Artist Andrew Mokgatla: ‘I was born to be doing what I am doing’

Andrew Mokgatla’s love for people goes back a long way.  When he talks about his drive to make a difference in his community it becomes apparent that he is a passionate person.  You can hear it in his voice.

“My compassion for people comes from my mother,” he says.

“Our home where I grew up in was always open, there were always people coming and asking for help and my mother would never turn anybody away. No matter whether she knew them or not.”

He speaks fondly of his mother. “She raised us in a home that believed in God and serving other people.”

This is how Mokgatla strives to live his own life, believing he can make a difference in people’s lives.

Artist Andrew Mokgatla. PHOTO: Supplied.

“I am interested in telling stories, stories about real people.” This is the reason why people are the main subjects of his art.

“I tried some landscapes but they did not really translate into the stories that I was trying to tell,” he laughs.

Mokgatla reflects on the impact being a teacher had on his life, and how this influenced his art and inspired him to take a closer look at different people’s lives.

“My inspiration comes from everyday situations from when I was a teacher.  Working in particular communities and seeing what everyday life is like for certain people and the challenges they face.”

He pauses before he gets carried away by his emotions. “I saw how hard it is to even obtain a fundamental need like a basic education.”

He speaks about the NGO he is involved with, the Lalela Project, where he is also confronted with similar stories of hardship on a day to day basis.

This is why the Life Choices youth development organisation’s 30 stories for 30 days project, which he is currently involved in, was right up his alley.  For the project he was given the task to portray a young man’s life story of success despite coming from a difficult background.  

Real stories, real people.

“The minute I learned about the project I was humbled because in the work I do at the NGO this is exactly what we try to do.  We try to lift people up and make them aware of the opportunities available to rise above their circumstances,” he exclaims.

‘Untitled,’ one of Mokgatla’s favourite artworks drawn with a BIC pen. PHOTO: Supplied.

“I was very excited about getting involved in the project, it was almost as if I was an actor waiting for my script.”

He admires the young man who excelled in life despite many hardships. “His mother was in grade 11 when he was born, so she had to drop out of school to raise him. He came from a very poor township but despite this he made something of himself and he is currently studying at Stellenbosch.”  

Mokgatla admires this young man for achieving his goals and not letting his background define his future.

“I depicted him as the successful person he is with his mother in the background pregnant with him.”  

Mokgatla resonates with his subject because he too has had his fair share of challenges in his life that have shaped him into the man he is today.

“I was raised in sort of a more depressed area with a single mother raising four boys alone.”

Mokgatla grew up in a community where there wasn’t an emphasis on community development. He recalls growing up knowing that he wanted to rise above his circumstances and be an example for other people in similar positions, to show that even though you come from a deprived area it is possible to rise above.

“I do community work because I want to inspire. I wanted to get out there and one day be able to touch the life of someone else in order for them to realise anything is possible if you go after your dreams.”

Art is his saving grace.

“Art found me at a very young age.”

He remembers when he was at school and all of the other learners wanted him to draw their sketches for biology and he happily did so.  It was only the beginning.

“Although I fell in love with art, it was not really something I thought about pursuing, ” he reminisces.   

“My focus was on engineering but in order to develop communities and be fully involved in them I found that being an engineer might not be the right path for me.”

He takes a moment to gather his thoughts.

A self-portrait by Mokgatla. PHOTO: Supplied.

“I grew up in an environment where art was not really a language, nobody even knew what it was and there wasn’t such a thing as art literacy. People did not know how to make a career out of art so it was never really something I looked into studying after matric.”

He remembers when a teacher suggested that he pursue a career in art.  This was a turning point for him.  

“Doing art itself offered me this peaceful place where I can go and I can feel like I am not being judged or I don’t have to feel pressured. Art was an escape for me during tough times.”

He realised that by practicing art and putting people’s stories on paper he could have a greater impact on his community than through engineering. This led Mokgatla to where he is now, an illustrator who does drawings in pen.  A normal BIC pen.  

Mokgatla says that he cannot point out a specific highlight in his life because he believes there is still more to be done.

He does however recall some memorable moments.

“Seeing my students call me from the university, studying art and saying how much they enjoyed working with me and all of the lessons they learned in my class definitely warms my heart.”

It is almost as if you can hear him smiling as he continues.

“I don’t know if other people believe in destiny but I do.  I think I was born to be doing what I am doing because no matter how much I try to do other things it always leads me back to what I am doing now.”

Mokgatla talks positively about what the future has in store.

“I would like to continue investing in the youth of this country. I am passionate about education and having a positive and inspiring impact on the youth.

He confidently adds:  “Art is my medium to achieve these goals.”

‘Lindokuhle’s story,’ the artwork Mokgatla made for the Life Choices youth development organisation’s 30 stories for 30 days project. PHOTO: Supplied.