Diamond Bozas – Mentor
An inspiring 90 year old who calls Zululand home.
Diamond Bozas, an Eshowe painter, is being celebrated through a retrospective and book launch at the Tatham Art Gallery. And it is about time: Now in his 90th year, his exhibition includes almost a hundred paintings and drawings from this remarkable artist.
Bozas’ work has been shown at numerous group and solo exhibitions in South Africa and beyond. He mainly works with oils and watercolours, realistically depicting the landscapes and objects that surround his life in Eshowe. The abundant sugar cane fields of Zululand are depicted in rich greens, luminous ochres and deep blue skies – typical elements of his landscape paintings. His stills feature basic accessories to his life in Zululand: pumpkins, pears, cabbages, gourds, loaves of bread (symbolic of his family bakery) and indigenous flora, all composed in serene domestic scenes reflecting his love for the simple homely life.
“He is a remarkable man,” says Brendan Bell, director at the Tatham. “No other artist has portrayed Zululand’s indigenous vegetation, its historic sites and its cane farming operations as he has,” says Bell of this painter whose journey to success was fraught with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
From the start Bozas was an unlikely candidate for artistic gravitas: Born in 1923 to Greek parents, he grew up in the small town of Eshowe in Zululand. The family ran a bakery which, after matriculating, he was expected to join.
Despite the lack of access to art books and education at his school or the local library, Bozas had always wanted to explore the art world. While fully employed at the bakery he managed to spend his fortnight leave staying with family in Durban where he was drawn to Durban Technical College’s Art Department. Although he was not registered as a student, the lecturers were sympathetic and allowed him to hang around the building, giving him assignments to keep him busy during that time.
His first lucky break came while sitting in the passage working on a painting. He was spotted by Nils Andersen, a very successful local artist and chairman of the Natal Society of Artists. Andersen recognised the talent and offered to critique Bozas’ work whenever he could. The student was thrilled at having a mentor, and from then on made good use of the generous offer, visiting Anderson in Durban regularly and honing his skills over the next twelve years.
The next step closer to his dream came in 1955 when Bozas managed to persuade his family to allow him to pursue his passion and study Fine Arts at Heatherley’s, one of the oldest independent art schools in Britain. London, one of the major art centres at the time was a thrilling place to be as an artist as was Paris, the other hub of art not far away.
He soon returned to South Africa in 1960, now a married man. For the next fifteen years family and business took over, and the couple raised three children. Bozas also started a small nursery at the back of his property, propagating indigenous seedlings to help make ends meet.
Through this “dry period” in his painting he still managed to become involved in the local art community, playing a key role in the founding the Zululand Society of Arts and also becoming deeply involved in the Vukani Collection Trust as a founding board member. The trust runs Vukani, an Eshowe-based museum with an international reputation for its outstanding Zulu craft collection. Bozas’ appreciation of the value and accessibility of art and craft in society was further demonstrated by his key role in the establishment of the TEACH Museum in Empangeni in the 1980s.
“This is an artist who has helped us to see Zululand and traditional Zulu artefacts in a different way.” says Bell. “Diamond’s work is a record of our past – it’s part of our cultural heritage.”
“It’s a matter of pursuing your goal and your dream. I always wanted to paint, and I said I’d end up painting. When the opportunity arose, I was ready for it,” concludes Bozas.