Eric Mbatha

Eric Mbatha, an expert in linocuts and etchings, was born in Soweto on April 2, 1948. He attended school in Soweto, soon showing an interest in art. He registered with the Polly Street Centre in Johannesburg where he stayed for three years.

Cecil Skotnes, the Head of Polly Street and the mentor of so many of the black artists of the day, secured funding for Mbatha to study at Rorkes Drift Art and Craft Centre in Natal. Mbatha spent two years at Rorkes Drift, completing his diploma studies in 1972, focusing on graphics and sculpture. After 1972, he secured employment as a teacher at Rorkes Drift and it was here he met his wife, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1974. Elizabeth ultimately herself made a name for herself as a potter.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre at Rorke's Drift, Natal, was established in 1962 and had a significant impact on the development of South African art and craft in the 1960s and 1970s. This influence continued in the 1980s, through the graduated students who have filtered into many areas of South African cultural life. Graduates of the ELC fine art course have gone on to work as administrators and educators at virtually all of the existing art centres in the country: Lionel Davis at community Arts Project (CAP) in Cape Town, Bongi Dhlomo at the Alex Art Centre, Sokhaya (Charles) Nkosi at the Funda Centre, Soweto, Cyril Manganye at the Mofolo Art Centre, Soweto, Dumisani Mabaso at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, and many others. This missionary background of the school pushed the artists to produce work with Christian imagery and influence.i

But as so many of the artists at Rorke’s Drift had been affected by the struggle and influenced by black consciousness, some produced work which portrayed the political scenes and suffering in the country. The Fine Arts section was closed in 1982.

In 1990, Mbatha together with 17 other South Africans, exhibited in England and Wales. The exhibition was organized by David Ratladi, a South African living in exile, and working with the Merton Arts Council, the exhibition was known as ‘Soweto Images’ to ‘communicate something of the richness and vitality of African culture and to demonstrate the actuality of life in South African townships and villages as seen through the poetic imagination of the artists’. Mbatha’s work was widely praised and he was awarded a trophy by the Mayor of Merton.

Eric Mbatha, who still lives in Soweto, continues to live and work as an artist and his work is mainly found in the South African National Gallery and at the University of Fort Hare.

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