Gquberha Artist
Photo Credit: Nelson Mandela University

Pola Maneli, a Gqeberha artist got his big break unexpectedly. Now, his work has graced the cover of  New York’s most famous magazine and was sold to an Oscar-winning director!


Global (09 February 2024) — Pola Maneli’s work has travelled a long way from the Eastern Cape. For the Gqeberha artist who decided to post some of his university work on social media, what would come thereafter was a whirlwind of unexpected moments.

After the Qqeberha artist shared an editorial illustration project that he did for his degree on Instagram, the ‘calls’ from New York came.

“I got a random email from the New Yorker for an illustration for a piece in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020 in the US,” Pola shared in speaking to his former University, Nelson Mandela University.

The New Yorker (New York City’s most famous magazine) loved what he created, and soon more illustration opportunities came, including the biggest yet.

In 2023, the artist got the chance to be part of creating one of the most iconic magazine covers, which featured Dr Martin Luther King for the annual MLK edition. A ton of thoughts surrounding socio-political discourse went into the creation, but Pola chose to spotlight a very important side to the historical figure that isn’t always spotlighted: that of being a father and a husband. A human.


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A post shared by pola maneli (@polamaneli)

Not only was the cover a big success, but it also caught the attention of THE Spike Lee. The oscar-winning director ended up calling Pola in what he describes to have been a “wild, wild, experience.”

“He told me that he’d like to purchase the original drawing of the cover.” 

Not to mention, Spike Lee also went on to put Pola’s work into an art exhibition in Brooklyn.


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Of his interaction with Spike Lee and gratitude to The New Yorker, Pola shared:

“We spoke about Johannesburg, art, politics, Brooklyn, and his ties to Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s family and his love for Morehouse College. Later, he purchased the original pen and graphite drawing of my New Yorker Cover, and i was content for that to be the end of the story.

“But, in keeping with his generous spirit, he’s included that piece in his Brooklyn museum exhibition, ‘creative sources’, a look into his history, passions, and sources of inspiration. insane. grateful beyond words to spike, the Brooklyn Museum, and the folks over at the New Yorker Magazine’s art department for the countless opportunities.”

Today, Pola celebrates having been in multiple publications including The Atlantic and the New York Times, as well as a ‘Google Doodle’. Despite his work being all over the world, he still calls Gqeberha home and has made his university, community and young artists from South Africa looking up to him, incredibly proud.

Moral of the story? Do not be afraid to post your work on social media—you never know where it might take you!

You can keep up with Pola’s art here.

Sources: Nelson Mandela University 
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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