the real artists out there because they were extroverts and had unmatched confidence, the total opposite of who I was at the time,” said Mahlathi.

The award-winning artist says he was fortunate to meet Mbulelo Mabutho, a university friend who was studying arts and taught him how to use the creative side of the brain to get through mental challenges.

This was the period when he came to understand the spiritual and emotional reflection in wall art and all art he saw.

Mahlathi says he only started painting in 2018, still drawing motivation from Mabutho and what he refers to as a “spiritual guide”.

In no time he bagged a gig to do a live painting for the Scorpion Kings album launch under Apple Music, won the Back To The City Graffiti competition, and added the best graffiti artist of the year award at the South African Hip-Hop Awards.

“I still look back and wonder how it all happened but I still appreciate the person who taught me how to connect to my inner self.

“I started finding happiness and joy in doing more than just name tagging.

“I should have known back then that this is where I will be someday but that would have drawn away from the excitement I feel now, especially the excitement I still feel when I am called for a gig,” he said.

This year he won The Glass Recycling Company’s Art for Glass Graffiti Competition and his work will be displayed on glass recycling banks in Joburg.

“My favourite painting of all time is the one I did in my township and Nduna, one of the busiest sections of the hood.

Not only do I love it because it’s in my home, it is a painting of a grateful child who understands that there will always be bad things happening but there are also great things happening in our lives,” he said.

“The red side represents the trouble and challenges we face, and the blue side is all about the blessings falling upon us, and that we learn from mistakes to create a better future.

“In all, this child is grateful for all that happens.

“With me, I am much grateful that painting was my medication to get through depression. It has been my healing stick.”

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