Benon Lutaaya is currently one of Africa’s most publicised and sought after young artists both locally and internationally. If you have ever questioned whether art is an investment, I suggest you have a look at the exponential growth in the value of his work over the past few years and there seems to be no end to this continuing upward trend.
An entrepreneur with great convictions. He refuses to follow the easy way out, refuses to accept a closed-door and refuses to stagnate. He works 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, every day, to ensure that he is always improving on his skills as an artist. He believes artists should be rewarded in accordance with the quality of the commodity they produce and deliver, and that there is no such thing as ‘a suffering artist, just a lazy one.
Benon’s success and the impact of his hauntingly beautiful images of children came at a high price. He grew up in a rural village in Uganda and at the age of 18 months, was orphaned and raised by his grandmother. Her greatest concern was his physical slightness, so she convinced him that his only way out of poverty would be a good education. When other boys were playing in the streets and getting into trouble, Benon was making sure he was learning the skills to make it on his own in the world. There were no hand-outs and his stubborn desire to succeed, drove him at every point in his life.
After receiving a full scholarship and completing his degree in art and education, he surprised friends and family when he decided to pursue a career in art, instead of the more stable option of becoming a teacher. They laughed when he scrounged around for materials to create his collages, but soon proved his worth when he received a 3 month reside, at The Bag Factory in Johannesburg.
With no money to return to Uganda, he had to take desperate measures. He lived in his studio, while applying to the lthuba fund and miraculously received a grant, which had never before been awarded to a foreigner. Benon had no other option but to make it work. This was a turning point in his life and the work he created from the grant, sold for triple the value, proving that he is someone to invest in. Suddenly there was money for food, a roof over his head and the The Bag Factory allowed Benon to retain the studio that had become his home and haven.
At the start of this journey his work was biographical, but during those early days in the city, he quickly realised that his childhood story of loneliness, isolation, poverty and uncertainty was not unique. He still uses scraps of paper, to tell these stories and has remained sincere and steadfast in his mission. He measures his success through the impact his work has on the viewers; hoping that in some way he might awaken an awareness of the plight of children suffering under our watch.
Benon found inspiration and favour in the mish-mash of cultures, languages and experiences that come together in the dynamic city of Johannesburg, which he now officially calls home. His art can be seen on walls across the world, but when asked whether he would leave, he answered ‘no’. This is now the place from where he wants to tell his stories and everywhere else will be places to visit and learn from.
So for the record, I would just like to tell Benon Lutaaya, that he is more than welcome to stay for as long as his heart desires!