Twala’s portrait earns artist fame

Olwethu Petuleni showing some of his work.

A young Nyanga artist’s drawing of veteran actress Mary Twala, who passed away earlier this month, catapulted him to fame when the drawing drew the attention of her equally famous son.

The story of how Cape Peninsula University of Technology graphic design student Olwethu Petuleni’s talent got noticed is a tale of triumph for every young aspiring artist.

The 22-year-old Lusaka informal settlement resident is currently the talk of the town after his drawing of Gogo Twala was shared on social media platforms and caught the attention of her son Somizi Mhlongo, television presenter, radio personality, choreographer, actor and singer.

Olwethu paid tribute to the legendary actress, who would have celebrated her 81st birthday in September, with a magnificent drawing while he was in a taxi. He posted it on his Instagram account. Little did he know that his drawing would go viral on social media and shared by thousands of people on Instagram and Twitter.

That drawing made it to Somgaga as Somizi is affectionately known.

When Somizi saw Olwethu’s painting of his mom on Twitter, he came up with the idea of Olwethu making a portrait of his parents on a denim jacket of his.

Olwethu said, however, he didn’t do the drawing simply because of the actress’ passing but also because of her stature . “She is an icon and she was on people’s lips, so I decided to do something on her. I posted it on my Instagram accountant but it made it to Twitter and people shared it. I was overwhelmed. It was one of my works that got the most shares ever,” he told Vukani at his home.

But the art industry is sometimes a cruel teacher as Olwethu can testify. Personally, he has also made some mistakes along the way but he has learnt from them.

Surrounded by drawings of global artists and local superstars, Olwethu has many garments that he needs to work on with his paintings. The self-taught artist, originally from Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape, said when he got a call from somebody who announced himself as Somizi’s assistant he could not believe it. “People are duped to believe things that are not right. I had my doubts. This guy told me Somizi has seen my drawing, can I draw it on the jacket together with his father’s image. With big doubts, I agreed. He asked me how long it would take to do it. I told him two days because I must do a sketch and buy the jacket. We agreed,” said Olwethu.

The assistant did not come back and the doubts filled his mind again. He thought he was duped. But later the man called and told him that Somizi wanted to wear the jacket at his mom’s funeral. “I am happy because the drawing inspired a lot of people. My aunt who has always criticised me is now my favourite critic and a fan. I now have a lot of people calling. They want me to draw their pictures on their jackets. I am taking it to task,” he said.

Olwethu hopes to grow in the industry and said he hopes to inspire other youngsters growing up in poor areas. “I might be an example but I am from this poor area. I managed to stand up and be seen. May we all do that. Our backgrounds should not matter and it should not be a stumbling block to our future and goals,” he said.

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