The passionate sculptor

Anthony Thapelo Mmelesane, who started off making toy cattle out of clay, makes animal sculptures for his clients
Anthony Thapelo Mmelesane, who started off making toy cattle out of clay, makes animal sculptures for his clients

Some people have evolved from building castles in the sand to becoming real estate moguls. For a young man from Ramotswa who started his craft as a little boy a bopa dikgomo tsa mmopa (forming toy cattle out of clay), the dream has now developed from a plaything to a profitable business. Mmegi Staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE met Anthony Thapelo Mmelesane, the man who dropped off from University of Botswana (UB) to pursue his passion as a sculptor.

While driving along the road that leads to the Tlokweng Border, there is a gigantic structure behind Kalahari Sands Guest Lodge and from a distance it looks like a live elephant.

Moving closer to the structure, one realises that it is an elegantly made elephant sculpture. The elephant sculpture is so perfectly made and it is hard to miss.

The elephant sculpture took almost a month to reach completion and it was made by the incredibly talented local artist Mmelesane and his partners. In an interview with Arts and Culture this week, Mmelesane said the stunning gigantic elephant sculpture was made out of wire, paper mesh and cement.

Mmelesane took Arts and Culture to the yard where he had made two other live looking wild animal sculptures for his clients. The first one was an antelope sculpture and it looked even more real than the elephant sculpture. The height and the colour of the sculpture paint a vivid mirage of a real life antelope.

A couple of metres behind the antelope sculpture, there is a zebra figure and it is the most beautiful thing in the yard. The Zebra sculpture, which is also Mmelesane’s work creates a patriot feeling and adds a wild atmosphere.

The unique thing about Mmelesane’s work is that it brings a feeling of realism for those who see wild animals on television and reminisces tourist memories for people who visit game reserves time and again.

After the tour, Mmelesane sat down to talk about his work and his journey from a childhood dream to making actual sculptures.

He said he believes in pursuing his passion. “People in Botswana these days are stuck in wrong careers instead of following their hearts,” he said. Mmelesane indicated that he dropped out of UB to pursue his passion as a sculptor.

Since his junior years in school, Mmelesane said he realised his craft in working with small objects. He said it was not until last year when he realised his potential in the sculpture making business. “In 2010 I registered my company ATM Gallery and it started operating last year when I commenced my art as a sculptor,” he said.

Since he started, the young man from Ramotswa said the business has a higher demand because people want to take photos behind his sculptures. “Batswana really admire my work,” he said.

Mmelesane was however quick to point out that many people like his artwork but they fail to pay the required amount. “Prizes are reasonable but if we compare them to other countries, the prizes become low,” he said.

Speaking about his work, Mmelesane said the art requires patience because sometimes the cement falls off when making the sculpture. “It takes long to finish a product. Sometimes I employ people when making a big sculpture like the elephant one,” he said.

He said his brother, Botlhale, helps him to do most of the sculptures. “I come in where its detailed but we both contribute immensely,” he highlighted. Mmelesane said his biggest secret is his visionary mind. “Sometimes I do animals that I had only seen in pictures and videos,” he said.

Mmelesane said he could create anything that can be done. He said he has been a member of Thapong Visual Arts Centre since 2010. Mmelesane further indicated that he did not start all this by himself but he had help from someone.

Mmelesane said his longtime vision is to own a park that will contain all of his sculptures.

 “I want to promote entrepreneurship by creating jobs for others,” he said.

He said his business made a breakthrough after making the elephant sculpture and more people began showing interest. Mmelesane said he now promotes his work through social media.  “I also leave my sign in every sculpture that I make. In that way I market myself further through my work,” he said.

Mmelesane thanked his brother, parents and friends for their unwavering support.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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