There is nothing commonplace about 31-year-old Churchill Madikida, an artist whose professional biography requires some digression into his private life. Indeed, the soft-spoken manner and modest demeanour of the bespectacled young artist belie an immense biography.
"I used to be hoodlum," he states bluntly in an interview. Born and raised in the town of Butterworth, in the Eastern Cape, Madikida was a member of a gang of car thieves who operated in the Port Elizabeth, East London and Umtata region.
He prefaces this wild story by telling another. "I passed matric in 1990," he says. "After school I got a job cleaning windows at Sales House. Quite soon afterwards they realised I was a bit brighter than the job required, and I was promoted to packer. Three months later I was a salesman with my own till."
For Madikida the job offered a rare luxury in his impoverished community, financial security, and he stayed with the company for four years. "When I was retrenched, I joined this gang of thieves who used to steal cars," he recounts. "I was never involved in hijackings, I never owned a gun, I just didn't like guns; I didn't want to take anyone's life."
Living a somewhat nomadic existence in the Eastern Cape, Madikida says he was continually in and out of jail. "I spent a total of two years in prison, if you totalled all the times I was in prison during those three years."
It was not solely his dire economic situation that suggested a life of crime. "I grew up shy, partly because I stutter, and partly because of my identity crisis within the community," he explains.
"My mother is coloured, my father black," he clarifies. "I am just in between, I'm not coloured, I'm not black. My community in Butterworth didn't accept me as black. They used to call me all these different names. I became very closed. Drawing became one of the ways I communicated my feelings."
Gifted with a particular talent for drawing, Madikida was initially inspired by biblical stories, teachers later encouraging him to draw cartoon narratives, which they used during teaching. With no formal art training available at school, his talent remained undirected, and his personal life atrophied.
At age 24 he found himself in jail yet again. During a short three-month stint for a theft he was not involved in, Madikida saw an advertisement for the Visual Arts and Crafts Academy, in Germiston.
"I cut it out the newspaper and kept it safely hidden because that advert gave me a vision. I knew I could draw, and if I went, I knew would succeed."
Funds were however a problem. Madikida approached his estranged family, but due to his reckless lifestyle they were reluctant to believe the sincerity of his intentions. His mother finally relented, selling a plot of land in Umtata for a modest sum of R15,000. "With the R5,000 my mother gave me I came to Jo'burg, in 1997."
There is an almost a storybook quality to Madikida's ensuing adventure. "I came to Germiston at the end of February, a month late," he recalls. Initially refused entry to the college, Madikida remained undeterred. "I told them I was not going back to the Eastern Cape."
A sympathetic administration finally allowed him to plead his case, in an essay, which was followed by a request to draw a still life. "I did it in no time," he chuckles.
While he was elated at the news of his acceptance, Madikida was confronted with a more immediate and pressing concern. He had nowhere to stay. "I spent one and half weeks at Park Station, living at the station," he recalls.
"Reading was impossible because of the noise, and I would only be able to do my homework after about twelve or one. When I went to the academy, I used to stash my suitcases at a shop nearby before going in to classes."
Undeterred, he pushed on, made friends and eventually secured lodgings with a classmate's parents, in an East Rand township. He lived with them for six months before finally moving into a house in Malvern. (He now owns a home in Germiston.)
"I finished top of class," he says proudly. "I was really focussed, I knew exactly what I wanted, which was to go to a tertiary institution." Currently completing his Masters degree at Wits University, under the supervision of respected artist and academic Colin Richards, Madikida's dissertation topic deals with the representation of sacred rituals, focussing particularly on circumcision.
"Madikida's show at the Johannesburg Art Gallery was intriguing and teasing yet perhaps not entirely resolved visually or conceptually. But his work is spirited, heartfelt and provocative, in a considered way, and I would hope that, with time, his early promise will mature into powerful work once he has come to terms with the multi-media aspects of his creative process."
"Madikida shares concerns with other young black artists like Thembinkosi Goniwe and Colbert Mashile who are interrogating ritual traditions, particularly male circumcision These intensely private, protected experiences are becoming a device or construct through which to reflect on contemporary notion of 'self', where identity is presented as positive, inherently toed to cultural contexts, but always 'connecting the past to the present'."
Kathryn Smith, Art South Africa, Vol. 01, Issue 04, p.69
"I was less convinced by his elaborate construction hindering access to his resonant video piece depicting the artist force-feeding himself with maize, only to later regurgitate the staple diet. Less disturbing than it was subtly amusing, the work is open to many interpretations. I liked it because it reminded me of a video piece by American artist Bruce Nauman in which people shouted the word 'work' ceaselessly."
A press statement for the show 'Reflective Spaces/Contested Stages: The performative in South African art', an ambitious project comprising both performing arts and visual arts from South Africa, set to open in New York in October 2004*, ably describes Madikida's concerns as an artist:
"Madikida's work is largely autobiographical and explores his Xhosa cultural heritage through critical explorations of the rites and rituals of circumcision and initiation. His work is both deeply personal and informative, as his is intent not only to explore his personal processes, but also to expose the public at large about the rituals and ceremonies that help construct personal identity.
"Madikida uses a range of media, incorporating video, photography, and striking live performances in his work. Through his representations of the physical and psychical repercussions of traditional ceremonies, his work provokes important debates around issues of personal and cultural self-representation."
* The performances and exhibitions will be held at the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, on the border of Harlem in association with Museum of African Art, at 110th Street in New York. For further information, visit:
"My art is autobiographical and deals with my Xhosa and South African heritage as a form of positive identity and self-imagery, but it is also directed to the public at large so that people may learn about my culture. I reject some people's confinement through censorship that restricts our choices of representation. Through my art I aim to make societies understand themselves, risk self-examination, address issues, attitudes, and behaviours, and finally I aim to make those societies challenge themselves to be open to change.
"I grew up being taught a very narrow, one-sided version of our South African history, an inaccurate, boring apartheid myth that excluded my ancestors. With my art I choose to reclaim the past, to explore my history and to work as a storyteller telling about our past, present, and future. Through visual representations, I connect the past to the present. It is my way of knowing what I know, a way to uncover how, where, and why I learned it, and a way to unlearn it. I think that in a society that preaches democracy and multiculturalism, it is important to have an art that expresses and illustrates diverse perspectives, even if it means producing controversial visual images that some people might not like."
Madikida will be holding his first show in a commercial gallery at Michael Stevenson Contemporary, in mid May, alongside a show by photographer Guy Tillim. Titled 'Interminable Limbo', the caption refers to the ongoing and vocal debate about identity and culture in contemporary South Africa. It also reflects the constant conflict between modern technologies and traditional practice values. The exhibition interrogates issues around representation/ presentation of 'private' or 'sacred' rituals, particularly initiation rituals significant to Xhosa-speaking peoples.
In spite of the importance of this ritual among these communities, each and every year a vast number of initiates that go under the spear during the practice of this ritual, die and some are maimed for life. The works in the exhibition serve as memorials to those initiates that have lost their manhood and lives while undergoing this practice.
Last year Madikida exhibited a sculptural installation together with a projection at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Titled 'Liminal States', this small solo show generated considerable interest around the artist. The installation aspect comprised an awkward ensemble of objects, including a hospital bed, felt blankets, animal skulls and drips. It was a rather fraught work, and a rather inelegant preface to his video piece. The video showed a close-cropped image of the artist ingesting large amounts of pap, or maize porridge. Even after his body was sated he continued to force feed himself, the video offering deadpan document of ritualised consumption and spillage.
In July 2003, Madikida was also the joint winner of the inaugural Tollman Fine Arts Award. He shared the R100.000 prize with Wim Botha.
Madikida is currently the Collections Curator for the newly inaugurated Constitution Hill.
2002 was an important year in the artist's career. He showed on 'Ubuntu: Art and Culture in South Africa', a major exhibition of South African traditional art, with objects borrowed from public and private collections. It is the first time that a French national museum held an important exhibition of this kind.
The exhibition focused on everyday, personal and utilitarian objects based on four themes: authority and power, everyday life, cult of the ancestors, and individual and collective identities. As part of a training programme, sponsored by the French Embassy, Madikida spent six weeks in Paris to follow the preparation of the exhibition. Madika had previously been trained as curator for the African Collection of the Gertrude Posel Gallery.
Madikida also participated on 'Rest in Space', a project that addressed the theme of artists' residencies from various angles, aiming to expose as many facets as possible about this modern form of nomadism. Madikida agreed to spend six weeks in Oslo, in Fall 2002. Somewhat confounded by the cold weather and strange topographies, he staged a boxing performance - boxing a sport he has excelled in since a young age.
Commenting on some of the thought processes unlocked by the residency, he remarks: "I started to work in video in 2002. I used to document my performances, and later reworked these performances into video works."
In 2001 he participated on the project 'Extraphonic', initiated by Elin Wikstrom and Cecilia Parsberg, Sweden. The event formed part of the Joubert Park Public Art Project, held from October to December 2001. 'Extraphonic' consisted of a series of ongoing exchanges between two networks, one in South Africa and one in Sweden. The event aimed to set up an active link between the park, the public bath and local radio. Parts of the conversations were broadcast on local radio stations.
Also in 2001, Madikida attended a student exchange in Sweden. He first started exhibiting in 1998, at the Market Theatre Gallery, a year after his unassuming arrival in Johannesburg at Park Station.
Madikida has been shortlisted as a participant on 'Reflective Spaces/Contested Stages: The performative in South African art' (refer to Modus Operandi above). As the curators of this event argue, "ten years after the transition from apartheid to democracy, the experience of freedom has afforded South African artists a level of distance and healing from apartheid's direct trauma, and allowed a number of new voices to emerge, offering South African and global audiences new narratives on subjectivity." This statement offers a succinct reasoning for Madikida's inclusion.
Born March 25, 1973, in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, Madikida currently reside's in Germiston, a small town east of Johannesburg.
Obtained his BA (FA) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in 2001. Currently completing his MA (FA) at the same institution, under the supervision of Colin Richards.
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2003: 'Liminal states', Johannesburg Art Gallery
2004: 'Interminable Limbo', Michael Stevenson Contemporary
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
1998: 'Outskirts '98' at Market Theatre Galleries
2000: Martienssen Prize exhibition, Wits Galleries
2001: 'Friendly Eastern Cape', Wits Galleries; 'Sasol New Signatures', Pretoria Museum; 'Christian Dinasoures', Christian Dinasour Museum, Sweden; 'Avalanche in Sweden', Bildmuseet, Sweden; 'Extraphonic', Joubert Park art project, Johannesburg Art Gallery.
2002: 'Ubuntu: Art and Culture in South Africa', Mus�e des Arts d'Afrique et d'Oc�anie, Paris, France; 'Passage of time', Sandton Civic Gallery; 'Rest in space', Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway.
2003: 'Rest in space', The Bethanien, Berlin, Germany
AWARDS & NOMINATIONS
2001: Chosen to participate in a student exchange programme (visual cultures in dialogue) between Swedish and South African institutions (Wits and Umea university)
2002: Winner Anya Millman scholarship; six week training in museum curatorship at Mus�e des Arts d'Afrique et d'Oc�anie, Paris.
2002/3: Trainee curator 'Freedom to freedom'
2003: Joint winner Tollman Fine Arts Award; Collections curator at Constitutional Court