Meet the artist behind Souls of Azania

Meet the artist behind Souls of Azania

Nelson Makamo, an internationally acclaimed artist from South Africa is hosting his first solo exhibition; Souls of Azania at the Gallery of African Art in London, UK.  We caught up with him to find out how he got into art and what inspires his work.


  • When did you start your art career?

Art has been part of me and has been part of my childhood.  I was raised by parents who were scholars.  Although, my parents bought me art materials, they never wanted me to study art.  I would create a mess and sketch all over the house, which really frustrated my mother.  When you have a passion for something you will always be curious and interested. I had a love for art at an early age but making a living out of it wasn’t an option back then.

  • What else would you be doing, if not art?

I’d be doing chemical engineering, which I studied for 3 months, but was undecided about what to do with my life so I dropped out. I then went to community college to study print making for 3 years.

  • When did you have your first exhibition?

After my graduation I did an exhibition for 4 days at Michael Orbit Contemporary in South Africa.  I don’t think that gallery is around anymore.

  • What’s the South African art scene like?

The South African art scene has prepared me for the world.  A lot of artists from the African continent are coming down to South Africa as they host 3 art fairs a year.  Being able to make a living out of art, has inspired lots of artists.

  • What inspires you the most?

Being an African child. My existence, the ability to move and see. My heath. When I observe kids from a distance, they are not corrupted, they don’t follow rules.  They are just free.  They can easily describe anything. They are happy regardless of what the world will say.

  • Do you have any children?

I have one child.  He inspires me in every way as that’s a part of me that other people don’t get to see.  I painted him from when he was a few months to 2 years old. Now he is older he doesn’t want me to paint him anymore.  Although he’s not into art, we spend a lot of time together in my studio.

  • How did you feel when you sold your first piece of art?

i felt disbelief. I didn’t believe that people could actually spend money on something I’ve done.  Whenever i needed piece of mind i would sketch.  You do well because you are distressed. you are doing something to make you feel fulfilled.  if someone spends money on me it means there is value to what i do.

  • Where can collectors buy your work?

In galleries.  I don’t sell online.  When you have a gallery it makes things easier. I don’t have to focus on dealing with collectors, I can just focus on creating art.

  • What do your parents say to you now?

Dad says i’m brave that i made a decision and faced the music.  My journey has taught me that anything in life doesn’t come easy.  There will still be challenges. The only difference is you get to create your job description.  You are the boss.

  • What advice would you give aspiring artists?

Art doesn’t come easy and there’s no formula. Every individual is unique.  Your work speaks for you, so own up to your talent as no one can take it from you.  Just know who you want to be and don’t try to be like other people.  You have online world as an advantage, so don’t need to go to a gallery with a portfolio.  There’s no such thing as failure, it’s experiences. Try to understand why you didn’t make it this time. If you look at a child trying to walk, no matter how many times they fall, they will get up.


‘Souls of Azania’ by Nelson Makamo is showing at Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) until 9th September 2017.  Address: 45 Albermarle Street, London, W1S 4JL.  Opening times: Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm and Saturday, 11am – 5pm.

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