Having been given a second chance in life, ex-prisoner Joseph Buys, is grabbing an opportunity to pursue his childhood dream.
Gallery and studio owner Avital Lang will run a solo exhibition for Mr Buys, whom she met through a healing-through-art programme she was offering at Pollsmoor Prison.
She had been working with another ex-prisoner when Mr Buys’ work caught her eye.
“From the side of my eye, I saw Joseph’s work and asked for his number. Although he wasn’t sure, the brilliance of his work spoke for itself,” she said.
Ms Lang said what fascinated her about Mr Buys’ work was that he painted different portraits of himself. “As an artist I know how hard it is to do a portrait of yourself for many reasons because you don’t just look in the mirror, you really have to look within yourself to be able to paint yourself and it’s freaky.
“I’ve tried it and it’s hard because you really have to face yourself. Something very spiritual happens when you’re doing that. Once you stop you ask yourself why can’t you face yourself for the person that you truly are,” she said.
Ms Lang said it was for that reason that she decided to help Mr Buys pursue his dream.
“I’ve finally learnt to accept myself the way I am. I’ve spent 40 years of my 60 years in prison,” Mr Buys said.
“I’ve been through a lot, made mistakes and I’ve made peace with my past.” He said while he was growing up and even when he was in prison, people had often made remarks about his looks. “Now, it doesn’t matter anymore, because I’ve accepted myself,” he said. Mr Buys said he used to sketch and paint in prison as a way of escaping.
He said in prison, he had learnt to be a vengeful person, but when he joined an art programme, he found a light.
“In prison, no one would step on my toes. If they did, I’d plot revenge and even if took years, I’d make sure that I come for anyone. Art changed that,” he said.
Ms Lang said she found this touching because most people were struggling to accept themselves. “I work with people and we don’t accept ourselves. We’re always complaining about being too this and too that and not feeling that we are enough,” she said, adding that there was skill and a “realness” in Mr Buys’ work.
“He has a lesson to teach us,” she said.
With a tough reality – coming out of prison and having no proper job –Ms Lang said she felt it was important to give Mr Buys a platform where he can expose himself and his work to the public and heal.
“Art and painting is the cheapest psychiatrist in town and I wanted to help him heal,” she said.
“I may be naive but I believe in lighting a candle in the darkest place. The light will chase the dark away. If you change even one person’s life, that one person will go back to his people and will change other people’s lives,” she said.
The exhibition will start today, Thursday June 20, at the Avital Lang Gallery, 40 Dorp Street, Bo-Kaap, from 6 pm.