Who I am is connected to where I live exhibition (2nd edit)


This work was published at a time when the fragments of my interest in recording the activities of our contemporary artists emerging through our city were falling into perspective. It is a reworked copy of one of those attempts I made to salvage a historical moment in our city’s art history. Compared to the original article’s form, it is a result of many re-workings that the original piece was subjected to as I prepared it for its current and final form. My I add? As a historical narrative, this piece of writing is a snippet of a remarkable moment in the history of this city’s art history crowned by a group exhibition that Philiswa Lila, Amelia Malatji and Abongile Gwele held at the Centurion Art Gallery, centurion, in the early autumn of 2013.


It is a daring undertaking for a curator to attempt to curate and present an exhibition comprising of a body of work of an artist as close as possible to what that artist had in mind when they thought of their work as a coherent cluster[1]. Equally, it is daring for an artist to invite other artists for a joint exhibition. Such an act signals a level of maturity that suggests confidence in the artist as an individual and that they are assured in their artistic abilities when their work is pitted against those of their fellow artists. It can be said that they have reached a level in which they are not rattled by the prospect of having their work compared to that of their peers. Instead, their pedigree sees what might seem to be a disadvantage in an alternative reality, as an opportunity for self-reassessment.     


I am honoured to have had the chance to see the art exhibition Who I am is connected to where I live, now on at the Centurion Art Gallery, before its closure on Friday 15 March 2013. In that exhibition, the viewer will be introduced to the artistic output of Philiswa Lila, Amelia Malatji and Abongile Gwele. Although these three artists’ work reflect different concerns, they are united by a common cause; they are all preoccupied with pushing their chosen mediums into new avenues.

Hamba Mfazi (Still), Philiswa Lila crosses paths with Amelia Malatji

Philiswa Lila

A closer look at the work comprising this exhibition shows the different locale each artist occupies within the visual arts. Philiswa Lila continues to work with variation of abstracted lines in different hues and brush strokes of yellow, red, browns and purple reminiscent of her earlier skin and cow hide surface explorative work. But presently she takes us a step further by deconstructing the present paintings from their original surfaces in various rectangular and square shape cut-outs. Which she then assembled into a sewn assemblage of canvases to create an array of ordered abstract forms resulting in the series The Collection III. Perhaps we are beginning to see a dapple with that fine line that separate high art and high craft.

Hamba Mfazi! A performance artwork, because of its fleeting nature, it is included in the exhibition in a photographic format. The inclusion of photographic stills of this performance art piece in the exhibition represent a residue of the ‘performance event’. As an artwork the performance art piece suggests a movement towards interaction with reality in real time. By this I am not inferring that the traditional art object i.e. drawing, painting, sculpture etc. does not deal with reality in real time. It does. And like everything else it is locked in time and is a subject of time. And that’s it, there is nothing more special about the art object because even the mode of producing other aesthetic objects alongside it are locked away in time. However, performance art is more direct, shocking and unsettling at times. It is potent at its delivery moment, live that is, that the impact of a performance art piece can be felt. To look back at its rendition is to plough through its archival residues.   

In Lila’s performance, Hamba Mfazi! Which took place on Women’s Day, the artist walked through Tshwane CBD area, from Church Square to Sammy Marks Square. Video and photography were used to record the performance. The exhibition features a photographic series of that performance, showing her in a beaded outfit as she picked her way through a curious crowd. Inspired by her isiXhosa lineage, she handmade the beaded dress that forms part of this performance art piece and it is a delight to encounter it within the exhibition space-layout concretely adding to the archival residues of the performance.

The double self-portrait that takes its cue from one of the performance residues, to be specific – the photographs, recalls Lila’s methodology of art making with her skin painting signature work. This interplay between the performance art piece and traditional painting modes between which the artist practice oscillates, and everything within the grey area cast by the shadows of the interplay, will make an interesting presentation of her work in the future should she continue to explore performance art and traditional art making processes infused with her craftsmanship reflected in the outfit worn in Hamba Mfazi!

Hamba Mfazi! (2012)

Amelia Malatji

Reserving Abongile Gwele for last in this review, I shall now take a sweep at Amelia Malatji’s work. She is primarily a painter. This can be asserted in the paintings she has contributed to this group exhibition. Her work is intimate in size but it’s not silenced in this exhibition. Her subtle voice forms a surface area atop which the other artists can bound onwards as each deals with the next level of the evolution of the art object. What exactly it is that traditional medium such as painting can offer at a time wherein artists are experimenting with non-traditional mediums? Traditional media offers something that is palatable to the conservative. This does not dismiss the narratives embedded in non-traditional mediums in vogue today nor the skill and inventiveness that goes with it. In the new media sphere we encounter narratives but at an accentuated level and if we are not conversant with what the new media-artist is trying to accomplish we may lose our bearings in making sense of their work.

With an economic approach to painting and scale, Malatji narrates a Long Journey compacted in a suitcase in one of her triptych veiled with a curtain to obscure the subject matter. The lace is dexterously rendered to persuade the viewer to acknowledge it as device within the composition. She gets us to eat out of her palm in the way she has handled her paint, skilfully deploying the effect of illusion of depth and form. Perhaps in the Long Journey she acknowledges that until we have arrived at the point in our life where we are certain of who we are we remain obscure characters in this epic we call life. This self-assertion is deeply contrasted with the lobola negotiations tackled in the work Bride Exchange, a progressive-narrative triptych, which shows scenes that seem unconnected until the label of the work is taken into considered. But then again as if Malatji vents off our obvious reading of her as only a painter we encounter a contribution of photographs which rounds of her presence in the exhibition. The photographs aptly titled Life cycle, Shadow of my life and Khumbule Khaya. The Khumbule Khaya photograph re-harsh the theme encountered in Bride Exchange.

Long Journey (2013)

Abongile Gwele

Conceptual art can be appealing when done with decorum. But it is also palatable when it is emitted with shocking variations of forms and textures inherent in everyday life objects that maybe taken for granted. But like a science experiment that isolate particular elements in order to shed light into their behaviour through study; conceptual art accentuates certain aspects of our reality. I have had the privilege of seeing Gwele’s production at this year’s fourth year’s exhibition at TUT Art Gallery and that experience in itself was a step into understanding her preoccupation with words as anchors of objects that we are familiar with and have personalized.  As well as how we can be isolated from what we are looking at when we are not grasping the deeper meaning of what it is that we are looking at. This can be due to our perspective or lack of experience of what is in front of us.

The Visitor (20113)

The rusted Door handles, supposedly taken from different locations around Gauteng, gives us a glimpse of isolated portal gadgets assembled into one plane so as to represent repetition and reinforcement of questioning us just how many doors we go through in our lifetime. The old reclining chair, The Visitor, with vertical words caressing it and amplifying the scorched surface area caused by its long usage makes a play with words that demands a closer inspection from the viewer: a closer look will encounter words such as ‘hoped’, ‘speech’, ‘your’ amongst many words whose letters have been turned around to achieve disorientation that begs a closer inspection and time to decipher.  As if it is not enough to side-line the viewer, Gwele moves on to show her adeptness in the use of craft approach with sewn synthetic hair on canvas. With this work she is having a dialogue with Lila’s sewn canvases and the interplay that ensues between the two artists is marvellous to witness. It is a rhythm in reasserting the difference in the process of working non-conventionally in as far as visual art making processes are concerned.

In content consideration, the work is abstract in form and leads us interestingly to her next work within the exhibition, whose realisation is in a minimal mode, the work Somewhere. This work consists of inked patterned dots on Perspex. And to conclude her contribution is an array of crude circular formations originating from cups containing chocolate brownies and coffee creamers. Each specimen is marked to inform the viewer of what they are looking at. Gwele’s work from her drawings to her conceptual art pieces; varied in modes of presentation, are studies of those mundane out of the way objects one would not consider to take a closer look at.


Such is the exhibition that will be closing this week. It is indeed a brave attempt by the ladies to show off where they are in their artistic practices within the same space. Inevitably, this exhibition automatically begs an intertextual viewing because at certain instances the work connect. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a topping on the cake of what we can expect in years to come as these artists continue in their journey of art production and expansion of the content of their work. For now, ladies, congratulations are in order. 


Mar 13, 2013

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2013

Original version of this article was published on Mar 13, 2013 on Intraparadox.wordpress.com.

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2021

To cite this article:

Kgokong M.A. 2013. Who I am is connected to where I live Exhibition. mmutleak.com-intraparadox. https://mmutleak.com/2021/03/13/who-i-am-is-connected-to-where-i-live-exhibition-2nd-edit/

[1] Curatorial work in the process of presenting an exhibition is a continuous consultation with the artist/s on how best to present each and every artwork of theirs for the purpose of attaining what they envisioned the exhibition to accomplish as a seamless paradigm.