Creativity as a Catalyst: Q&A with Greatjoy Ndlovu

From the Field
Artist Greatjoy Ndlovu poses with his painting,
Artist Greatjoy Ndlovu poses with his painting, "Kiss Me Fondly," which will be auctioned online by Operation Smile South Africa from July 1 through July 12, 2020. Photo courtesy of Greatjoy Ndlovu.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

Greatjoy Ndlovu believes that charity, work ethic, education and creativity are catalysts for developing communities.

And creativity is his latest contribution to the Operation Smile community.

“I first came to learn about Operation Smile from a good colleague of mine back at the start of 2018,” said Greatjoy, a Zimbabwean artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. “I admired the selfless work to which the organization is committed. I was then introduced to the possibility of contributing to this lofty cause through a yearly collaboration in which I'd auction my works to help fund this noble endeavor.” 

In a silent auction running from July 1 and through July 12, 2020, the proceeds from the sale of “Kiss Me Fondly,” Greatjoy’s original charcoal and oil painting on canvas, will fund cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for patients affected by cleft conditions across southern Africa. The bidding starts at 35,000 South African rand ($2,018 as of June 30, 2020) via direct message on Operation Smile South Africa’s Facebook page.

In 2018, Greatjoy was among seven artists who raised 500,000 South African rand ($28,831 as of June 30, 2020) for Operation Smile South Africa by auctioning their works in a similar campaign. In 2019, he attended a medical mission in South Africa to witness Operation Smile’s life-changing work firsthand.

“From my observations the work is rigorous and requires tons of sharp focus,” Greatjoy said. “Patients would arrive being a little nervous, anxious or insecure, but would often leave the theater encouraged and hopeful. ‘Kiss me Fondly’ happens to be my latest contribution to the cause, in what has been thus far a fulfilling journey for myself and everyone involved.”

We recently sat down with Greatjoy to learn more about his artistic career and his drive to help provide surgeries for children living with cleft conditions.

Photo courtesy of Greatjoy Ndlovu.
Photo courtesy of Greatjoy Ndlovu.

Q: Could you tell us more about your career as an artist? 

A: “To the best of my memory, I've always been directed towards the field of creative arts. I was creative with a wide range of things; however, painting was something that gave me the most freedom in doing. It became a tool with which I'd pen stories and broadcast them; a means with which I'd record memories and archive them.

“The passion I felt for this career path drove me to study painting at Cyrene Mission in 2006, a school in Zimbabwe with an opulent art heritage that dates back to the 1940s. I went on to enrich my skills and experience at the Living Artist Emporium , a pop up space for emerging talent.”

Q: To date, what have been your most significant challenges and successes?

A: “For the most part, my biggest challenge is in the proper management of my ever increasingly busy schedule. This has had me sometimes working extra hours and on weekends, thus, I’m getting less quality time with my family. 

“My biggest success in the industry has been managing an effectual and consistent maintenance of my primary theme, the merging of movement and emotion, throughout all my artwork series. Capturing motion is something that I'm fascinated about; the intriguing thought of relaying motion from the stillness of an image struck me as something fresh and worth experimenting with. I love it more when body language expression, it’s motion, sets the tone from which emotion is awakened and interpreted. It is this relationship that has determined my style and given me an absolute relevance in the world of contemporary expressionism.”

Q: How would you describe the impact that Operation Smile’s work has on its patients?

A: The difference that Operation Smile is making in the lives of many cannot be expressed enough. The change they bring to individuals, families and communities is incredible, and I've borne firsthand witness to the transformation they bring in each of their medical missions. It may come as a surprise that the greatest gift that the organization gives is not an external physical healing but an internal one. This work stitches up a torn self-esteem, restores lost confidence and reinvigorates the life of each and every patient who benefits from surgery. Rekindling and reclaiming a life ceded to resignation is the greatest gift that Operation Smile shares.

Greatjoy, center, poses with members of the Operation Smile South Africa team during a 2019 medical mission. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.
Greatjoy, center, poses with members of the Operation Smile South Africa team during a 2019 medical mission. Photo: Zeke du Plessis.

Q: Could you tell us more about your beautiful piece, "Kiss Me Fondly?" 

A: “‘Kiss Me Fondly’ is a stellar 100 centimeters-by- 90 centimeters artwork that I created which is based on the inherent human need to be loved. The way I see it, love weighs more than any other emotion; it speaks for itself. It is profoundly felt without being announced. Love makes us feel that we matter, that we’re significant and we rightly touch the lives of others. The color yellow is purposely chosen, as I deemed it the most fit in relaying the intended analogy. Yellow is the most luminous color in the spectrum, attracting people's attention far more than any other color in the spectrum, just like pure love does when shared. The mother figure entails a rich source of love, while the child figure suggests a needful recipient to which the love is directed. 

“The piece is altogether inspired by the vast potential for positive change that can be brought forth by the most minor shred of care given to better another. We all have needs after all, not all needs are material, the deepest of them are emotional and spiritual, love being the most priced. We bear this responsibility of completing this circuit of provision so that we can rightly and wholly carter for those to whom we can exercise our compassion.

“To me, the painting represents the peace and fulfillment that one constantly accrues from knowing that they made life more positive and livable for someone else.” 

Q: What does it mean to you to be able to use your talent and craft to help children receive the surgery that they need and deserve?

A: “It means I get to draw real smiles on real people's faces, special moments not so many artists get to savor. The improved self-esteem and the bolstered confidence exhibited by these children after surgery happen to be my favorite outcomes. I am a firm believer that intelligence leads nowhere if one lacks confidence; it's a blessing to see them regain this powerful attribute.”

Q: What message would you offer the winning bidder?

A: “I encourage them to keep on supporting this initiative and the tremendous work it does. I'd also love to assure them with utmost certainty that they've made a good investment in securing this piece.”

We can’t thank Greatjoy enough or his generosity and dedication to our patients and their families. Be sure to follow him and his artwork on Facebook and Instagram.

"Kiss Me Fondly," by Greatjoy Ndlovu.