Archive: Issue No. 85, September 2004

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Joseph Manana

Joseph Manana
� Lost Generation, 2004
acrilic on canvas

Richard Mthembiseni Shange

Richard Mthembiseni Shange
The Late Brenda Fassie, 2004
Telephone wire sculpture

Richard Mthembiseni Shange

Richard Mthembiseni Shange
Model C, 2004
Telephone wire sculpture

Joseph Manana and Richard Mthembiseni Shange at the African Art Centre
by Gabi Ngcobo

The African Art Centre recently held exhibitions by two local artists Joseph Manana and the younger Richard Mthembiseni Shange.

Manana, well known in the local arts scene, widely collected and widely travelled, has been around since the late 1980s. In 1987 he attended the Community Arts Workshops, from where against the odds, he went on to become an artist in his own right. Meeting Trevor Makhoba, George Msimang (both late), Thami Jali and Terry-Anne Stevenson inspired the artist inside Manana to rise up to the challenge.

In his new collection of paintings Manana reflects growth and sensibility in the relationship between his materials and subjects. His colours are richer and his rendering of space has dramatically improved although it is still slightly flawed.

Like his previous work, this body of paintings contains overt social commentary which is now less sentimental. As his 'characters' go about their everyday engagements and rituals, a viewer has no inclination to feel sorry or pity for them. They are portrayed with pride, and so are the environments in which they exist.

Over the years, black masculinity has been widely criticised and Manana seems to be well aware of this. His men are portrayed in a positive and sometimes even humorous way.

In Learn to Ride a father is shown patiently taking time to teach his son to ride a bicycle, and Sharing the Past shows a group of men engaged in discussions whilst sharing a pot of traditional beer. The pot, placed in the middle becomes a symbolic point of departure for reminiscince.

An ex-student of the Velobala Group and the African Art Centre's Saturday classes, Richard Mthembiseni Shange works in wire, creating heads that are similarly dominated by a need to comment on the social ills and characters that shape the artist's landscape.

In explanation of his work Shange states, 'Everything you do is from the head... Your head controls your actions. If you are confused in your head, your actions will display this confusion or evil'.

Likewise, one cannot help but see the killer in the Serial Killer, a face betrayed by time in the Old Woman and, the no-nonsense meanness in the Mafia Boss. While all his characters seem to come from imagined personalities based on reality, his talent is proven more convincingly when he pays tribute to the late queen of pop in The Late Brenda Fassie. There is no denying the resemblance to the controversial but much loved and respected personality.

Shange, who has worked with master telephone wire weaver Elliot Mkhize, painter Andrew Verster and sculptor Andries Botha, has succeeded in transforming telephone wire craft from a utilitarian practice into an artform purely for aesthetic enjoyment. He brings out the numerous possibilities of his material and proves its broad and imaginative worth. His head sculptures reveal a labour-intensive mastery of technique that must be commended and nurtured.

July 14 - 31