TEXT ME • Mpumelelo Buthelezi – A visual interpretation of Sheng Jie Snow’s installation of works

TEXT ME Young Curators 2022

A visual interpretation of Sheng Jie Snow’s installation of works


By Mpumelelo Buthelezi

A visual and textual interpretation of Phantom

LUNA Young Masters 2022 is a programme which is initiated by Media Art Friesland that took place during the yearly LUNA festival in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. And I was graciously honoured with an invitation by Media Art Friesland as one of the selected young emerging artists, or rather curators, for the TEXT ME one-week programme project onsite. The TEXT ME programme which includes young emerging artists who are willing to expand their artist career development into curatorial practice.

The five chosen emerging curators for the second edition of the programme explored their creative juices into the exhibition space alongside the curator of the LUNA Young Masters (LUNA YM), Irene Urrutia, in a series of workshops, co-sessions and career development. These took us into the displayed works from different selected artists and their artistic medium of practice, according to their own visual interpretations, to communicate a certain message to the audience within their developed initial ideas in their projects.


Video Installation of displayed works of Sheng Jie’s titled PHANTOM. Video by: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

This was when I stumbled upon Sheng Jie’s work which is titled ‘PHANTOM’. The body of work is about the usage of light and how light plays a more significant role into her medium of practice. The series is an observation of different grouping elements (water refraction patterns) tied into her work is phantom, which brings into togetherness about the Title and shadows. The imagination in my mind triggers the interest in observing and studying the usage of how light navigates into different refractions that form patterns within the glass water.

First installation works of displays

“Phantom Harry Potter”

“Phantom Veins”

Second installation works of displays

Within the different glasses or vases of these pieces, there’s movement of trying to find a way, a wandering with each display of works. Working with light and shadows gives her medium of practice freedom. She experiments with the movement of water, observing the minimalism transparency effect between water and glasses. Although, I referenced the artwork into navigating different spaces as the racial society of blacks and how different societies, as well as family structures, are in the world at large.

Text Me Leeuwarden Young Masters group show. Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

It creates a moment of subtlety that allows the viewer to take into account the visual qualities of water that play in the body of work. In a letter to the Sun, the artist opens up a dialogue with the movement of light, Sun, and how it describes the relationship she had with it through her life. Capturing these different moments, sunlight and water create a ‘painting’ of their own; in her way, the artist is empowering the elements that she uses in her medium of practice.


Mpumelelo Buthelezi’s Q & A interview session about the artist’s work and the artist herself

MB: Why the title?
SJS: During the naming process (which is always tricky), I happened to hear the theme song of the theatre play The Phantom of the Opera, which goes like: “The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind”. This perfectly translates my idea: the imagination in my mind triggers my interest in observing and documenting the shadows. On top of the visual aesthetics, I resonate with the shadow patterns of objects and memories.

MB: What message are you trying to convey with your piece?


  • Cherish the small and ordinary things in life. When you pay more attention, they will be so much more valuable than what we used to think. Don’t take ordinary things for granted.
  • Embrace light. Light reveals deeper quality of materials and brings focus and power to everybody.
  • Enjoy a moment of calmness, find your own inner peace.

MB: What are you trying to highlight about your piece?


  • When we are surrounded by new products and advertisements, take a step back to what we already have and cherish them. (Everybody has vases and water)
  • The spontaneous shadows through water and glass.
  • The swinging motions for a mesmerising experience.
  • The crisp sounds trigger more sensations.
  • The contrast of focused light vs. dark space.


MB: How is your piece relevant to the contemporary art world?
SJS: When people are saying “wow”. When visitors slow down and spend time with the work. When the message I’m trying to share triggers people’s reactions, both acknowledgment and disagreement.

MB: How do you master the importance of craftsmanship in your artistic journey or practice?
SJS: Always follow the intuition; spend time to search and observe; take notes of inspirations whenever one occurs; ‘trial and error’ is normal; keep a welcoming attitude towards feedback.

MB: Is the theme/topic space an issue for you, since your piece focuses on it?
SJS: YES. This work was started at the early stage of the pandemic lockdown, when I had to move everything out of my studio and started to create at home. Being in a confined and non-art space, I started to focus on small things, everyday objects, and the generous amount of sunlight in my room. That’s when all the ‘magic’ started.

Given a large dark space at LUNA, it encouraged me to think big and take on the challenge of a new set-up. The dark room draws more curiosity to the viewer, switching their mind to a more relaxing and intimate mode.

Author’s response: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

Mpumelelo Buthelezi is a South African photographer who lives and works in Johannesburg. He completed his Photojournalism and Documentary Photography degree at the Market Photo Workshop in 2017. In his artistic medium practice, Mpumelelo’s work explores the themes of social activism and religion as well as the ways that people sustain themselves, like in the case of waste pickers. Mpumelelo’s work finds itself at the intersection between documentation, storytelling and activism.

He has chosen the following pictures as an open visual response to Sheng Jie’s work Phantom:

E’Plazini: A Place to call home for Waste Collectors

Gladman Mazibuko, age 25, is a young waste picker who collects recyclable boxes and bottles for a living. He is one of the 26,000 mobile waste pickers in South Africa who are desperate to work.

Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

A group young people share a drink while playing a pool at Ndana Tavern, during what supposed to be working hours in Nancefield hostel, Soweto. Many young people wonder the street corners and taverns just to pass time as the their prospect of getting employment diminish by day.

Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

Soweto//Orlando Power Park
The place where people live.

Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

Closing statement

As creatives, we owe it to ourselves to create change in what we do, because as artists we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. The resulting images in this text are processed using brushes, smudges, and painterly effects to create what both artists had visualised for their projects. This process is intuitive and for both Sheng Jie Snow and Mpumelelo Buthelezi, their work allows them to go with a creative flow, until they feel it is time to stop and walk away from the image for a few days.

Lastly, as Black South African artists, we need to be able to share knowledge without fear of being vilified or losing anything. Let us share brilliance, let us share wealth, let us publish more books featuring the works of black people by black people – for us by us, on us – for posterity and to be able to change people’s perspectives in the work that we do.

– Mpumelelo Buthelezi