|Mmutle was born in Lady Selbourne, Pretoria, on December 19, 1948. As a result of forced removals the family was forced to settle in Atteridgeville, where Mmutle was raised by his impoverished grandparents. The social conditions in his life further worsened when his grandfather died in 1956, leaving his grandmother alone to raise him.
Mike Mmutle had a natural artistic talent, knowing how to draw. While he was still a student, he often drew pictures of his friends in class, maps and many other things that caught his interest. However, he was forced to leave school soon after completing standard seven in 1966 and to go in search of work.
Completing a correspondence course he received a diploma and from then onwards, he started painting. His biggest break came in 1972 when, working as a gardener, Mmutle met Prof. Walter Battisss. Battisss took interest in his work and mentored him accordingly. Says Mmutle, “Prof. Battisss saw a talent in me and then invited me to come to his house every weekend. I would paint every day at home and take my paintings to him when he would criticize them, correct me and give me guidance. I learnt a lot from him. When workshops were held at Unisa, he would invite me as a special guest to participate in the workshop with the students he was teaching. Eventually he was satisfied with my work.”
Mmutle eventually emerged as a specialist in oils, woodpanels, woodcuts and sculpture. In 1972 he met Ike Nkoana, Mike Maapola and others. They formed a group and exhibited in many different places, and especially in embassies. The diplomatic community at that time took great interest in local artists who were very often forbidden to show their work. The South African Police were unable to enter the embassies to prevent these exhibitions or arrest the artists. So it was that many diplomats in the country during this period purchased art works and supported these black artists.
Jeff Mpakathi, a musician and a socialite, was key in introducing the likes of Mmutle to the embassy networks. At that time museums and galleries across the country rejected black art as “die gamors” (nonsense). Very few galleries were prepared to exhibit work from black artists, the Linda Goodman Gallery being one of the exceptions. Since most of the artwork produced was protest art, it became necessary to sell the material far from the eyes of the regime. Some of it was smuggled out of the country to countries like Botswana where it could be sold in an open market, exposing the atrocities of the apartheid regime. Artists followed with Thami Mnyele, Lefifi Tladi, Keith Moletsane, Clive Ncakwayo, Sy Khumalo having already left South Africa and exiling themselves. They assisted in smuggling work out from their colleagues left behind and took the pieces through the necessary channels to be exhibited abroad.
Mmutle felt the pressures of being an artist and a family man when married in 1977 and subsequently had four children. Responding to the demands of family life he had to secure formal employment while working as an artist on a part time basis.
In the late 1980s, Unisa was kind to provide a building for black artists and other creative arts like poetry. Mmutle and other artists were attached to the building and formed a structure called Arts for Africa, renaming it later as Arts for All. It was here that Mmutle and other artists gave township children lessons on art, which ranged from pottery, drawings and to other forms of painting.
It was only after 1990, after the unbanning of the liberation movements, that white gallery owners began to accept black art in their galleries. Since then Mmutle has traveled, selling his work in different galleries and staging exhibitions of his work.
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