COACO: Morena David Mthubu Koloane

At certain points in our life we meet people who influences how we see things. At the very best such moments are not really prolonged. It could be a conversation lasting for a few minutes or under fortunate circumstances it can turn out to be a philosophical exchange that lasts for years. However such finer moments in our lives are not really marked by their prolongations. They are marked by the exchange itself. They are marked by what one take away from them. From there on wards it really doesn’t matter how often one can be exposed to the one who have insight into things that we wrestle with. They have cleared the cobwebs. We return to them to iron whatever creases that may remain. This might be an extended privilege on our part because we already know what needs to be done.»»


The passing away of Ntate David Nthubu Koloane shake me out of the intellectual gymnastic stupor that binds me these days. I am compelled to step out of the academic shadows to offer a lament that can perhaps give another dimension to the great man. I am sure that Koloane’s the visual arts dwarfs my understanding of his person as a teacher and artists. And that there will be personal accounts of those he has encountered through his career. This is a personal anecdote of an encounter that challenged and somewhat altered my perspective of the nature of the arts industry.

When I first met Ntate David Nthubu Koloane sometime in 2005 we were on our way

David Koloane, Street Scene (2001-2003), Acrylic on canvas. 1480 X 830 mm
David Koloane, Street Scene (2001-2003), Acrylic on canvas. 1480 X 830 mm. Collection (2004), Pretoria Art Museum.

to the Western Cape for the Germany South African Bilateral Projects talks. It was a meeting that I eagerly anticipated. Even if at that time it was just to feed off the aura of one of the generation of artists who emerged when black contemporary art in our country started to flirt with the nature of the art material as an extension of an idea and form as subject matter. I met him before at the opening of either Kay Hassan or Jane Alexander Solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art at Museum at the time of when Daimler Chrysler had a contemporary art award in South Africa. It was profound just like any other encounters that I have had with artists whose work I have looked at in text books or in gallery or museum visits[1]. In such a meeting it is always affirmed that the artist is flesh and blood like other people. They are real despite the effects of their veneration through mythologization of their being.

On that late morning as we waited for the flight to the Cape we chatted away on the nature of the arts in Tshwane; we were to meet with the others on our arrival there and then ferried to a vineyard in Paarl for a rigorous three day talk shop on the state of the Fine Arts art at practice level and come up with solutions for South Africa.  Ntate Koloane asked about the old artists from Tshwane such as Si Mohlabane Mashiangoako, Lefifi Tladi, David Phoshoko and Jeff Mphakhathi amongst others. The late Jeff Mphakhathi, not an artist himself, organised exhibitions at the embassies in the old Pretoria for artists at the time when exhibitions opportunities for black artists were scarce in a country that was divided. Interestingly I had met Jeff Mphakhathi in a separate incident in my life’s journey, so I was familiar with his work.

What struck me in our conversation is that he spoke about how important it was that an artist, as much as they should be at the forefront of narrating the current events of the human condition, no matter their nature, should not be bogged down by taking sides to such an extent that it compromised their creativity and limit their clientele. As the country transitioned into democracy he saw the continued preoccupation of his contemporaries North of the Reef with the plight of the black man in the face of apartheid as a stagnation especially where themes were repeated and stylistic development focus on the same methods of art production over and over as not pushing the frontier of art production further. This, he observed, brought the breath of an artist’s oeuvre to a stand still.  I couldn’t understand him clearly then, for a moment it sounded and felt as if Morena Koloane was lambasting the concentration on Black consciousness ideals which these artists took as a point of departure in their art practice. His observation disturbed me a great deal. And to a certain extend made me silently question his conviction. Furthermore he lamented the collapse of ‘Arts for All’ which was like the bag factory but more like Polly Street Art Center North of the Reef during the 80s[2]. Tshwane, he pointed out, needed  a space where artists could be practice and be located and that it is Tshwane artists who had to be at the forefront of establishing such a space and not wait for government to do so.

Over the years 2005, 2007 perhaps 2009 our Germany South Africa Bilateral Project committee met intermittently and our talks on the state of the art at practice level continued. Unfortunately on the eve of 2010, the date set aside for a project exhibition of work done for almost half a decade, the Bilateral project was canned due to political change in this country and drainage of funds. However in time it all started to make sense what the old man was trying to get across to me during that half a decade. That art and its fountainhead, the artist, must evolve. It should try not to take sides but narrate what it observes in a constantly evolving style that is not rigid in technique and possibilities. That an artists must remember that as much as they love what they do the results are two fold, self actualisation through their art production by way of sharing their vision with art lovers, students of the arts and collectors while at the same time making a living from their craft. All this realisation dawned from a small talk that evolved into a subtle intellectual engagement on that late afternoon in 2005.

Some sparks when they go out their blaze echo in rivulets of explosions far and wide and retain their glows in those with kinded spirits. So is your spark Ntate David Nthubi Koloane; Morena’aka we can only enact the breadth and reach of your philosophy when it comes to life, writing and art practices as your epitaph; rest assured that we will need a generous surface for that««




© mmutle arthur kgokong, 2019

[1] Daimler Chrysler Art Award for Contemporary Art: Kay Hassan (b. 1956) received this award in 2000 and in 2002 Jane Alexander (b. 1959) received the art

[2] Unisa’s Arts for all taught music, drama and the visual arts. I remember meeting Enoch Makhubedu in the mid-90s when I wanted to enroll at there, unfortunately by the dawn of the new century the center had fizzled out.