“The role of an artist in society is to tell stories and experiences in their lives and comment on issues and things relating to them.”
Minenkulu Ngoyi and Isaac Zavale were school friends who met in 2010 while studying at Artist Proof Studios, a printmaking studio in Newtown, Johannesburg. They were both doing a course in printmaking at that time. It only took three years to establish their own project Alphabet Zoo, which is a collective project that these two Johannesburg-based visual artists started.
“I was born as a visual artist and I knew how to draw at an early age which was in 1992 that is when I realised that I can draw. In 2007 I did graphic design and then I pulled out,” said Zavale.
Before Zavale enrolling at Artist Proof, he did a course in Sound Engineering and later on formed a band called the Passport with his friends, including Mongezi Ncaphayi, who is the winner of the 2013 Gerald Sekoto Award. It was through his friend, Mongezi, that he got to know about Artist Proof and enrolled with the institution.
“Mine was different, I didn’t study anything, and I taught I was just going to be a self- taught artist who did not work. I did a show called Black like Us and people told me to pursue art. ”
“We both had a show Coming of Age, from there we carried on working together. The show was in 2012 and then as they say, the rest is history,”
Ngoyi and Zavale have exhibited their work in a number of Galleries and Art Fairs around the country and overseas.
“Since it’s the two of us we have been focusing more into Zines and also experimental art. We are printmakers, so we wanted to do something way different from printmaking,” said Zavale.
“When we started there was a lack of collectives, not so many people working as collectives, the were few collectives. It was an alter ego thing as well,” added Ngoyi.
When they started their Alphabet Zoo project the was eight and over the years the number decreased to two.
The Collective has made a name its themselves in the South African art scene, creating original work engaging in themes based on social and political issues around the city of Johannesburg.
“In Zine Making, we focus on social issues around the city, Johannesburg is a great city, it sharps South Africa to what it is. The city is diverse, there are lots of sub-cultures and there are a lot of things that are going on, in terms of the people, the city’s growth. We focus on that, how the identity of this city itself, how it sharpens the other parts or the other cities in South Africa,” stated Zavale.
“And even the rest of the continent because people in the continent looks up to the city,” added Ngoyi
Even though Ngoyi and Zavale work as a collective, they both have individual themes when it comes to their solo projects.
“We have our own individual themes that we work with apart from Alphabet Zoo which is also different, but quite similar somehow,” said Ngoyi.
“I feel like it’s an on-going theme for me because those things can’t end, we live upon them. Since in South Africa the biggest thing is identity amongst the blacks and whites, and also the political issues which is our President and the other political opponents who are opposing, however, I make it broad because it’s not about South Africa only; it’s about the whole world because the whole world is struggling with identity, political and social issues. Which is an everyday thing.” said Zavale.
After a while, they started Prints on Paper which is a workshop based business about printmaking. The business has been running for five years.