Painting through pain

Christinah Motlhabane
Wilson Libita
  • Artist extraordinaire’s incredible canadian splash

Seven years ago, Wilson Libita was involved in a terrible road accident, smashing into a donkey in the middle of the night.

The 40-year-old barely survived the crash, escaping with his life but losing all mobility in his arms and legs.

Wheelchair bound and paralyzed from the chest down, many might have seen death as a kinder fate.

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However, although there were several dark days to follow, with the loving support of his wife, the former teacher was able to rebuild his shattered life.

Now based in Canada with his family – which has since grown to include three children – Libito has discovered an unlikely skill; he is able to paint masterpieces using his mouth!

The Voice’s CHRISTINAH MOTLHABANE caught up with the amazing Libita to find out a bit more about his life and his unique ability…

Before we talk about your life-changing accident, tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and bred in Parakarungu and also lived in Kasane.

Now I am based in North Bay, Ontario Canada.

I am a married man with three kids.

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I got married in 2013 and in 2014 we were blessed with our first born who was eight months old by the time I got in an accident.

Painting through pain

And now to the car accident and the impact it had on your life?

It happened in May 2015 at a place called Xakao in North West.

It is located on the other side of the river ko Mohembo after Shakawe.

I was driving at night time and collided with a donkey.

Although it was a horrific accident, I am glad I managed to live.

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I sustained a spinal cord injury which paralyses from the chest down.

I was a Social Studies teacher at Gowa CJSS, and the accident turned my life upside down.

It was the end of my career.

Prior to my accident, I was a very successful boxing coach at my school.

My boxers reached the nationals every year and brought back medals.

So my injury did not affect me alone but even my students.

Going from being so active to stuck in a wheelchair must have been devastating. Mentally, how did you survive?

It was hard as I was forced to stay in rehab in Marina Hospital for four months.

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But now I have two more children who were born after my injury.

All in all, depression was there but what helped me cope is that I had to accept that this is the new reality even though it was difficult.

I stayed in bed for two years failing to wake up; my wife was forced to do everything for me.

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But now I am a bit more independent, I can do other things for myself like waking up from bed, and getting into my wheelchair etc.

Wow, your wife sounds like an incredible woman!

It is not easy to find such a caring and loving woman.

I am blessed to have my wife.

If it was someone else she could have left me.

So how did you end up in Canada?

After four months in rehab, I relocated to Canada with my wife because she had been staying there for work.

We realised that with me injured it was going to be difficult to stay in separate counties.

Tell us about your background in art?

I am self-taught.

I only did art in my junior school where we were drawing with pencils not paint like I do.

Painting through pain

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Oh, so how did this phenomenon come about?

It started as a joke last October, just to pass time but after posting my work people were impressed and encouraged me to pursue it further.

This month is my first anniversary doing this – using my mouth to paint.

You got very good very quickly!

What I can say is that starting from my first painting to now there has been much improvement.

Do you have a particular theme you focus on?

I like focusing on the natural world to admire God’s creativity.

Apart from that, I let my mind be an open book to new ideas instead of focusing on one set of themes.

It looks an incredibly difficult and frustrating skill – you must be a very patient man?

It can be very tricky and frustrating! Mostly I prefer to work at night when the kids are sleeping because with them during the day, they disturb a lot.

It has its own disadvantages, like sometimes when painting my brush falls down and there will be no one close to pick it up for me.

As I have to be closer to the canvas, it ends up straining my neck.

On average how long does it take to complete a piece?

It takes a very long time! I mix the paint with my mouth.

Then I wash the brushes with my mouth unlike using hands which is much faster.

The key for it is to be patient, because without patience I will be not doing anything.

Nowadays I have learnt how to be a bit quicker.

Because of the injury, I sometimes struggle with breathing, get lightheaded and dizzy and I end up not working.

Painting through pain
Libita in action

What materials do you use?

I paint on canvass using acrylics paint.

I prefer acrylics because it is easier to clean.

I clean it by myself.

I have not used any other paint because of these reasons.

And it is good in terms of ventilation as I do not have much space at home.

I fear that oil takes time to draw and the children might tamper with the paintings before they dry.

Acrylics dry fast; even when it falls down it does not ruin my work.

What is the most one of your pictures has sold for?

So far, all my work has been bought, I thank God for that.

I sell my things on Facebook marketplace.

The most expensive picture I have sold was $150 (P1, 800).

Have you held an exhibition yet?

I have not yet done any exhibition because I am still new to this thing; I still have to learn how one comes up with an exhibition (laughing).

I will try to explore my ideas next year.

Where do you hope to go with this unique talent?

I want to expand to the market international.

What’s it like living in Canada compared to Botswana?

Life in Canada is different from home but the challenges of using a wheelchair are better when in Canada because of access to services like hospitals plus transport it is easier as taxis and busses accommodates people using wheelchair.

Even the roads here accommodate wheelchairs as I can go to the mall.

Back home, access to roads is still poor as the roads are for cars only.

The other thing is that in winter it is very cold more especially where I am based, the temperatures can drop to -40.

Even when it is not cold, I always complain of cold because of my injury.

I really prefer that side than this side when it comes to the weather!

So what season are you in now?

Summer just ended, Autumn officially began at the start of the month.

Any plans on returning to live in Botswana? How often do you visit?

I am not sure about returning back home but we do come to visit sometimes.

The last time we visited was in 2019 and we came back to Canada in 2020.

Since then, we have not visited but home is home.

Take us through an average day in your life?

I spend a lot of time editing my YouTube videos after shooting them.

Painting with the mouth is difficult – you find that sometimes I take a week working on a piece and the videos become very long.

Then I have to edit it into a 10-minute segment.

I have a YouTube channel called WilsonLibita where people can watch my videos.

Some are available on in TikTok, where videos are restricted to 60 seconds – it’s quite a lengthy process editing a video down to just a minute!

I also showcase some my work on Instagram and my Facebook pages.

When you’re not painting or editing, what else do you get up to?

Since I am not working, I do art; so when I’m not doing it, I help my wife with the kids.

And finally, Thank God It’s Friday – what are your plans for the weekend?

I am always free at home. I never have plans for Friday.

I am always on my wheelchair painting or with my children.

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