Thandiwe Tshabalala: A conversation on Art, Poverty and Truth

Thandiwe Tshabalala: A conversation on Art, Poverty and Truth


thandiwe1A few days ago I got an email from one of my favorite illustrators, Thandiwe Tshabala. She was frustrated by the reaction of her latest illustrations. She reminded me about the reality may African creatives face working against many obstacles to live out their dreams as artists. I asked for permission to share our conversation.

Thandiwe: Someone grabbed a personal piece I did on my blog, and now it’s caused havoc on Twitter & Facebook.
But why is the truth offensive? Because myself and others who grew up poor, and some are still poor had to find other alternatives to resolve certain issues.

For instance, there was a period in my life that we didn’t have toilet paper at home, and just last week, I used a Sunlight dishwasher because my hair had to be clean and I couldn’t afford to buy some shampoo. Let me just stop there. Is being poor offensive?


Me: It is never offensive if it is the truth. You should not have to explain yourself if it is your truth and it is coming from a genuine space. Some people have trouble pretending that poverty isn’t something that many people experience in Africa and your work is reminding them of this harsh reality.

Continue to create work that expresses who you are and where you are from. You will never look back.

Thandiwe: Growing up, we faced some financial difficulties at home. I was always amazed by how some people were able to improvise in my family. The truth of the matter is, poverty is still a major issue in this country, let alone the whole continent of Africa.

The illustration piece touches up on that subject in a beautiful and personal way. No one wants to be short of cash, but you know what? If a person is, they should not be ashamed.

When I see people spending cash haphazardly I want to cry. I think of the young girls who stay out of school because they can’t afford to buy sanitary pads.

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  1. Ithateng Mokgoro

    October 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    As fantastically talented as she is as an illustrator, Thandiwe Tshabalala is most of all a thinker and an artist. Can’t get enough.

  2. Meh

    October 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I must say this is certainly great work from Thandiwe, and an excellent observation of poverty + well illustrated art speaking that truth. Well done

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