A young boy with a
broad smile stares at me. His eyes are unclouded with cynicism or bitterness.
He is a disadvantaged child from rural South Africa. Yet his gaze is trusting,
pure. He is undoubtedly happy. In fact, he has fashioned the most absurd huge
blue toy glasses from recycled wire. Vibrant blues and reds contrasting with
one other in order to stand out more brightly. The enormous baby-blue glasses
catch my attention. They scream laughter and fun. This is a face that fills my
heart with love; this is a face that imprints itself indelibly on my soul. These
contagious laughs, these beaming eyes, this undiluted joy remind me of what it
feels like to be gleeful, to be free and still unaware of life’s trials and tragedies.
They are tangible. These buoyant colours splash and radiate across the frame
creating a never-ending loop of joyful emotions in me.

This Nelson Makamo painting of a young boy
represents the stress-free life of a child and the joy that they can locate in occurrences
in their lives that older people take for granted or do not recognise. When I
look at this picture, I feel the happy energy of the young child invigorate me.
The stress leaves my body.

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But, what specifically is innocence? What is joy?

I ponder these characteristics when I study this
painting. Contemporary society places much pressure on us, the youth. I feel
this pressure intensely. Sometimes I forget that I am only a teenager; I am
supposed to have fun and to be actively present in every moment. But, I am
hurdled into a pool, trying to keep my head above my work and responsibilities.
However, this visual reminds me of what youth is supposed to be like. The
visual pulls me out of my stress-bubble and reminds me that I am allowed to
have fun. That I must have fun. When I look at this wrinkleless face, I embrace
my youth. For a few seconds, I shed my responsibilities. I consider all the
small seemingly trivial joys in my life about which I have become complacent: my
mother’s warm hugs; my dad’s play fights; my dogs’ affectionate greetings; and
chats with my sisters. I find myself grateful and happy for all the moments I
share with my family.

 
I reflect on my happy experiences the most when
I feel hopeless. In dreadful moments  my
mind removes itself from the present chaos and soars into memories of fun,
laughter and broad smiles. In this chaotic experience: hysterical screams, my dog’s
mouth foaming as he has an epileptic fit, may sound like a nightmare; However,
this was the reality that I walked into only a few days ago. In this dreadful
moment, I found myself clinging onto the happy times that I had shared with
him, my best friend. My dog, Max the schnauzer, makes me truly happy. After
this incident, upon reflection, I understood that I was sometimes ungrateful
for the small moments that occur in my life. Max’s enthusiastic welcomes, his
need to play catch with me, and his demands that the entire Jossel family love
him, are all invaluable examples of how much fulfillment I derive from Max. I
was suddenly thankful for all these moments and found the pure joy hidden in
them. This specific experience incorporates all the lessons that I have learnt
from Nelson Makamo’s painting.

 

The philosophy of
Nelson Makamo is therefore strongly shaped by the concept of happiness. He can
identify the beauty in the simplest moments of life.  He explains that “My work is
inspired by my existence, by the fact that I can wake up every day and see the
movement around me.” His artwork floods my mind with happy memories from my
childhood, thereby guiding me towards the beauty in existence. Many pieces of
his work are inspired by the candid innocence of children. Deprived children
from rural South Africa are his preferred subject matter and thus opitomises
the harmony for which we all strive, and so we are reminded of the optimistic
joy that occurs within us His work distracts us from our obsession with worldly
things, instead reminding us of what it feels like to be an appreciative child.
A rural child plays with sticks whilst a privileged child walks over them; a
rural child uses his imagination and creativity to invent toy cars and figure-men
whilst a privileged child merely buys a plastic toy; a rural child kicks a
bottle around whereas a privileged child throws it away. The innovative mind of
the rural child proves that the ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. These
impoverished children crave toys, so they are obliged to use their creativity
to invent their own. Although these children may not be living with the
stereotypical family of mother, father and two children; although they do not
get good education as they go to under-resourced schools; although they probably
only see their parents once a year, they seem to be able to put their terrible
circumstances aside and to enjoy life by finding a thrill in what is available
to them. Waste products that can be recycled. The young lad in my visual reflects
such optimistic attitudes.

 

The big blue circles function as a powerful metaphor for Nelson
Makamo’s world view. Blue is the colour of happiness, and here it portrays that
the joy this rural child has found, despite all his troubles. The circles represent
glasses, indicating the way in which this child sees his world and the way that
such children choose to be happy. The metaphor teaches us that we must learn to
ignore the complexities and obstacles in life, and rather to rediscover the
simple joys of childhood. The metaphor also represents the toy that was
invented by the child. This child is beaming with satisfaction for having been
so experimental; however, from a middle-class point of view this child is
vulnerable. Therefore, these big blue circles argue that Nelson Makamo is not
bitter about the plight of rural children. He is not making a stringent
political comment. Rather, he is celebrating the optimism and unquenchable hope
of these children; I now realize more fully that I lead a privileged life. Although,
I have lots of pressure from school, I am nevertheless benefiting from a
remarkably good education. Although, I may fight with my family I still have
them nearby, and although my parents may irritate me, I can hug them goodnight.
Therefore, for me to be more cheerful and optimistic is a very deep lesson that
the visual teaches me.

From
art I learn to embrace my inner child, I learn never to take the simplicity of
life for granted. I hope that such lessons will remain with me throughout my
life and act as a constant reminder to live life, to enjoy moments and to be at
peace with life. When I think carefully about the little boy I understand that the
‘haves’ we should remember the more grateful attitudes of the ‘have nots’. I
should try to cut and paste this happiness and contentment into my life so that
I can better appreciate my life.