Carving Out a New Life

I wanted to be an artist like he was, since he had sworn to my father that as soon as he would have a boy, so he would do art...he lives in me...I'm proud to keep on going with his work.

Zachese Mundabi Ngadwa had always hoped his grandson Nickel would become an artist. Nickel remembers being in his grandfather's workshop when he was five years old and learning to carve small items such as key rings. According to Nickel, Zachese was the first artist in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to professionalise traditional art-making practices.

man painting a mural Nickel painting a harmony mural at Ngemba School, where he taught art, Kinshasa, DRC, 1998
Source: Nickel Mundabi Ngadwa

Nickel had a prolific teaching and artistic career in Kinshasa, including an apprenticeship at the African Arts Workshop under the Master sculptor and painter Oskar Mpane Ankombo. All that ended abruptly when he was forced to flee to Cameroon because of the change of regime in the DRC and the arrest of his father in 2000.

While living in Douala, Nickel made an independent living from his art work. In 2006, the government of Cameroon helped him establish a painting and sculpting workshop to train underprivileged young people.

Nickel arrived in Australia as a refugee in 2009 but trying to be an artist in a new country has many challenges.

Someone just arrived, who's got nothing, who doesn't speak English...where will he go? Where to buy the wood? Where to buy the equipment?

He has since exhibited his sculpture and paintings in a number of exhibitions. His sculpture reflects both his traditional culture and the artistic influences of his grandfather, as well as more contemporary and abstract forms. He also produces items for sale to help support his family.

Image Gallery