'Fresh' blood for the SANG
by Tracy Murinik
"Anything fresher is still growing" might be the slogan for Fruit 'n Veg
City. But, since June 2000, it started to find a new application in an
artists' residency programme at the SA National Gallery (SANG). The super-
stylish spate of visiting artists in 'Fresh' has lived up to every moment of
"crisp and cool" that the project title might anticipate. Funded by the
Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund through an award made to Marlene Dumas, and
co-ordinated by Emma Bedford, 'Fresh' had hosted, by the end of last year, the
enticing creative likes of Senzeni Marasela, Berni Searle, Robin Rhode,
Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, Usha Seejarim and Tracey Rose.
Moshekwa Langa was the final stingingly charged bout of young blood to
participate in the project, which ended on February 5. And a pretty fab
coup for the SANG to have on their CV too, I might add.
For Langa's reputation, internationally, within the contemporary art world
is one to be meanly reckoned with. Self-trained - and sussed to the razor
hilt - Langa has made his own way and defined his own terms within a
professional domain that doesn't always take well to artistic independence.
His earliest showings made incisive reference to his own history growing up
in a remote area of what was then Lebowa, Northern Transvaal: to the
invisibility of his own location on official government maps, and the
ignorance of where that was by people he encountered while at the Waldorf
School in Pretoria. He also produced his highly evocative "skins" using a
variety of materials, remnants of found substances such as candlewax,
charcoal, tea, coffee, beetroot, golden syrup and Jeyes Fluid. People
responded to these with great enthusiasm - to what was often referred using
adjectives along the lines of "visceral".
Langa's installation for the second Johannesburg Biennale, entitled Temporal
Distance (with criminal intent) You find us in the best places..., smugly
shattered that mold, though, for a South African audience that had mostly
not seen his work since his move to Amsterdam to study at the Rijksakademie
voor Beeldende Kunst. It was a cityscape of wool, cotton, bottles, toy cars,
bobbins strewn precariously in an array of fragile twists and connections.
It was impossible to pin down concretely, defying bland definition and
categorisation. But in Europe, as well, Langa continued to insist upon
challenging narrowly presumptuous notions of "what an African can tackle as
subject matter and how". He has worked with photography and video; plays
with the possibili of drawing, in pen, watercolour, nail varnish. He
readily draws on text and words as points of association and obstruction. He
moves between almost brash, and sentimental.
Last year's exquisite video work, Home Movies: Where do I begin? won him the prestigious FNB Vita Art Prize. He continues to exhibit around the world;
has a Google search listing that'll knock your socks off (and keep you
occupied for a seriously long time); and last Friday treated visitors to
his residency space, in the Annexe at the SA National Gallery, to his charm,
his wit, his tantalisingly wondrous mind, together with a vast capacity for
naughtiness. And a consideredly chosen selection of his artwork.
An experience thereof is treasured.