Tagged as: Clermont Youth League

Thami Jali: Restless Spirit

by Jenny Stretton

This text was first published by Durban Art Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Thami Jali: Restless Spirit’, 2014.

Thami Jali’s story is so much about South Africa’s recent past: the fractured nation, its diverse cultures, seemingly endless journeys and the hunger for an authentic artistic home. His search for an aesthetic he could truly call his own took him from Durban’s Clermont township to Zululand; Nelspruit; Rorke’s Drift; Johannesburg; London; New Delhi and finally back to Durban to the house he grew up in. Called a renaissance man by those who’ve watched his career Jali is multi-talented, equally at home behind the wheel or at a canvas. But it’s the way this artist has interrogated South African society that informs his vision: he’s lived on the street, eschewed popular politics for artistic integrity, and given back to his students far more than he ever took.

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Thami Jali, artist on a mission

It was Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian screenplay writer and author, who observed that “art is fire plus algebra”. In explaining the equation, Borges alluded to the passion and drive being the “fire” while technique and skill is the “algebra.”

As a ceramicist, painter, sculptor and printmaker, Jali has been deploying fire and skill since primary school. It was the fire that saw him defying his childhood teachers’ ban on his picture drawing habit which occupied most of his school day activities. The artist recalls how the natural inclination to making art cost him a fruitful relationship with everyone from the family patriarch to the schoolmaster.
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Recalling The Natal Visual Arts Organisation: a roundtable conversation

Proceedings of a conversation with Sfiso ka Mkame, Thami Jali, Paul Sibisi and Zamani Makhanya, moderated by Mario Pissarra, with contributions from Scott Williams and Russel Hlongwane. 

Editorial note: Participants arrived at various times during the morning, leading to certain points being revisited with different inputs.

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