Zakes Mda’s exhibition, Washboards and Mirrors on at St. Lorient Art Gallery is an actualisation of Mda’s literary exploits. Engulfed in these kaleidoscopic expositions are his subtle homage to his long time friend, the late jazz musician Hugh Masekela and concrete cultural artefacts such as fabric and washboards from the two worlds he has come to inhabit, South Africa and the United States of America. You will also encounter a reference to Boy Child, a character from his latest novel The Wayfarers’ Hymn (2021) in the Famo Series; a mixed media series depicting an accordion player in various settings. Mirrors and Washboards covers an artistic output between 2014 and 2021 closes on 25 November.
After attending the launch of Mda’s latest novel Wayfarers’ Hymns an event which was set-up to coincide with the opening of his solo exhibition at St. Lorient Art Gallery, Brooklyn Circle, Tshwane – one image in particular has been burned into my memory. It is an intimate painting curatorially set alone on one of the mirror pillars of the gallery as you walk in. When I visited the gallery again quite recently, prior to the closure of this exhibition, I noticed that The Man in the Green Blanket (Figure 1) was actually part of a series.
Figure 1Zakes Mda. Man in the Green Blanket 5(2016). Acrylic on a canvas. 46 x 46 cm
In the series the green blanketed man marched with an entourage carrying oversized paraphernalia such as flowers and knobkerries. Perhaps subconsciously I was reminded of Boy Child’s world in the Wayfarers’ Hymn and his antics. There is an exquisite passage in that novel where the narrator, focalises his journey as he traverses the land looking for Famo parties to play on, he punctuates his movements by observing how his foot paths obliterates the veld grass from growing as he picks his way. Creating pathways that furrows the landscape (by the way I am not quoting the text directly here). However the Man in a Green Blanket in this series misses the most important item that Boy Child would not go anywhere without. The Accordion.
That musical instrument appears in the Famo Series (Figure 2). But then again by the time the viewer has made the connection with music during their viewing, devoid of reading the artist’s latest novel, they would have encountered other works that refer to music such as those that pay homage to Hugh Masekela, Hughies Phantom (see Figure 3) and the washboard as a musical instruments in strong pieces such The Washboard and the Kora (Figure 4).
The work on show covers a practice that spans the last 7 years. In those seven years Mda wrote thought provocative novels such as Rachel’s Blues (2014), Little Suns (2015), The Zulus of New York (2019) and quite recently the Wayfarers’ Hymn (2021). What is noticeable in the exhibition is that the more the viewing moved to our present time with regard to when the artworks were produced, the more daring the work became with artistic experimentations to a point of semi-abstraction. This was apparent with the mirrors and later the washboards that had been incorporated into the works that have been produced as of 2021, such as The Washboard and the Kora (2021). Mirrors, particularly in circular shapes pervade the production period that lies between 2016 and 2019. The square mirrors comfortable makes their debut in the works produced recently. See figure 5 and 6 respectively. As aesthetic devices mirrors are meant to draw the viewer into the picture plane and reflect them back to themselves as part of the composition.
In his artist’s statement Mda assets that the incorporation of Washboards links the work to his affinity to the Appalachian region, Ohio, USA while the fabrics and newsprint which are part of this mixed media oeuvre links his artistic output to both South Africa and Lesotho.
Washboards and Mirrors is a visual artistic exposition of one of our remarkable authors in Southern Africa and the United States alive today. And like the fictional worlds Mda has constructed over the years the exhibition resists straight-jacketing. This exhibition affords scholars of Mda’s work a rare insight into his other creative terrain and as such; as a documentation that is, it will go on to present an inter-disciplinary occasion between Mda’s contributions in both literature and the visual arts.
© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong, 2021
To cite this article:
Kgokong M.A. 2021. Bring Washboards & Mirrors Tat’ Zanemvula. mmutleak.com-intraparadox. /https://mmutleak.com/2021/11/22/bring-washboards–mirrors-tat-zanemvula/(opens in a new tab)