Sentenced to death for drug trafficking at the age of 34, with his sentence commuted to life imprisonment (equivalent to 100 years) in return for a guilty plea, Shani’s story and how his art evolved is truly inspiring.
Finally released and returned to South Africa after 18 years of being incarcerated in five different prisons where he was subjected to the most horrendous and dehumanising conditions imaginable. Here he evolved spiritually, rehabilitated himself and developed his artistic skills that surpassed his wildest dreams. His state of mind fluctuated between periods of deep, dark depression to the point of almost wanting to commit suicide. Through his faith in G-D he developed the ability to transcend his reality during which he encountered an out of body experience, claiming to enter the spiritual realm where how he puts it “I was touched by angels”. He further adds that his talent was a blessing, instead of destroying lives with drugs to redeem himself he began to paint portraits of people bringing joy into their lives.
Having no art materials Shani initially designed and fashioned his own paintbrushes by cutting the bristles from a toothbrush and attaching them to a bamboo stick. He then diluted coffee and made birthday greeting cards for other prisoners.
In the early years his creations were only drawn in black ballpoint pen, the colour black symbolising his oppression and confinement. Then in January 1999 he was shackled and thrown into solitary confinement, for the first time in his entire life he felt free, a freedom of a contrasting nature and here he managed to organise an A4 drawing pad and basic water colours. Using the faint light that filtered into his cell from the corridor, Shani expressed himself by painting in colour. From thereon he developed and broadened his technique.
For works like these to be produced under normal circumstances in a bright, ventilated, well equipped studio would be remarkable in itself. Shani was not only forced to work in cramped conditions with no facilities or equipment. To worsen matters, temperatures averaging 35 – 40 degrees C for most of the year and a humidity factor of 90%, drawing and painting was made all the more complex and challenging.
As time passed, family and friends were able to arrange materials for him, making that aspect of his art a little easier.
The works on display are a small collection of his multitude of drawings and paintings done in prison, which range from black and white and colour abstracts to amazing life like portraits, with different works reflecting his state of mind during that period of his imprisonment.
Besides his completed works, Shani’s art is now in great demand and is being commissioned by people from all over South Africa and abroad, to complete specific works using the same skills and techniques which he developed in prison.
Artist, art teacher, poet, motivational speaker and author – Shani published his best selling autobiography in 2014 entitled “DRAGONS AND BUTTERFLIES”. A page Turner of note ,fascinating, insightful and an absorbing read and not to be missed!
He is currently negotiating the production of a movie.