Born in Johannesburg in 1982. Lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lawrence Lemaoana interview Lazagne art magazine
Young African art is searching for a difficult balance between fragments of a broken and ransacked past, and ancient mythological memories, with roots immersed in a land of incomparable natural and iconographical wealth. Often indistinguishable between anthropology and workmanship, this “border” art offers us a cosmopolitan and visionary perspective.
One that the South African Lemaoana, who creates his pop culture inspired works upon “traditional” fabrics, uses to satirize arrogant messages of abuse of authority. Through this support network, the colourful Kanga* fabrics flip their message with a recognizable traditional medium that underlines the critical content of the artist’s work.
The use of colour in African art is both powerful and refined. The western perception is one of detachment of meanings, brought about by the flatness of American Pop Art. In your works, however, colour is key. Is this your preferred medium to trigger criticism and consciously reclaim a new identity, or is it the basis of your application of your idea of language?
Art history and anthropology have succeeded in categorizing art making in Africa, by Africans in Africa and the diaspora as a distinct other form of art. The subject of art in and on this geographical space is therefore subject to ‘museumisation’. The museumisation process is a translation process, making complex ideas into palatable packaged displays.
Contemporary artists are often aware of these geopolitical distinctions and therefore use that knowledge in their art making methodologies. Artists tap into personal and lived histories as a means of producing work.
We produce art on an almost readymade platform, which can often be subtly violently rejected. And, so we work on strategies and tactics of averting or succumbing to this readymade platforms guidance. This is why archives and popular history are constantly being interrogated.
I have used these brightly colored fabrics since they have multiple layers of meaning, they are imbued with ambiguous if not blurry histories and as opposed to being artifacts of the past they thus actively operate and their power a reality to a great many contemporary South African spiritual beliefs. The red, black and white are incidental in one view but they have acquired new and imagined uses in South Africa. Sangomas, Ngakas etc (spiritual diviners) take advantage of the colour scheme since it corresponds with local beliefs. The red for example echoes the red soil that diviners smear on their bodies and hair and the white mimicking the white of the clay also used in rituals. The white apparently symbolizes the condition or zone between sickness and health and in between zone.
I have further used, if not appropriated, this overlap information to enhance the idea of fluidity in material and meaning, I propose that signifiers are not constant but continually evolve. I liken this thought with the notion of nomadic living, where the nomad carries only what is necessary but also limited to what is available. Kangas carry that quality for me, the become canvases that meaning is projected onto them.
There are also other aspects of your art that strike recognizable criticism in every society. Can the perspective of an African artist contribute to our reading of politics, everyday life, and identity in a new, or perhaps more pure, way?
I think that the creative process is not necessarily one of isolation from all other forms of cultural productions, in fact the other if not extraneous forms contribute to its strength. Artists and their work do not exist in isolation from politics, daily life etc. we can begin at any point of departure and that point cannot be a political since life in the world is a politicized condition. I dare say that even when one assumes a political identity that identity itself is political.
What is find interesting and somewhat refreshing is that our context is one of fending off stereotypes about our condition. I see stereotypes as the ‘readymade platforms’ that have a set of inbuilt outcomes, responses that a packaged neatly into groups of are made of resistors and those who are ready to comply.
The grey area that occupies this dichotomy, what may be called transcendence, seems much more rewarding. That I think is the ‘ecological niche’, where artists are aspiring to be. This place is where we are not selling objects or participating in the exchange of fetishized objects but exchanging ideas.