Tumelo Mphela

2021 Award Finalist: TUMELO MPHELA



For the StateoftheART Gallery Award 2021,  we asked artists to find ways to engage with the reality of climate crisis and its impact on their own community; to create work to inspire and encourage societal change.  The 10 finalists were chosen from more than 600 submissions from across South Africa, with the judges scoring the artists on the creativity, originality, and technical skill of their entries to this year's Award theme ‘On The Brink, Visualising Climate Change’.
The work of the shortlisted artists will go on show in a special exhibition at StateoftheART’s Cape Town gallery from 16 - 30 October 2021, and the winner announced at the Award Ceremony on 16 October 2021. The winner will receive a R40 000 cash prize and a solo exhibition with the gallery in 2022.

We asked the top ten Gallery Award Finalists some questions to help you get to know them before the Finalists Exhibition in October.
Learn more about the StateoftheART Gallery Award here>>

"Detail of Displacement II" by Tumelo Mphela. Charcoal and acrylics on unstretched canvas, 110 x 140cm framed


Tumelo Mphela:
Tumelo Mphela was born 29 June 1995 in the rural village of Mokopane, Mohlotlo, Limpopo, South Africa where he grew up. His teachers at Madibane High School recognized his talent and encouraged him to pursue a career in art. Tumelo is currently living in Pretoria and he Studied Fine and Applied Arts at Tshwane University of Technology.
When Tumelo initially fell in love with charcoal pencil drawing (with the manner in which charcoal pencil can be used to create subtle texture and tone), he has since broadened his range. He now works in any artistic medium, including sculpture. His artworks often address social issues and he aims to create artworks that produce an emotional response in the viewer.


1. Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and where do you currently live?

My name is Tumelo Mphela, a South African based artist born in the rural village of Mokopane, Limpopo province where I grow up. I have been practising art since young tender age but at first, I didn’t understand art until when I was in high school when my teachers recognize my talent in art and they pushed me to pursue a career in art. I’m currently living in Pretoria. It’s been 5 years living here since my first year of study at the University. I completed my BTech degree in Fine Arts & Designs from Tshwane University of Technology in 2019.

2. How did you learn about the Award and what made you want to enter?

Social media platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. By participating in this competition, I think is a good platform as a young emerging artist to show my talent, skills and also to have an opportunity to raise my voice to the world. I always wanted to enter the competition but I did not have work ready to enter and when I looked at the previous themes of the competition was not on my side until this year.

3. Tell us about where you make your work?

I am currently working in a fine art studio located in a flat building. Sometimes I use a residency to explore new mediums for a limited time and to experience different environments for a period of time.

4. What is your key inspiration as an artist?

Personally, I am inspired by my environment, nature, memories and all South African talented artist. The world is full of creators and doing creative things so I am inspired as well. Lastly, I would love to be an inspiration for people around my environment.


Tumelo Mphela in studio.


5. Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?

Whether it’s sculpting or drawing when I make art, I focus on the making rather than the expectation of the work, how it is going to look like. I mess around with material and the ideas grow from that. The act of creating reduces stress and improves my mood and energy to keep me going. I always make time for exercising, spending time with my family and friends mostly during the day and work at night. I enjoy working in quiet spaces.

6. How does your work convey the threat that climate change poses to our planet and country?

The idea of using match sticks, which signify power, energy, fire and action. It’s all linked to climate change, the increase of wildfires in our planet, decline of water supplies, and the health impact due to heat, air pollution in our environment that can put people’s lives at risk. Humans and animals also face challenges of survival because of climate change.

7. How is your work relevant in a South African context?

The Mapela traditional community is a rural made up of 42 Villages near Mokopane in Limpopo Province where I was born and raised. This series portrays how the Mapela people have become increasingly vulnerable as a result of the Anglo-American Platinum Mine, which resulted in settlement relocations, loss of land and disruption of cultural practice. My work is relevant because I portray children as a symbol of hope. Children hold great power over the future of our country. They are our future leaders.

8. What do you think is the most urgent action required to tackle climate change in South Africa?

We need an emergency response from our government to act more urgently to reduce harmful gas emissions, which can result in increases in pests and unexpected diseases such as Covid-19 etc.


Detail of Displacement
"Detail of Displacement I" by Tumelo Mphela. Charcoal , reflector and acrylics on unstretched canvas, 85 x 124cm  framed


9. Which South African artists, organizations or environmental activists do you find inspirational at the moment and why?

I am inspired by all artists around my environment, I am thankful for their inspiration and ability to get me moving towards my creative passion.

10. How do you feel about the upcoming group exhibition and the other shortlisted finalists' works?

I am very excited that I made it to the exhibition. I feel very much encouraged that my work is considered, this encourages me to keep on working hard. It’s interesting to engage with other artists works. I really love the work of the finalists, they all relate to the theme and each artwork is unique on its own.

11. What do you think of the StateoftheArt Gallery Award as a platform for emerging artists in South Africa?

I think it creates opportunities for South African artists to get recognition among industry experts, and to achieve greater things in life.

12. If you win the Gallery Award, tell us about what you have in mind for your solo exhibition in 2022?

Having a solo exhibition is a huge honour, this is a good platform as a young emerging artist to introduce myself in the art industry. I don’t have much in mind yet but I can assure you that I will go all out to create massive work.

13. Finally, tell us something surprising about yourself

I love nature, the sound of birds and the sunset.


Detail of Displacement III
"Detail of Displacement III" by Tumelo Mphela. Charcoal and acrylics on unstretched canvas, 85 x 124cm framed