16 on Lerotholi – The Langa Gallery Changing the Local Art Scene

Words: Robyn Samuels | Photography: Dillon Marsh & Micheal Hall

Brenda Fassie, Amampondo, Temba Bavuma – KwaLanga is the birthplace of some of South Africa’s most iconic cultural influences. Today, 16 on Lerotholi and its creative luminaries form part of the township’s rich legacy. Founded by Mpilo Ngcukana, Thulani Fesi, Khanyo Ngcukana and Shaun Williams in 2019, the gallery seeks to empower African artists from Langa and neighbouring communities, while exposing them to talents from the continent.

Art Focus – 16 on Lerotholi

Through showcasing unique voices and collaborations, 16 on Lerotholi provides a platform for visual artists to challenge perspectives. A creative oasis and community landmark, the gallery boasts a coffee shop and sculpture garden, where visitors and artists can connect and exchange ideas. Ngukana believes that “Art can serve as a powerful medium for raising awareness,” and besides promoting incredible talent, they use creativity to inspire meaningful dialogue. Initiatives like the community garden and exhibitions such as The Food Dialogues: Nourishing Perspectives, hosted last year, encouraged people to consider the impacts of food insecurity and agricultural sustainability.

We chat with co-founder, Mpilo Ngcukana, and gallery residents, Mongezi Gum, Ignatius Mokone and Breeze Yoko, about nurturing creativity, upcoming collaborations, and their exhibition at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair.

‘Midnight Melodies’ | Artwork image courtesy and copyright of the artist, Mongezi Gum, and 16 on Lerotholi gallery.

It’s not every day that you find an art gallery in Langa, or any township for that matter. What influence has the space and artists had on the community thus far?

Mpilo Ngcukana: The influence that 16 on Lerotholi and the artists that have exhibited here has had on the Langa community is truly profound. Our presence as an art gallery in Langa offers a sense of possibility and hope to the community. It provides a glimpse into the vibrant and diverse art world, which may have previously seemed inaccessible or distant.

By showcasing the talent and creativity of artists from all over the continent, we hope to inspire the members of our community to explore their artistic passions and potential. Our gallery serves as a haven of serenity, offering residents and visitors alike a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a place where people can immerse themselves in the beauty of art, find solace, and rejuvenate their spirits.

Have residents in Langa and neighbouring communities taken a greater interest in art, and considered the prospect of a creative career, since the gallery’s inception?

Mpilo Ngcukana: Absolutely, we have seen a notable increase in interest among younger residents in Langa and neighbouring communities. More and more aspiring artists from these areas are approaching us, eager to participate in exhibitions and showcase their work.

For instance, in our upcoming exhibition titled ‘Locating Identity’, we are proud to feature three artists from Langa who will be exhibiting for the first time. This is a testament to the growing interest and enthusiasm for art within the community.

The gallery aims to play a significant role in exposing younger residents to the prospect of art as a viable career path. By providing a platform for emerging artists to exhibit and sell their work, we are demonstrating that art can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice.

One of your previous exhibitions, The Food Dialogues: Nourishing Perspectives, confronted problems that we face in our food economy. Do you believe that art can create awareness?

Mpilo Ngcukana: Art can serve as a powerful medium for raising awareness about the importance of sustainable food practices. Through exhibitions, installations and performances, artists can highlight pressing issues within the local food economy, such as food insecurity, agricultural sustainability and access to markets. By visually and emotionally engaging audiences, art can spark conversations and inspire action towards building more resilient and equitable food systems.

‘The Good Shepherd 6’ | Photograph courtesy and copyright of the artist, Ignatius Mokone, and 16 on Lerotholi gallery.

How has the Lerotholi community garden helped transform that dialogue into action?

Mpilo Ngcukana: The Lerotholi garden has become a transformative space where dialogue about physical and mental well-being evolves into meaningful action. Here, farmers experience firsthand the benefits of a nutritious diet and reconnecting with nature through gardening. It’s not just about growing food; it’s about finding solace, healing and resilience amidst life’s challenges.

The garden provides a sanctuary for farmers to escape the stresses of daily life and nurture their mental health. Through their experiences, they share stories of personal growth, healing and community support. For instance, one farmer, despite facing trauma and health issues, finds solace and strength within the garden’s embrace.

Are you excited about showcasing at Africa’s biggest art exhibition, the Investec Cape Town Art Fair?

 Mpilo Ngcukana: Participating in the Investec Cape Town Art Fair is a tremendous honour for us at 16 on Lerotholi. It’s a thrilling opportunity to showcase the works of our talented artists on such a prestigious platform. We’re excited to be a part of an event that celebrates African art and culture, while providing a global stage for artists from diverse backgrounds.

Being able to share the richness and diversity of African art with a broader audience is incredibly fulfilling. We believe that participating in the Investec Cape Town Art Fair not only elevates the profiles of the artists we represent, but also contributes to the wider conversation about contemporary art in Africa and beyond.

This opportunity allows us to engage with art enthusiasts, collectors and fellow creators, fostering meaningful connections and collaborations within the vibrant art community. We’re particularly excited about the chance to showcase the unique perspectives and creative voices emerging from Langa and neighbouring communities.

‘The Good Shepherd 5’ | Photograph courtesy and copyright of the artist, Ignatius Mokone, and 16 on Lerotholi gallery.

The gallery aims to redefine the African Dream by empowering African artists. Do you have any advice for younger artists?

Mpilo Ngcukana: I believe that empowering younger artists starts with encouraging them to be authentic and to express the highest version of themselves through their art. It’s important to remind them that true empowerment comes from within, and they have the ability to inspire others through their unique perspectives and creative voices.

I often advise younger artists to seek less external inspiration and instead focus on becoming inspirations themselves.

Ignatius, you have a diverse portfolio and dabble in many mediums; what themes do you hope to explore in the future?

Ignatius Mokone: I am currently fascinated by the Mundari & Dinka tribes. They’re both small ethnic groups from the Republic of South Sudan. They’re a cattle herding tribe living remotely along the White Nile river. Their vast herds of sacred cattle graze on fertile river land, with the Mundari living mainly off the milk, not the meat. I would love to explore and photograph their world.

 ‘JESUS IS STILL ALIVE’ | Photograph courtesy and copyright of the artist, Ignatius Mokone, and 16 on Lerotholi gallery.

Mongezi, your work depicts the vibrant atmosphere within townships and the hardships faced. How have your personal experiences contributed to your artistic expression?

Mongezi Gum: My paintings reflect life in the townships, showing both the joy and struggles. Growing up, life was tough with little money and sometimes not enough food, but there was also community and happiness.

My experiences greatly influence my art. I want people to see the truth, the beauty and the challenges. Painting helps me share stories and make sense of the world. I hope my art resonates with others, showing that even in tough times, there’s beauty to be found.

Mongezi Gum in his studio (top), ‘uBomi-KwaLanga’ (bottom left), ‘Ballroom-dance’ (bottom right) | Artwork images courtesy and copyright of the artist, Mongezi Gum, and 16 on Lerotholi gallery.

Breeze, how do you find a balance in challenging past, present and future perspectives conveyed in your work?

Breeze Yoko: I think by using recognisable and unrecognisable symbols that are located or associated with the past, present and future in unusual settings, I’m able to create a vocabulary that informs and challenges the viewer or audience.

‘Umavala ku vuliwe’ (top left), ‘Lumka Bhoki! Ziyaluma ezozinja’ (top right), ‘Boniswa’ (bottom) | Artwork images courtesy and copyright of the artist, Breeze Yoko, and 16 on Lerotholi gallery.

Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions that 16 on Lerotholi is excited about?

Mpilo Ngcukana: Yes, we have some exciting projects and exhibitions coming up at 16 on Lerotholi that we’re thrilled about. Firstly, we’re collaborating with Young Urbanist to pedestrianise Lerotholi Ave. This project aims to create a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly environment, allowing for greater community engagement and cultural activities.

Additionally, we’re eagerly preparing for the opening of a new group show titled ‘Locating Identity’. This exhibition promises to be a thought-provoking exploration of identity through art, showcasing the diverse perspectives and voices of our talented artists.

*Meet the artists from 16 on Lerotholi at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair from 16-18 Feb 2024 at the CTICC, or visit their gallery and explore their collection at the links below.  

Location: 16 Lerotholi Avenue, Langa, Cape Town | +27 72 480 4587 | Email

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