Thembalethu Manqunyana (b. 1984)

Thembalethu Manqunyana hails from Kwazakhele in Gqeberha previously known as Port Elizabeth. Thembalethu discovered his passion for art at a very young age and harnessed his skills of painting throughout his childhood and adolescent stage. He pursued his dreams by studying Arts and Design at Port Elizabeth College from 2005-2006. Thereafter Fine Art (Sculpture) at Nelson Mandela University from 2007-2011. Thembalethu then proceeded with his art studies at Rhodes University form 2012-2013 attaining a Bachelor's degree of Fine Arts in Politics, Psychology, Art History, Visual Culture and Xhosa.

Whilst student at Nelson Mandela University, Thembalethu was involved in a public mural at Zwide Stadium for Raga Bolo Smirnoff Tournament. In 2012 he collaborated with Port Elizabeth artist in NewNowNext Exhibition and was also part of the Arts and Teaching Initiative Public Project Sculpture for Sydenham Primary School. The project was entitled "Telling our Story".

In 2011, when doing his 3rd year at Nelson Mandela University, together with class mates and B-Tech Sculptures student he worked with the MBDA to create the public sculpture icons of govern Mbeki, Ray Mhlaba, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and Lilian Ngoyi that are displayed at the Athenaeum in Central, Port Elizabeth.

While he was a student at Rhodes University, during the National Arts Festival in 2012, Thembalethu was the gallery assistant at the Albany Museum during which time he assisted Clare Menck with the curation of her solo exhibition,

Thembalethu was also involved in an exhibition of the renowned knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa in Port Elizabeth in 2013 and 2014. In 2014 he started FreeForm Artist Movement Exhibition for all young up and coming artists to display their artworks around Port Elizabeth.

In 2015 he was part of the One Blood Festival Exhibition at the Grand Hotel in Port Elizabeth. Following this, he did an internship and Art Residence at the Warren Edition Studio in Cape Town. In the same year he featured Bently van Wyk, a ceramic artist in an exhibition of his at the Tramwyas Buildingin the hart of Nelson Mandela Bay.

Thembalethu concluded the year 2015 by winning an award for the most promising artist in the Eastern Cape at ARTEC's Annual Exhibition.

In 2016, Thembalethu featured Ayanda Mji a ceramic artist in an exhibition of his in Stellenbosch at the MOK Galley at Muratie Wine Estate.

After his collaborations Thembalethu finally produced his first solo exhibition at ARTEC in 2017 and also had another solo exhibition in Stellenbosch at the MOK Gallery at Muratie WIne Estate. In 2018 Thembalethu exhibited a show called "Western African Ideologies" at GFI Art Gallery in Port Elizabeth. In the same year Thembalethu showcased "Spirit of the ARt" at Muratie Wine Estate in Stellenbosch at MOK Gallery.

In 2019 Thembalethu participated in a group showcase at the BAsha Uhuru Youth Festival at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg. In the same year, Thembalethu go selected for Nando's Creative Exchange and showcase at AVA Gallery in Cape Town.

Thembalethu currently lives and works in Observatory in Cape Town whilst travelling around the country to showcase his work.

From the Artist:

After various attempts in coming up with an original visual voice that define who I am, and while dabbling with all sorts of technical approaches, I decided to go through some Western text dealing with analysis on artistic methods and historical schools like Neo-Expressionism and Cubism. Throughout my grappling with this unique voice I knew I had to stay true to my African identity, hence I found solace in the energy of West African masks through Cubist elements and visual impact. My search for a voice always led me outside, navigating for inspiration and resonance and back towards myself when attempting to initiate a common ground with these relevant allies through my own interpretations and methods. The vigorous navigations for a voice going back and forth is about spending time, listening and looking what other people say or do... particularly modern artists. For instance, I have later took more interest on how artists like Jean-Michel Basquat and Blessing Ngobeni have narrowed boundaries, painting outside of particular art schools as you cannot really pin them down to neither Neo-Expressionism or Cubism. These are the kind of artists that have led me into attempting to break free from everything while relating to all the above through my own devices in approach and interpretations. I am currently putting more emphasis on the images that are inspired by West African masks through multiplications of colours. These multiplications attempt to articulate arrangement of character by undermining racist tendencies around issues of identities of portraiture. My art celebrates that lack of racial appeal that defines the identities of my portraits.