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He has been the butt of many a joke and the subject of countless Zapiro “shower head” cartoons – but now former president Jacob Zuma is the inspiration behind the body of work of a Nelson Mandela University master’s student.

In his eye-catching illustrations, fine art master’s student Nishil Vaghmaria, 27, of Malabar, compares Zuma to The Joker from both the Batman and Suicide Squad movies.

The Joker is portrayed as a villain in both films.

“Like Zuma, at least in my satirical view, The Joker is money-hungry, he’s unpredictable and causes chaos,” Vaghmaria said of his work, which will be on display at the NMU Bird Street campus gallery until February 21.

Vaghmaria and two fellow master’s students presented their respective bodies of work for examination on Wednesday evening.

Of his work, he said: “It was triggered by my social and personal understanding of social controls and my work kind of tends to express resistance to capitalism and consumerism, so that’s what got me into it.

“When I came up with [the] Zuma piece he was still president, so it was still fresh at the time. That was in 2014.

“In 2017 when I was doing my master’s I went in a little deeper and I did a realistic drawing of him and I thought, why not touch on the other presidents as well, to keep it as global as possible,” he said.

“It’s my satirical interpreta- tion, but when we focus on Zuma, I compare him to The Joker, who is seen as borderline psychopathic and unpredictable at times.

“So it was just inspired by my satirical interpretation of him,” Vaghmaria said.

Also on display were “joker” versions of other world-famous leaders.

“I did a realistic drawing of Jacob Zuma when I started my master’s and from there I thought to do another three presidents, which are [US president] Donald Trump, [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un and [Russian president Vladimir] Putin.”

Visual arts professor Mary Duker, who was Vaghmaria’s supervisor, said: “If one looks at what Nishil has there, there are different strains in that work – one of which is the preoccupation that everyone has with social media.

“So a lot of that is around social media and it’s manipulative aspect.

“Then the other is around leaders . . . the ones he’s chosen in the end are politically attuned with the times, so Trump and Kim Jong-un and Putin and Zuma, all of them are a body of people who wield huge power.

“It’s around this global phenomenon of people being influenced.”

Duker said each student had a different supervisor.

Fellow master’s students Robyn Munnick and Nicole Jordan also had their work on display.

“They [the students] will have come with an idea, a passion, or something that moves them,” Duker said.

“I can only speak for Nishil’s because I was his supervisor.

“Nishil had a particular interest in the business of people being manipulated by media or by aspects of society which limit individual freedom.

“And so from the time he did his honours he’s worked towards this desire to make people conscious of the effects that society has on them.

“He’s done a lot of theoretical reading [and] writing and then through that, his body of work was generated.

“The other two students, from what I understand, each deal with something that is personal, that is around their own identity – one in terms of a young Afrikaans female and where she fits in the world and the other one around the business of personal loss, which is quite abstract.”

NMU visual arts head of department Professor Vulindlela Nyoni said he was proud of the students’ work.

“What we’re trying to do with our master’s and postgrad students is to strive for excellence – and what is on show proves they have worked hard.

“They have come through a great deal of process and thinking and academic rigour to arrive at an exhibition that really encapsulates everything they’ve been working on for the last 18 months to two years,” he said.

REFLECTING LIFE: Nishil Vaghmaria with his Joker Zuma illustration at an exhibition highlighting the creativity of Nelson Mandela University’s visual arts master’s students.

This article appeared in The Weekend Postof 16 February 2019 written by 
Siyabonga Sesant


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