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Meet Mixed-Media Artist and Author, Siya Masuku

 Meet Mixed-Media Artist and Author, Siya Masuku
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Dreams of being a soccer star turned into the pursuit for creative expression that has led Siya into the educational sphere.

The son of Nqobile Nxumalo and Jacob Masuku, Siyabonga Perseverance Masuku was born at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto on a rainy Monday night around 10:45PM on 10 June 1985 according to his mom. 

Siya, whose family called “Bobo” when he was young, remembers riding a red and blue tricycle around the gritty yard where he grew up in Zola North in Soweto. 

Siya Masuku in Zola, 11 June 1986.

Early childhood and schooling

He remembers a rather happy childhood until his parents’ divorce, which was around the time he realized his love for creative expression. 

Siya said: “Nqobile and Jacob are splitting up and, unfortunately, this has a negative emotional effect on me but at the same time I’m excelling in athletics on the school grounds and drawing exercises in the classroom.  

“It’s pretty much all kids need these days; physical activity, artistic expression and getting stories read to them.” 

At age seven, Siya moves in with his mother who had recently bought a house in Protea North, Soweto.  

He sits daily on the living room floor, tracing images in an attempt to make art.  

His mother’s words, “you will never learn how to draw properly if you keep tracing”, strike a chord in him. He puts the original picture to the side and draws it anew.  

It is during this time that Siya is enrolled at Malvern Primary School as a boarder and whenever he gets bored at boarding school, he draws. 

Siya in the U/11 Eastern Gauteng, 1996.

Although drawing takes up most of his free time, the arts are just a hobby at this stage, sports is his obsession. 

Siya said: “At that time Malvern Primary is getting a reputation for its dominance of the sports fields, specifically in athletics, soccer and rugby. 

By the end of primary school, he had been to trials at Orlando Pirates and made the junior team under coach Augusto Palacios, while Malvern Primary awarded him colours in soccer. 

High school comes and Siya is a fully fledged athlete but part-time artist. 

Siya enrolls at Jeppe High School for Boys. He has decided he wants to play for Orlando Pirates when he grows up.  

Things, however, take an interesting turn. 

Siya at the U/16 Paarl Gymnasium Tour, 2001.

Siya is making new friends on the rugby pitch. He’s also getting used the idea that extra mural activities are done after school.  

The bad news is that soccer is forbidden at Jeppe. The worst news is times for rugby and soccer practice clash.  

Growing more confident on the rugby field and making new friends, letting go of soccer may not be that difficult, after all. 

With English, Afrikaans and Mathematics coming standard, Siya picks Science, Biology and Art as his six major subjects and takes isiZulu as an extra subject.  

He decides that Art would be the easiest of all subjects. In the first lesson, Walter Daniels introduces himself as their Art teacher.  

“I’m Mr. Daniels. I know that I look weird and if you picked Art because you think it’s easy then you are wrong”.  

Walter was right. By the end of the term, the grade average for theory was low but Siya had redeemed himself by doing well in his practical exams, luckily.  

Art remained the only subject worth looking forward to in school as he was learning new things like the primary colours and vertical and horizontal lines of Piet Mondrian; the organic lines and decorative details of Alphonse Mucha; andthe lighting and spatial awareness in the still life paintings of Paul Cezanne.  

As his attitude towards Art improved, so did his results in the subject. 

After high school, Siya enrolled at Wits Technikon to study Graphic Design.  

He said: Theoretical studies were not much of a strong focus for me. I exceled in drawing classes, especially after discovering that I was ambidextrous. 

Siya had been faring well until his lecturer, Lukasz Pater, felt his line work had become predictable and boring.  

Lukasz had challenged Siya to use his left hand, rather, in order to look at the space around and not at the subject.

Siya’s Best Drawing Student Award, Graphic Design Diploma 1 (First Year), 2004

He said: “Although familiar with the technique from high school classes, I was being re-introduced to negative and positive space drawing in my first year.  

“Drawing with my left hand meant that I spent more time looking away from the paper and this made my line work unpredictable, resulting in interesting details and consequently exceptional grades. 

Due to financial constraints, Siya couldn’t enroll for second year and attempted to build a sustainable profession as a freelance graphic designer. 

Graphic Design didn’t scratch his itch so he found relief in his hobby – playing touch rugby.  

A call up to participate in the 2007 Touch Rugby World Cup in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, momentarily made up for all of life’s disappointments. 

Siya becomes Bronze Medalist; Touch Rugby World Cup, Edinburgh, 2011.

Siya also participated in the 2011 Touch Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh. 

Career and creativity 

Fast-forward to 201after freelancing for a minute, going through creative doldrumscareer-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury and a sabbatical, Siya gets inspired by a talk on education with his mom. 

Siya is chatting to his mother when he learns how children in the townships are struggling to get books.  

“The real problem” she said, “is that even when we do get books, they are not in the children’s mother-tongue”.  

Siya introspects over his responsibilities and priorities. 

meeting with his mentor, Cobus Rossouw, sparks the conceptualization of the alphabet book, Siyafunda: isiZulu. 

First mock-up of Siyafunda: isiZulu, June 2015.

Siyafunda: isiZulu is a fun read. The book aims to teach pronunciation of the alphabet in isiZulu using alliteration and assonance.  

Each letter is made up of short sentences which, through practice, can sound musical when uttered correctly.  

Readers get giddy when reciting “isiCabucabu sinecebo lokucaca kucikicane”. 

The whole process, from conceptualization to the book on the shelve, took more than 24-months but the creative juices were on overdrive for Siya. 

Author and educator Siya was born. 

“After publishing Siyafunda: isiZulu there was the buzz that went with the book. The public showed a lot of love towards the project,” said Siya.

A new creative outlet

With Siya the author born, moving away from digital art and creating the artwork using traditional means became increasingly desirable.  

Siya said: “Lino and printmaking immediately came to mind.”

Lino Print Making, National School of Arts, November 2015.

He collaborated with postwar and civil contemporary artist, Chabane Cyril Manganye and contemporary artist, Sam Djedje. 

The three would work hand-in-hand to create a body of work made up of 25 limited edition artist proof prints. 

Limited Edition Siyafunda: isiZulu artwork, 2016.

These artworks are for sale at www.siyamasuku.co.za  

Siya completed the Basic Creative Writing Course at SA Writer’s College in time to receive the news that he’s been nominated for an award.  

The David Koloane Arts Writer’s Mentorship Award presented Siya with an opportunity to discover Arts Writing with fellow mentees Nolan Stevens and Lukho Witbooi.  

The program was facilitated at Bag Factory Studios in Newtown, Johannesburg, and mentored by Ashraf Jamal and Robyn Sassyn 

2017 was a relatively quiet but progressive year. 

In 2018, Siya publishes uNjabuloemkhathini, about a free-spirted character with a thirst for knowledge and does this through crowd funding. uLanga is published in 2019. 

uNjabulo, 2018.

“The success of uLanga was strengthened by the spectacular launch at the Soweto Theatre. I produced the show with Khosi Radebe as assistant producer. We had magic by Magical Modise, poetry by MthokozisiNgubane, indigenous music played live by Zanele Ndlovu and showcased uLanga Motion Comic on the big screen,” said Siya.

uLanga, 2019.

This momentum sustained and KwaNhliziyo-Ngise came out the same year. 

All the books mentioned may be ordered at www.siyafundaonline.co.za 

Siya said: “Unlike conventional publishers who provide books, we help our customers by providing young readers with stories that seek to inspire their curiosity. We are able to do that through animated stories written in indigenous languages.

If you visit www.siyafundaonmline.co.za today you will find books in different indigenous languages.  

“I admit that we could have a bigger variety of titles in indigenous languages hence we are working towards achieving that goal,” said Siya. 

He has during lockdown shared a short comic which may be downloaded from his website, www.siyamasuku.co.za free of charge. 

Stay abreast of all things creative @sacreatives 

Ray Maota