Intraparadox, Lerato Motaung, a hexagonical experience

Figure 1. Lerato Motaung. Victim of Wicked Overseer (2021). Acrylic on canvas. 103.4 x 117 cm

I. Slice  

Lerato Motaung’s Victim of Wicked Overseer’s picture plane can be broken into four parts[1]. These are the pixelated background, the figure, the floral curtain and the vegetables. The anomaly in the facial features of the figure heightens the tension in the work. Instead of having a normal person staring out of the picture plane at the viewer, we are met by a figure with missing  ears and nose. With six eyes and an oversized mouth the figure peer at us. This deformity contributes to the strangeness of the subject matter. Notice how what is arranged in front of the figure appears to be mostly tubers and roots vegetables. in as far as our viewing of the work has progressed, we may be in concord that the composition is a representation of a street vendor. Anyone who is familiar with vegetable street vendors may expect to see a variety of vegetables when browsing through their trading goods. In this composition we don’t see other vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes and butternuts. As such the tubers and roots carry on with violation of expectation that the artist first introduced with the figure’s facial features.

The floral curtain at the right hand side of the viewer frames the figure on its left. The curtain also serves the function of connecting the vegetables at the foreground of the picture plane with the background in a theatre of organic interaction, although concretely speaking, the curtain’s floral deco print is artificial. Notice the rendering of its reverse side. The pixelated background seem unrelated to the overall composition in terms of artistic style. Motaung has rendered it in blue, and its variated pixelated form creates a shimmering rhythmic mosaic effect as different hues of blue recede and advance.

The reader is invited to compare Victim of Wicked Overseer (2021) with Motaung’s other two paintings, The Emergence of Sons of Men (2021) and Inside Oneself (2020). The artist’s icon, multiple eyes and drapery witnessed here in the curtain behind The Emergence of Sons of Men and the table cloth on Inside Oneself connects the artworks to Motaung’s artistic output iconically. However, Inside Oneself stand aside from the two pieces discussed here in its style of execution and setting. There is a feeling of solidity to its formal language.     

Figure 2. Lerato Motaung. The emergence of sons of men (2021). Oil paint on canvas and acrylic ink. 110 X 80.5 cm
Figure 3. Lerato Motaung. Inside oneself (2020). Oil paint on canvas, 107 X 94 cm

II. Intra’byte

I recently caught up with the artist for a hexagonical[2] experience,

  • Where were you born? And where did you grow up?

I was born in a township called Katlehong, in the east of Johannesburg. I was raised by my paternal grandmother in Lekgalong, a village in Rustenburg.

  • What are your earliest memories of your interest in the visual arts?

I grew up drawing a lot, with no idea at all that I could make a career out of what I was passionate about. In 2007 I dropped out of high school in the middle of the year and moved back to Katlehong to live with my mother. I was 17 at that time. While in Katlehong a cousin of mine saw me drawing to kill time and took me to Katlehong Art Centre. At the Art Centre I saw people making sculptures, ceramics and paintings and I got intrigued. I wanted to be part of everything that was happening there but I couldn’t enroll because it was in the middle of the year. Since then, I have been fascinated with the idea of being an artist.

  • Since you left the City of Tshwane after you graduated from Tshwane University of Technology in 2015, you have had numerous exhibitions. Which exhibition stands out from the rest? Where did it take place? and why is it an significant/important exhibition that you have held so far compared to the others?

The For Sale Group Exhibition 2015 stands-out for me. It took place at the Pretoria Art Museum. I became part of that exhibition following my involvement in the Preparatory Programme that was offered by the Museum. It was my first formal exhibition and from it, I learned about the preparations that needs to be in place before work is presented in a formal art exhibition.

  • What motivates you to make art?

The Ideas around manhood as an identity and its archetypes. I was born in a multicultural environment, since then I have experienced what you can call cultural integration, and the idea of a man as an identity or what makes a man a man. For me, ‘Male identity’ seems to be something not so easy to grasp as it is changed by environment and time.

  • I know that in your formative years you worked a lot with the artist Azael Langa (and to a certain extent with Mpho Nkadimeng). Who amongst our contemporary artists do you look up to? And Why?

I look up to Nicholas Hlobo, I was so fortunate to be his studio assistant and I managed to see how he works. His work is carefully considered and at some point in its production process it is allowed to evolve into its own identity or form, he is not fascinated by the idea of being fully in control. There are endless possibilities of what his work can become.   

  • When I look at your current works, they are mostly portraits with distorted features. What do you aim to achieve, bring across or communicate with your work?

My objective is to communicate the fractured and disjointed perspective of man as an identity. I believe that the idea of a “man” is distorted, we live in a world where men are associated with hiding feelings. The performative aspect of being a man is of special importance and I think that at some point, it serves as a catalyst to the majority of social problems we encounter. My work aims to open up and engage with this is a conversation.

III. Artist Conceptual Statement with reference to Victim of Wicked Overseer (2021)

‘South African unemployment rate has risen higher as well as the number of the discouraged work-seekers. Due to lack of employment opportunities, people are trading by the side of the road to make ends meet but they find their merchandise being confiscated by the police. This work of art was inspired by the video that was on social media of a woman who was treated in an inhumane way by the police and a quote from a song by Dead Prez titled Police state. Dead Prez claims that “The police become necessary in human society only at that junction where the society is split between those who have and those who got nothing”. Even though it is claimed that it is important to enforce the city by- laws, it is also important for families to have a source of income for their survival. 

By-laws governing street trading are confusing and licenses are hard to obtain. This leaves many street vendors vulnerable to police harassment and confiscations. In ‘Victim of Wicked Overseer (2021)’,I represent a vulnerable vendor who gets hyped-up by the sound and the shades of blue uniform of the police, always ready to protect, cover or run away from the police. Survival becomes tricky when all odds are against you.’

Lerato Motaung, Self Portrait. 2021

IV. @thePrecipice

Based on the conceptual statement of his most recent work Lerato Motaung’s work initiate a conversation long overdo. A conversation that acknowledges the male identity, like its counterpart, as a social construct. It is a result of nurture. His most identifiable icon, multiple eyes, speaks of an unsettled condition wherein our awareness of our identity and place in the society is continuously questioned. Lastly, between Inside oneself (2020) and the work that is central to the present writing, Victim of Wicked Overseer (2021),Motaung inserts the human figure within elements associated with femininity. The rendering of the facial features as distorted counteracts gender labelling and connects the work to the identity discourse he has opened-up for us.         


11 December 2021

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong, 2021

[1] Victim of Wicked Overseer (2021) is part of SASOL New Signatures Art Competition 2021 Group Exhibition

[2] Hexagonical experience: a series of six questions pitched at an artist during an intraparadox interception in an attempt to arrive at a minimal understanding of the artist’s development, practice and artistic vision.