Desmond Mnyila was born in a small Eastern Cape town of Cathcart, in 1970. His family relocated to a small rural village outside King William’s Town, where he started schooling and went on to study Fine Arts at the University of Fort Hare in 1990. He completed his studies in 1993, gaining a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree with distinction in Fine Arts Practice. He enrolled for a Higher Diploma in Education in 1994 and started his teaching career in 1995. He felt the need to plough back to his community since he never received a High School formal Art education. He obtained his Master of Fine Arts degree, with distinction, at Rhodes University in 2015, majoring in painting.
Desmond Mnyila is a landscape painter who works primarily in acrylic and oils. His works are attempts to position himself as a landscape painter in South African Contemporary Art - a much contested terrain. He interrogates, through his practice, issues of landscape representation and power relations in South African contemporary painting. He challenges notions of racialised identities and especially predominance of one identity over this genre that has characterized past traditions. He views himself as a Post Africanist painter and refuses to be drawn back to an anti-modern escape into his native past. He exercises dominion over his past historical circumstances of dispossession seeking newer, fresher and more perfomative intellectual engagement with Africa, modernity and the West.
Through the gaze, the painting process itself and his own translation of the environment around him, he challenges notions and stereotypes of dominance of one race by another and of the South African landscape in particular especially with regards to land and its ownership. His works have been put through the filter of his mind to become statements rather than topographical representations of the landscape. This is where factors of South African land ownership issues, the history and legacy of Apartheid come into play positioning the work in South African art and historical discourse. He doesn’t leave us there, but his works take us beyond the mere physical to the sublime and betray the romantic influences that characterized the landscape painting tradition of the Eastern Cape Province that he loves and especially the old tradition of the small town that he lives in, Grahamstown.
He has exhibited in group as well as solo exhibitions since 1995 and has won a number of awards namely; 2nd Prize in Library Week Art Competition (UFH 1992), Hellen Timm Merit Award (Rhodes University 2014) and Raymond Pullen Scholarship (Rhodes University 2015). His work forms part of various private, corporate and public collections around the country e.g. Rhodes University, University of Fort Hare Library, Anglican Church (Grahamstown) among others.
Salon Long, Nel Gallery, Cape Town, December 2019; Artscape, Suidosterfees, Liebrecht Gallery, Sommerset West, April 2019; Highlights from Stellenbosch Woordfees, Art B Gallery, Bellville, April 2019; Grondwater, Stellenbosch Woordefees, JH Neething Gebou, Stellenbosch University, March 2019; Anything but Painting, Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London, May 2018; Looking, Festival Gallery, Grahamstown, April 2018; Summer in Miniatures, Festival Gallery, Grahamstown, February 2018; Vintage, Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch, October 2017; Modern Miniatures, GFI gallery, Port Elizabeth (August- September 2017); Modern Miniatures, Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Trinity Hall, Grahamstown (July 2017); A panel of patrons…a surge of artists: Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch (June 2017); AVA Cape Town Salon 2016/2017, Cape Town (December 2016); This Place- This Space: Moor Gallery, Franschhoek (October 2016); Surface Tension: GUS – Stellenbosch University Art Gallery (September 2016); A Penny for your thoughts (The Still- life Experience): Liebrecht Gallery, Somerset West (September 2016); Turbine Art Fair (Emerging Painters): Johannesburg (July 2016); Master solo exhibition: Albany Museum, Rhodes University (20 November 2015); Turbine Art Fair (Emerging Painters): Johannesburg (July 2015); National Arts Festival Eastern Cape Provincial Exhibition: Albany Museum, Grahamstown (July 2014; Anything But Painting: Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London (May 1996); Faces and Places, Traveling exhibition, South Africa major galleries (1994); Graduate Show: University of Fort Hare Fine Art Department (1993); Sol Plaatjie exhibition: University of Bophuthatswana (1992)