A young boy with abroad 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 hugeblue toy glasses from recycled wire. Vibrant blues and reds contrasting withone other in order to stand out more brightly. The enormous baby-blue glassescatch my attention.
They scream laughter and fun. This is a face that fills myheart with love; this is a face that imprints itself indelibly on my soul. Thesecontagious laughs, these beaming eyes, this undiluted joy remind me of what itfeels 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 framecreating a never-ending loop of joyful emotions in me.This Nelson Makamo painting of a young boyrepresents the stress-free life of a child and the joy that they can locate in occurrencesin their lives that older people take for granted or do not recognise. When Ilook at this picture, I feel the happy energy of the young child invigorate me.
The stress leaves my body.But, what specifically is innocence? What is joy?I ponder these characteristics when I study thispainting. Contemporary society places much pressure on us, the youth.
I feelthis pressure intensely. Sometimes I forget that I am only a teenager; I amsupposed to have fun and to be actively present in every moment. But, I amhurdled 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. Thevisual pulls me out of my stress-bubble and reminds me that I am allowed tohave fun. That I must have fun. When I look at this wrinkleless face, I embracemy youth.
For a few seconds, I shed my responsibilities. I consider all thesmall seemingly trivial joys in my life about which I have become complacent: mymother’s warm hugs; my dad’s play fights; my dogs’ affectionate greetings; andchats with my sisters. I find myself grateful and happy for all the moments Ishare with my family. I reflect on my happy experiences the most whenI feel hopeless. In dreadful moments mymind removes itself from the present chaos and soars into memories of fun,laughter and broad smiles.
In this chaotic experience: hysterical screams, my dog’smouth 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 dreadfulmoment, I found myself clinging onto the happy times that I had shared withhim, my best friend. My dog, Max the schnauzer, makes me truly happy. Afterthis incident, upon reflection, I understood that I was sometimes ungratefulfor the small moments that occur in my life. Max’s enthusiastic welcomes, hisneed to play catch with me, and his demands that the entire Jossel family lovehim, are all invaluable examples of how much fulfillment I derive from Max. Iwas suddenly thankful for all these moments and found the pure joy hidden inthem. This specific experience incorporates all the lessons that I have learntfrom Nelson Makamo’s painting. The philosophy ofNelson Makamo is therefore strongly shaped by the concept of happiness.
He canidentify the beauty in the simplest moments of life. He explains that “My work isinspired by my existence, by the fact that I can wake up every day and see themovement around me.” His artwork floods my mind with happy memories from mychildhood, thereby guiding me towards the beauty in existence. Many pieces ofhis work are inspired by the candid innocence of children. Deprived childrenfrom rural South Africa are his preferred subject matter and thus opitomisesthe harmony for which we all strive, and so we are reminded of the optimisticjoy that occurs within us His work distracts us from our obsession with worldlythings, 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; arural child uses his imagination and creativity to invent toy cars and figure-menwhilst a privileged child merely buys a plastic toy; a rural child kicks abottle around whereas a privileged child throws it away. The innovative mind ofthe rural child proves that the ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
Theseimpoverished children crave toys, so they are obliged to use their creativityto invent their own. Although these children may not be living with thestereotypical family of mother, father and two children; although they do notget good education as they go to under-resourced schools; although they probablyonly see their parents once a year, they seem to be able to put their terriblecircumstances aside and to enjoy life by finding a thrill in what is availableto them. Waste products that can be recycled. The young lad in my visual reflectssuch optimistic attitudes.
The big blue circles function as a powerful metaphor for NelsonMakamo’s world view. Blue is the colour of happiness, and here it portrays thatthe joy this rural child has found, despite all his troubles. The circles representglasses, indicating the way in which this child sees his world and the way thatsuch children choose to be happy. The metaphor teaches us that we must learn toignore the complexities and obstacles in life, and rather to rediscover thesimple joys of childhood. The metaphor also represents the toy that wasinvented by the child.
This child is beaming with satisfaction for having beenso experimental; however, from a middle-class point of view this child isvulnerable. Therefore, these big blue circles argue that Nelson Makamo is notbitter about the plight of rural children. He is not making a stringentpolitical comment.
Rather, he is celebrating the optimism and unquenchable hopeof 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 aremarkably good education. Although, I may fight with my family I still havethem 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 thatthe visual teaches me.Fromart I learn to embrace my inner child, I learn never to take the simplicity oflife for granted. I hope that such lessons will remain with me throughout mylife and act as a constant reminder to live life, to enjoy moments and to be atpeace 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’. Ishould try to cut and paste this happiness and contentment into my life so thatI can better appreciate my life.