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Interview | Artist Neo Matloga – the next Big thing

It was such a delight to meet Artist Neo Matloga recently. I stopped by his booth at Joburg Art Fair and it felt like I was witnessing the Next Big thing. His works reminded me a little bit of the incredible Nigerian Artist Yinka Shonibare.

As we were having a casual chat, a group of Art lovers on tour of the Fair arrived en masse, led by renowned Art critic Ashraf Jamal and I felt privileged to listen in as he spoke so passionately about Neo’s works.

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Neo gave me an insight into his Art and his world in the interview that followed.

What is your process when creating Art:

I watch a lot of theatre and without rejecting other genres I have developed a keen interest for jazz music. Oh, some of the books and short stories I read have contributed to the theoretical side of my art practice. I always believed that music, literature, theatre and art have a relationship. Within my art practice, I favour the connection between drawing, painting and printmaking. My artworks are built up in stages; initially I print, paint or collage then later draw although this is not a formula. I sometimes switch it up and draw first then print, paint or collage later.

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When did it dawn on you that you are an Artist, that this is what you wanted to do:

Firstly, my second name is Image and in Africa names are taken seriously. They carry a lot of weight, I mean even ceremonies take place to celebrate and name a new born child. So that might have something to do with it.

Secondly, when I was in grade 9 we were taken through the process of choosing subjects for the following academic syllabus and I had chosen both sciences – life science and physical science, as well as business studies. In the new year we were told that visual art will be included, so I swapped business studies for visual art. My art teacher Christiaan Graser nurtured me up until grade 12.

In grade 12 I had to make a decision between studying medicine and visual art, then my father said something that triggered my mind. His words were “son, if you study medicine you’ll be helping people with their physical health but if you become an artist, you’ll be helping people psychologically” Of course, he said it ka Sepedi, because our languages are rich in metaphor. . .For me that was wisdom and that was it!!!

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Your works have a lot of movement and fluidity, why is that important:

I am traumatised that the ghosts of the past haven’t rested. These ghosts are racism, sexism, patriarchal and inequality. With their presence, there’s a lot of unresolved anger. However, I choose to not be angry, but to focus on themes that reflect on incredible happiness.

For some reason I have had a nostalgic feeling of the past. This affection for the past has increased over the years. My age group are constantly accused of not knowing where we come from, but on a real note the spirit and ghosts of the past still lives in us. In a way, historical and political context has become an everyday psychological experience for me.

On my way to studio I once saw an old man folding a handkerchief, I wanted to know why he was paying so much attention and detail into folding a handkerchief in a particular meticulous way. And this reminded me of the days of chivalry and taking pride in who you are. The days of Sophiatown.

Lastly, I have been fortunate to have been influenced by the Theatre plays that were themed around Sophiatown.

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The people in your Art have no faces, does it not challenge you that the depiction of the Black body has been objectified without giving a human face to it?

The figures are hiding and in constant quest for humanity. In a way, they are negotiating spaces. The figures are faceless because I realised that the world we live in is hostile to people. So my work is abstract and becomes a fantasy that is inclusive and embracing.

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You are have just started a residency in Amsterdam for 2 years, tell us about that

The residency is a platform to broaden my artistic ambitions. It is at De Ateliers in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The meaning of ateliers is a working space for artists. For me, it is a springboard to a successful, international career which is what I also wish for every other young artist.

What should we expect from you next?

Making Art that resonates with my people is what’s next for me. I’m glad Ayanda Mabulu has closed the gap between Black and White audiences.

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On a personal note,

What does Luxury mean to you:

When I think luxury, I think of The Great Gatsby.

If you could live in another City in Africa where would that be:

Nigerian movies are humorous, so for that I would choose Lagos.

What books are you reading at the moment:

I have a tendency to read many books at once, currently I’m revisiting Steve Biko’s I write what I like and just started reading Zakes Mda’s The Dying Screams of the Moon.

Finally, where can one find your works

Visit my website www.neomatloga.com