The power of a pen: How this artist drew himself out of abuse and poverty

The power of a pen: How this artist drew himself out of abuse and poverty

Katlie Mokhoabane had no escape. Growing up in an impoverished and abusive household, there was nowhere for him to run when the violence erupted.

The power of a pen: How this artist drew himself out of abuse and poverty
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But the one thing he did have was a ballpoint pen.

Drawing strength from the arbitrary item, Mokhoabane is transforming his past traumas into powerful works of art. After losing his mother at the age of six, Mokhoabane’s life was thrown into disarray. Once cheerful childhood memories became stained by abuse from his new step mother. 

Turning to his creativity in times of great hardship, he started teaching himself how to draw. “I would wake up and say, ‘I hate the situation I am in, but stand up and go get your pen’,” Mokhoabane says. Without the funds to afford professional training after high school, he was rejected from art galleries and struggled to establish himself in the industry. Yet he remained resolute. Honing his skills in his free time and sharing his work on social media, Mokhoabane’s work soon began to receive the recognition it deserved.

Now nine years into his career, Mokhoabane is sketching out his success. Inspired by his struggles, he draws hyper-realistic portraits of everyday people from his neighbourhood in Soweto, South Africa. Each piece takes more than 200 hours to create and is laden with emotion and painstaking detail. Mokhoabane’s work is receiving local and international acclaim, with one of his portraits having been bought in Australia. “I’m trying to show children from unprivileged places that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it,” he says. Overcoming the odds with nothing but a ballpoint pen, Mokhoabane proves that it truly is mightier than the sword.

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