Jackson Mbhazima Hlungwane was born in Nkanyani Village, Gazankulu. The son of a Shangaan migrant worker, he had no formal training as an artist and learned to carve from his father who made utility items for his community. He spent time as a migrant worker in Johannesburg but returned home after an industrial accident in which he lost a finger. Hlungwani’s earliest extant sculptures date to the 1960s, although it is the work of the 1980s and later that became widely known and appreciated.
For many years Hlungwani lived in Mbokhoto, approximately 38 kilometres from Louis Trichardt in northern Limpopo. He selected a particular site on top of a hill, where there were the remains of Iron Age stone structures. He built his home among these ruins and used a few unroofed circular rooms. He named the site New Jerusalem. In the mid 1990s he moved to a more accessible site nearby, which he named New Canaan and which represented not only a physical move but a spiritual shift in his continually developing theology. Hlungwani’s work cannot be understood outside of a local African Christian context. He talks of Christ as his mentor and the source of his creativity. He tells of a desperate time in his life when he was severely ill and wanted to commit suicide but was stopped by a vision of God whose legs he saw in the sky; he heard the voice of Christ who gave him three instructions: Hlungwani should start his own church, make carvings and use them in his teaching.
Sack, S. (1988). The Neglected Tradition, Johannesburg: Johannesburg Art Gallery