Susan Rosenberg has used her SA-inspired art to create two truly unique cards for Mother’s Day, with all proceeds going to the Starfish charity for children.

Susan Rosenberg lives in London, but has not forgotten her roots in KwaZulu-Natal. This year she has designed two Mother’s Day cards for the Starfish charity, which helps children in South Africa who have been affected by HIV/Aids.

Susan told us more about her work with the charity, and personal inspiration.

How did you get involved with Starfish?

I’ve been involved with Starfish for many years – I first found out about it in 2004. I heard about it through a friend, and it was established where I grew up, in Pietermaritzburg, so there was a strong connection. I had an exhibition in London on 27 April, which was the anniversary of Freedom Day in SA, the day of the new South Africa, and I wanted to organise a collection for Starfish. People who came gave so generously. Some of the money from the sales of my works also went towards Starfish. So I’m a long-time supporter.

What I admire most about Starfish is that their slogan is ‘One child at a time.’ I like the way that donations go directly towards helping children in small projects, the money doesn’t get dissipated along the way, but goes towards specific projects.

My mother did a lot of work with children. It’s important to help children because they can’t always help themselves. It’s important to give children food and opportunities and hope.

This campaign is centred on Mothers’ Day. Was your mother a role model for you?

My mother was a huge inspiration. She set aside a couple of days a week to work with children in poor communities and in the townships around Pietermaritzburg, but she also earned her living as a photographer, so her visual work was always a huge inspiration.

She was fearless in her commitment to her family: her own children always came first. But she tried to instil in us that we don’t live in a microcosm, and to have a sense of responsibility to those around us, to people who didn’t have what we had. That you are part of a wider society.

How did you become a painter? Did your mother support you in that?

Painting was something I always did, I couldn’t think of doing or being anything else. From a small child, that’s how I wanted to spend every available minute, when I wasn’t doing schoolwork or something!

My mother kept me supplied with a limitless amount of paper. My best birthday present ever, as a child, was 140 Crayola wax crayons. I still remember opening that gift when I was four or five.

She encouraged and supported me through my studies: I studied in SA and then in America at the University of Wisconsin, with the help of the Fulbright Programme, where I earned an MA in Printmaking and Drawing. Fully supported by mum all the way.

What continues to inspire you?

Although I’ve lived in London for 25 years, I’ve never lost touch with my SA roots. I go back regularly, and the landscape, the light, ambience and art traditions are a huge influence. Whenever I go back to SA I photograph lots, I think because of my mum, and often bring those pictures back to London and use them in my studio. One thing I did as a kid was to walk in the mountains near where I grew up, and that’s something I still do as a source of inspiration.

I most recently walked in the Dolomites in Italy. A lot of my work is about that process of walking and looking and thinking. That started in SA when I was a child. When I think of my life, because of my childhood I think it’s important to support children, because it’s the stage when your experiences form what you will become.

I guess you could say I am who I am because of my SA childhood and my mum, my dad too of course. And if other children in SA, without a mum, can be helped and supported, I think that’s vital.

What do you think about the current trends for auctioning SA art, such as that of Irma Stern, and the argument that it should stay in South Africa?

I think it can go both ways, for instance, if money from sales of Irma Stern went back to South Africa to support a new generation of artists. It’s important to keep a good body of her work in the country, for new artists to be inspired by, but if some pictures can be sold to reinvest in South African artists that’s good too. There needs to be a balance.

To wish someone important a Happy Mother’s Day and donate to Starfish to help a child in
South Africa, go to www.starfishcharity.org