Ramona Soga: People and portraits

The table is full. Jars and half-filled plastic containers with rims caked with red and blue paint, stand amongst propped up colourful canvasses, boards, open art books and sketches. Leaning against the patterned curtain, an aged and paint-splattered easel stands holding a ruler, a pencil, a half-finished landscape and pinned-up pictures of people – inspirations.

Ramona Soga’s studio is filled mostly with portraits. Portraits of people she has seen and personifications of emotions she and others have felt.

She speaks quickly and energetically. Every now and then she pauses, says an Afrikaans word and waits for a translation only to answer even quicker: “Ja!”

“My art is my way of speaking for the things people don’t want to acknowledge, like the struggles of the inner being, the front human’s project to the world and issues like poverty, hate and judgement we tend to ignore.

“When I walk, I ‘see’ people and I study them and that is from where I plan my next artwork. We are all works of art.”

Ramona Soga is a self-taught artist from Darling who, after reaching a low-point in her life, began painting her way to recovery and now inspires others.

Proud evidence from moments of her life is pasted on the wall in her studio. On top hangs a piece of printed paper that reads “Idols” and “3607”. Below it, in black pen, the year “2009” is carefully written out. A laminated green and yellow participation certificate shows that Ramona Soga put out at Darling Got Talent 2016.

“For the show I recited original poetry and used my art as props,” she says while laughing heartily.

The many expressionistic faces in the studio are not only Ramona’s artworks. It is also not only her studio. It a space she shares with her father, Raymond Soga, who is also an artist.

“My dad actually sells his work on street corners in Darling. He makes very little. Sometimes it’s just enough to buy a loaf of bread.”

Although their artworks are both expressionistic, their respective styles are different. Raymond Soga’s art shows direct influences from Van Gogh’s work whereas Ramona’s is more Gaugin-meet-Picasso. Both have a unique appearance in texture, which Ramona attributes to a family secret : A unique use of sand and glue.

“I like the freedom of Picasso’s work. I like that a foot does not have to look like a foot. It does not have to look like the real thing.”

Ramona is trying to get herself established in the world of galleries and her Facebook page is an exhibition of her progress over the last four years.

There are darker, more sombre pieces between a few mostly bright red and cobalt blue works. “The criticism I get a lot is that my works are ‘too depressed’. Also that I use too much of the same blue and red.”

Ramona makes art using the cheaper option of craft paint.  Only now, as things have started taking off, can she begin to afford the luxury of acrylic. “I would also like to try oil paint. I think I would like it,” she adds thoughtfully.

But Ramona has not always been an artist. According to the 30-year-old marketing graduate, it was never her dream to become an artist.

“So, in 2013, I didn’t have a plan: I just got retrenched from my job. I’m a single mother. I was engaged at the time and then we broke up, me and my ex. So my life wasn’t going anywhere and I thought I hit rock bottom,” she says.

It was only then, after a frank conversation with God, that Ramona found herself with a paintbrush in her hand. According to Ramona she was lying in bed and suddenly felt uncomfortable. She stuck her hand under the mattress and pulled out a board.

“I took it out so I could give it to my dad because he paints on hard board. But then I looked at this board and I just started painting…I painted through the whole night, till sunrise,” she says seemingly reliving her amazement. “I put the pictures on Facebook and suddenly everyone wanted their children’s portraits done.”

Artist Ramona Soga’s latest artwork, entitled Surrender, tells the story of a young woman who overcomes obstacles in her rowing career through discipline and her faith in God.

She sold her first artwork in a gallery for R600. 60 artists exhibited their art in the gallery in Darling and only seven were purchased from the exhibition. Ramona’s artwork was one of them.

Talent and skill seems to extend high up this family tree. Ramona’s great-great grandfather was South Africa’s first internationally-educated black man.  

Reverend Tiyo Soga, Ramona gushes, is hailed today for his contribution to journalism and translation as well as his missionary work and sacred compositions. His hymn, Lizalis’ idinga lakho is a song sung in churches all over South Africa. It is also rumoured to be the late Nelson Mandela’s favourite hymn, having even been played at his funeral.

Although Ramona is slowly building up a reputation in the art world, and increasingly outside Darling, her real dream is to become a teacher.

“I want to follow in my parents’ footsteps. Both my parents are qualified teachers but they work from home now, as tutors.”

Ramona adds matter-of-factly: “I want to get my certificate so I can teach those kids they call dumb and I want show them that the kids just learn differently and I can teach them through art.”- Andy Kohrs