Maverick Citizen

SHIFTING SANDS

The beach artist with big dreams who sculpted a path out of homelessness in Cape Town

The beach artist with big dreams who sculpted a path out of homelessness in Cape Town
Sand artist Trevor Khumalo shows off his latest artwork - about dismissed Western Cape detective head Jeremy Vearey and the policing crisis - on a stormy Camps Bay beach in Cape Town., 26 August, 2021. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Trevor Khumalo’s sand sculptures are a popular feature on Cape Town’s Camps Bay beach. The self-taught artist has had a hard life and dreams of one day having his own studio.

Trevor Khumalo wipes away tears as he shares snippets of his harrowing life story on a rainy day at Cape Town’s Camps Bay beach.

The 45-year-old father of five makes a living building intricate sand sculptures which have been a welcome spectacle in the wealthy suburb.

“Sometimes I’ll make R400 a day from tips,” said Khumalo in isiZulu.

Originally from Alexandra township in Johannesburg, Khumalo was a carpenter by trade and moved to Cape Town in 2017 for a job opportunity, which unfortunately fell through. Without a source of income, he ended up homeless.

He points to a forest on the far side of the beach where he slept for a few years before he started making money from sand-sculpting.

This wasn’t his first time facing hardship. As a teenager he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for assault, but was released early on parole.

Though he dropped out of school at a young age, Khumalo’s favourite subject was art. When he lived on the streets he earned a living drawing pictures and was eventually able to afford a place in Hout Bay.

When the lockdown hit, his income dwindled, so he started building sand sculptures to earn extra money to support his children who still live in Johannesburg. Their mother is deceased.

“People saw my work and started giving me money. Others gave me grocery vouchers.”

When asked how he builds his sculptures, Khumalo points to each of his hands. He uses old paint buckets to mix together sand and water.

“You can’t build with dry sand; you have to mix it with water, a lot like what you do with cement.” 

He uses a disposable plastic spoon which he fashioned into a triangular tool to carve out the shapes and finer details of his artwork. He demonstrates by running the tool along the words “#MandelasSpies” written on his latest artwork, which references dismissed Western Cape detective head Jeremy Vearey.

Once he’s completed his artwork he sprays it with water to prevent it from crumbling. He uses a 2-litre bottle on which he has poked small holes to create a makeshift watering can.

The method seems to work – despite the pouring rain, his creations remained intact while Khumalo and this writer spoke.

When asked how the sculpture depicting Vearey came about, Khumalo said he was commissioned to create the artwork by two men who handed him a piece of paper with an image of Vearey and the words now carved on the sculpture.

“People will sometimes pay me to build anything from a tree to a car and we negotiate the price.”

Everything else comes to him in dreams. 

“Once I’ve dreamed about it, I know in the morning that I’m building an aeroplane or a car. No one taught me how to do this, I just know how.”

Trevor Khumalo’s sand sculpture – on the policing crisis in South Africa – at Camps Bay beach in Cape Town. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Khumalo often has to battle with wind, rain and people destroying his creations. 

“Sometimes I come back in the morning and find everything is gone because people jump on top of the sculptures, then I have to start again.”

Often he’ll stay overnight on the beach to either complete or protect his work. 

His next sculpture is a commissioned piece on anti-rhino poaching. He pulls five tomato sauce packets from his pocket which he will use to represent blood flowing from a sawn-off rhino horn.

“My dream one day is to have my own studio where people can buy my art and I can earn a good living,” he said.

“I’ve always said I will never steal from anyone or beg on the street, no matter how hard things get.” DM

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