Exhibition Review: ‘Post African’ at Mzansi Gallery by Khehla Chepape Makgato

Khehla Chepape Makgato reviews ‘Post African’ at Mzansi Gallery, an exhibition that seeks to extend the debate about the ‘Post African’ and make fluid the definition of technology. Including works by Jessica Doucha, Pebofatso Mokoena, Neo Matloga and others, these works engage with the less obvious definitions of technology and their affects.

STORY Post African by ChepapeLEFT TO RIGHT: Jessica Doucha, Health And Safety Criterion (detail) (2014), cement and found objects; Neo Matloga, Mma, Re Ya Makgoweng – Salang (detail) (2014),
 drypoint etching; Pebofatso Mokoena, Eish Ntwana, U Waar? (detail) (2015), drypoint etching.
“I think that concepts like being African or being an Afrikaner, are generalisations that are too big for me to apply as a defining feature of how I assimilate my identity. I also think that a lot of the narratives of cultural identification in Southern Africa are problematic” says Mc Roodt, South African artist, curator and art teacher based in Barcelona, Spain. I spoke with Roodt via Skype from Barcelona about the title and concept of ‘Post African,’ an exhibition he co-curated with Sandile Radebe and Amber-Jade Geldenhuys.. ‘Post African’ is the artist-led collaborative exhibition at Mzansi Gallery in Melville, Johannesburg, featuring emerging South African artists working across themes and disciplines. Featured artists in the exhibition include Asanda Kupa, Jessica Doucha, Simon Fidelis, Malcom X Jiyane, Heidi Mielke, Muchiri Njenga, Steve Kwena Mokwena, Pebofatso Mokoena, Naadira Patel, Landi Raubenheimer, Mojaki Lebatla, Gina Kraft, Bongani Khoza, Claire Rousell, Shogan Ganas and Neo Matloga.
The show seeks to ask difficult questions and create continuous discussions around issues of belonging, culture, belief systems, heritage, colonialism, migration, technology, the legacy of apartheid and the concept of democracy instead of freedom. “As artists, we want to push the evolution of Pan-Africanism forward using our art” says Sandile Radebe. “We must define ourselves according to our own terms and in doing so, we bring something to the table. Playing the game of fitting in to so-called first-world standards does not serve us in our current condition. I’m not saying we should be ignorant of what is going on around of us but rather, that we shouldn’t be ignorant of the tools we have at our disposal – namely the African experience” Radebe emphasised.
These young curators are on a mission and the exhibition opens a series of long-awaited debates and opportunities for social cohesion. “We wanted to create paradoxes of putting things together that seem unrelated, uncommon and displaced” said Amber-Jade Geldenhuys, co-curator.
The array of emerging artists explores ways of reintegrating the past injustices and creating a way to the future. Some of the works on the show resonate with what renowned South African artist, playwright and novelist, Zakes Mda said about the significance of reconciliation, “If South Africa is to survive and prosper, reconciliation is absolutely essential. But true reconciliation will only happen when we are able to confront what happened yesterday without bitterness.” Of course we cannot sweep the past under the carpet and hope that we will suddenly live in brotherly and sisterly love without confronting issues of colonialism, racism and inequality head on.
“In South Africa, when one fills in the application forms, there are usually two sections under race; black and white. The black section is sub-categorised into coloured, Indian and African. This implies that white people cannot be African, which is problematic because in South Africa you have white people who are Afrikaners, which is translatable to Africans. Therefore there is no resolve into the question of who is African, which is why the exhibition is titled ‘Post African’ – as a means to stretch this notion of African- ness even further,” Radebe said.
‘Post African’ is a platform where young artists claim their birthright, language, identity and culture. Twenty-nine year old Jessica Doucha’s work deals with labour relations and the laws of the country, which have a significant bearing on concepts from times of colonialism and slavery. She investigates and interrogates the toil and injustices of the labour sector. In her work, titled Health and Safety Criterion, one feels a sense of exploitation and dictatorship. Her sculpture of a hand attached to a broomstick and spade handle-forearm is an interesting permutation. “Conceptually, this work speaks about manpower and the labour force behind any form of industry, especially the construction and mining industry,” says Douche. By creating these links between manual labour and common building tools her intention is to create awareness around South African labour legislation and the invisible forms of socio-economic exploitation which are unfortunately still perpetuated in post-apartheid society.
On the other hand, artists like Pebofatso Mokoena are more interested in exploring the human technology and the use of it. What makes his dry-point etching piece so striking is the fact that he titled it in a township slang language. Ntwana! O Waar ?, which loosely translates to ‘Mate Where Are You?’ depicts two youthful male figures, seemingly emerging IT practitioners or scientists having a chat from the comfort of their sofa with a fan and satellite in place of their heads. “My prints are an exploration into the relationship between human and technological communication and how the two experiences influence each other. By creating satellite head characters, I aim to tell stories about us, people and individuals searching for other humans to share our experiences of daily life with globally” says Mokoena.
Neo Matloga’s etchings evoke rhythmic melancholy and memories – perhaps easier to appreciate than explain for those who grew up in rural areas. Using self-portraiture, his work is enchanting because it comes to show that even after so many years after he and his family migrated to Johannesburg, he carries in him tenets of rural upbringing such as humility and humanity. One work in particular depicts the artist headless and holding a cattle head in his right hand. This depiction has very thought-provoking ritual connotations for many African people, especially the Pedi tribe, from which Matloga descends. Cattle signify wealth, while the head of a cow represents a human life, because every man passes away with his cattle. “This body of work explores the concepts of telling the South African narrative. As a young man I have been grappling with issues of masculinity and cultural identity,” says Matloga.
Like Matloga, Mokoena also claims his right to freedom of indigenous language usage. In the piece titled Re Sa Ya Makgoweng, a Sepedi saying for ‘We Are Off To (A Place of Whites or Money) Johannesburg,’shows a young man walking up a hill with luggage on his back. This is a modern boy leaving a far-flung area for the city.. If politics cannot offer the much-wanted solutions to Africa’s problems, then art might come to the forefront of that noble responsibility.
Review by: Khehla Chepape Makgato, Johannesburg, July 2015