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A moment with Artist Mohau Modisakeng

mohau cropTime seems to stand still when engaged in conversation with one of the most exciting Artists, Mohau Modisakeng. We caught up with him on the day he gave a guided tour of his current Solo Exhibition, “Ditaola” to The Friends of the National Gallery.

The exhibition includes Photography, Sculptural work and Video installation. There is a juxtaposition of energies; male and female, violent (the gun) and peaceful (the white dove), movement and stillness. Ditaola is an intoxicating body of work and we had a unique opportunity to sit down with Mohau and be captivated by his charm and an assured sense of self.

Nich: Why Ditaola?

Mohau: Because this was a spiritual process. Creating this work felt like I was being led, and it came from a deeply spiritual place.

Nich: As an African how much do you engage with and draw inspiration from the indigenous rituals when creating your Art

Mohau: I have personally been exposed to African rituals throughout my upbringing and am trying to find a link with whats going on in other parts of the continent. Every culture has rituals, some more mainstream than others.  I’m also fascinated by the influence that West African spirituality, like Voodoo has had on South American culture from the Trans-Atlantic slave trades. If we don’t recognise ourselves and our origins, we will always be followers.

Nich: You create Art that is provocative and challenges the status quo. Why do you think it resonates

Mohau: I try to make images that are honest to me. For the longest time our culture was confined to the borders of South Africa. Now the country has opened itself up and is feeding the existing appetite for Blackness as a commodity. Which is not something new, the African image has long been coveted as something wild, to be tamed and owned. As new artists though, its important not to conform to what is expected.

Nich: Who or what has inspired your current work

Mohau: Travel for one. Shapes and forms, the vernacular of architecture. In terms of Artists, I was inspired by Matthew Barney’s Video works. I like the way he uses sculpture, wax, petroleum jelly.

Nich: Your work captures stillness, there’s a pause…a reflection. What is your relationship with time?

Mohau: For me, there is a tension in my relationship with time. The history of South Africa seems to have been a long lull and then there was a violent disruption with the arrival of the colonisers. Most of the records of what was before don’t exist. So its important to record. I use my work to freeze moments in time as my way of compensating for the loss in time. I am also trying to extend and prolong our experiences.

Nich: What do you think should be done to entice Black people to participate in and invest in Art?

Mohau: The love and appreciation of Art has to start from a grassroots level. A lot of Art exhibitions, workshops etc are happening away from Black communities. Its only when communities are involved that they can appreciate their role in the Arts, and allow them to take ownership of their own stories. It’s also disappointing that there is general lack of support from Educational Institutions. There is no Black South African Art lecturer at UCT.

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Nich: On a personal note, what is your pause? How do you rest?

Mohau: Travel. Mobility. Going to different places meeting different people.

Nich: Whats your idea of a perfect weekend?

Mohau: After the opening of the exhibition, I took a trip to Hermanus. A perfect weekend away is a short trip just out of the City to reconnect.

Nich: What does Luxury mean to you.

Mohau: Luxury means comfort.

Nich: If you were not living is South Africa, which other African country would you live in?

Mohau: Dakar, Senegal or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. These cities remind me that we are one people. And I love Dar es Salaam for its close proximity to paradise, Zanzibar.

Nich: Best gift ever received?

Mohau: The relationship I had with my late brother. He was older than me, and we were very close. We lived apart growing up, and my favourite memories were always with us together during holidays.

Nich: What are you reading now?

Mohau: Neo Hutu’s catalogue on East Africa’s voodoo tradition

Nich: Whats next for you?

Mohau: Finishing off the rest of the pieces which were meant to be part of this exhibition. Next year I have a 6-month residency in Kenya, and I’m planning to go study further. Hopefully Columbia.

Thank you Mohau. What an honour.

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And a special Thank You to the team at Brundyn+ Art Gallery for facilitating this interview for us.  Mohau Modisakeng’s show Ditaola now on till 12 July 2014, Brundyn+, ORO Africa Building (1st Floor), 170 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town, 8001, www.brundyn.com