Location: Pretoria Art Museum, Tshwane, South Africa
Date: Tuesday 17 February 2015 at 09:00
Intellectual Rebellion/No holes on the Walls
Mmutle. You’ve now moved into an interesting period where you are now studying at University level, at Tshwane University of Technology. If you were to compare your training at Tshwane University of Technology and your exposure to fine arts at high school. What were the differences in these two institutionS?
Vusi. There is a difference, the difference was that in high school I was left to my own devices to achieve freedom that I had and I was passing, I was marked for doing what I was doing naturally. With TUT they were teaching me techniques now, that’s the first time I explored oils, you know, and I was taught how to mix, using oils and the techniques, and applying oil and all those sorts of things and exploring different dimensions that I’ve never experimented with as in using acrylic paints to oil, actually layering the artwork – scumbling and [the] glazing of the artwork. I really enjoyed the paintings of Rembrandts, the van Gogh style, the Vermeer, Dutch painters and stuff. Well, like I said we were exposed mostly to the Europeans [artists]
Mmutle. Of course
Vusi. Style of painting a subject in a way a still life and figurative type of thing…
Mmutle. Did it bode well to you that your training at Tshwane University of Technology tended to focus more on Western Art than it exposed you to African Art or South African Art?
Vusi. It bothered me in the history of art part because at each lesson we learned about the struggles of painters such as Van Gogh, Monet and you can’t identify with them, but as a painter – as a student you enjoy their work but you have heard about artists such as Gerard Sekoto, they always sort of like mentioned but not studied and you know studying you are digging deep all the time. You can’t ignore where you come from. I mean I am Xhosa I cannot ignore my culture but I have never seem a Xhosa painting and you have all these questions on your mind. You know there [are] black artists, you’ve heard of them there and there sculpting but there is this ignored history. And sometimes as a student you feel, you know…
Mmutle. Something is not there
Vusi. Its not there! It doesn’t matter you have to follow this type of thing. Whilst I was enjoying the techniques of the so called masters I always asked myself the question; has any black artist mastered a certain technique? Should I start to try and find my own technique? Well or maybe to divert and be an artist one day that, eh-huh kids or student questions why black artists are almost anonymous. So I wanted do something that would make it ehh
Mmutle. You wanted to make your mark
Vusi. I wanted to make my mark in a way that would probably make my work worth studying and worth looking at, you know,
Mmutle. So you wanted to raise the bar in terms of your artistic ehh practice
Vusi. Definitely, definitely…raise the bar and find my own voice in terms of communicating. I mean van Gogh done it, Monet done it. They have done their own way and they are celebrated. I wanted to find my own way that I can claim my own voice in this medium of painting and [the] making [of] artworks.
Mmutle. Now when you were exposed ehh to the work of George Pemba for instance at a certain point or Gerard Sekoto when you had the chance later, did you have the chance later to explore these artists in detail, these artists that you were starved of?
Vusi. Well definitely not through my studies at TUT but through the books that the library had. That’s what bothered me. There was this information about these artists in the library. There were these books about Pemba’s work and the other artists and you heard nothing about them and it sort of gave me…the library gave me that exploration of finding a path to my own identity as an artist in a way that these artists like bo Sekoto painting somewhere in Paris had, and I was like wow. Reading about Pemba’s work and other artists I discovered later like…what his name with his drawings he died, the guy that committed suicide when he was in America …
Mmutle. You mean Dumile?
Vusi. Dumile Feni and I was blown away
Mmutle. There is also Ernest Manqoba you know uhm
Vusi. yah and you discover all these shelved
Mmutle. Wasn’t there a rebellion with you guys when you were at TUT. Were you alone, seeing these things, I mean it’s a problem. Were you alone?
Vusi. There is always, that’s what bothered me most of the time with the other black art students it was just following and not thinking, it was just a matter of studying and trying to find a job after studying. I don’t know, there was not all of them [though], I must say not all of them. There were students like bo Donna Kukama. I saw her on the [recent] cover of Classic Feel Magazine. Bo Donna Kukama, bo Sliq Seretse we used to…there was no spaces for the type of art we were doing, I remember a few years ago it was me, Donna, Slick and Eric Rantisi we took our paintings to Jo’burg, Randburg, no no was it Randburg? At the mall where the Gautrain passes
Mmutle. You guys were still students at that time? Wouldn’t it be Rosebank?
Vusi. Yah we took our work to Rosebank Mall,
[Mmutle. The Gautrain did not exist then]
Vusi. One of our friends assisted us with a lift we had these paintings and drawings I remember and we had an exhibition in the toilets of the Mall without its management’s permission. After hanging the work we tried to take pictures and when management learnt of what we were doing they freaked out
Mmutle. In the public toilets?
Vusi. Yes of the mall, someone called security
Mmutle. That was actually a rebellious…
Vusi. It was and at the time it was fun you know and they called security on us and I remember Sliq ran away and me and Donna were nabbed. They took us to the security office and took out our paintings. I think they destroyed some of them. We were interrogated for a few minutes there. Why we are doing this, why that? Yoh! One of our friends came to explain more on what we were doing but they decided to never want to see us again at the mall. We were banned from the mall.
Mmutle. This would be one of the first exhibitions that you guys had. Even though it’s unofficial.
Mmutle. And it’s a rebellious uprising of some sort to try to get your work to be seen.
Vusi. To get our work to be seen…
Mmutle. We talking about, when was this? Early 2000s
Vusi. Yah it was early 2000s
Mmutle. I think I met you guys in 2001, 2002 somewhere there.
Vusi. Yah, yah. I remember you were doing this ehh outreach. I think you even met people like a bo Donna still
Mmutle. Yes I did
Vusi. Yah, we were doing a lot of crazy things back then. I remember one time in 2000 we went to this close by mall around Beatrix street? Small mall mola.
Mmutle. There is Sancardia, there is…
Vusi. Sancardia, there were empty offices there TO-LET and we asked management if we could have the space for an evening for an exhibition for one night only. I mean there was nothing there and we are students and we would like to show our work there and to our surprise they said ‘ok, but don’t just put holes on the wall. Just don’t destroy and whatever’. The security guards opened for us and let us use the space. But to actually make sure we don’t knock nails on the walls and stuff or something…
Mmutle. Was this a selling exhibition?
Mmutle. Was this a selling exhibition when you opened it that night.
Vusi. Yah. It was a selling exhibition. We were organized we even had a band. Sort of one guy with a guitar there yah with a little radio thing there. We bought some box wine and stuff. And we actually advertised via Pretoria News Free ads thing. We had posters made. Yah we had a one night exhibition there and it was well attended. It was something that was new in a way. Pop up gallery.
Mmutle. Pop up exhibition
Vusi. Pop exhibition and it was something that opened our eyes to what can happen, what’s an exhibition, we were curating putting our own works and it was something that was never had before at that time.
Mmutle. Let’s look at your own work at that time. If you were to date that period, when exactly would you say this was 2002, 2003?
Vusi. Yah 2002, 2003, definitely 2002, 2003.
Mmutle. What was your concern artistically speaking, the work that you made at that time.
Vusi. Basically I was trying to find my own voice in painting in a way it is still happening, it is still a process but it was more sharpening my techniques and exploring this idea of painting. I remember paintings of my mothers and the concern of putting black people on canvas. In a way, years of art history you don’t see that. Sort of like we don’t exist in such dimensions for me it was a process a journey. I remember there was a movie by …I‘ve always been a fan of Spike Lee’s movies. I enjoyed the commentary in his movies besides using that word nigger a lot. At that time there was the music of Tupac, there was nigger this nigger that. There were also John Singleton and other film makers, artists. I mean there were movies like bo ‘Boys in the Hood’ and all that, I just found Singleton’s movies more violent, well they had a story line to a certain degree. But I just found Spike Lee movies always had this message thing you know in all of his movies. Whatever he did he always puts conversation together, the actors and all that’s happening in America, with African Americans lives and stuff it’s something that reminded me of where we come from in Mamelodi and all that. He had a message of some sort; he had a solution of some sort, presenting it out of this mess.
Mmutle. Despite the chaos
Vusi. Yah-Yah despite the chaos there was always that deep ehh thinking of, a retrospective of where you come from does not determined where you are going. You can always rise above that chaos. And I liked that statement which I think it is quoted from Malcolm X – ‘by any means necessary’. It is something that I use today. That code – ‘by any means necessary’. You have to do everything 100% whatever background you’re from, whatever obstacles [are in] front of you. You have to do banging, push it out. And he had a movie then ‘Bamboozled’. I remember I was watching that movie where you had white actors [who paints] themselves black [to portray black characters]. It is sort of like the history of the black face and the red lips in America and the tragedy of it.
End of Part Two
© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2015