Intraparadox: An interview with Ilandi Barkhuizen

The Quadrille of Torture, Pain, Steel and Paint

14 May 2016

 Pretoria Art Museum

 

I spoke to Ilandi Barkhuizen on the morning of 14 May ahead of a group exhibition that will feature her work at the St. Lorient Fashion and Art Gallery on 15 May 2016 until 4 June 2016.

*

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong. Good morning Ilanda Barkhizen, I hope I am pronouncing your name correctly there

Ilandi Barkhuizen. Oh its fine I heard worse (Laughs)

Mmutle AK.  yes, so my pronunciation is on spot?

Ilandi barkhuizen. Yes!

MAK. Thank you, welcome to Intraparadox a platform for interviewing artists of all calibers it really does not matter whether the artist sees themselves as a fully practicing artist or whether as a beginner. The idea of the platform is to try and reveal the person, the artist, the person behind the work and …at the moment I hope you are excited with the exhibition

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Hosea Matlou: Towards Simplicity

It is a privilege for one who has not dedicated one’s self to the pursuit of art practice, one who gathers joy in its consumption through the activity of looking to be afforded the opportunity to be familiar with those who are engaged in the production of the visual art object.

 

I Gestation

Visual Art Production like any other art form attains its full expression as a unique form of individualistic artistic expression now and then when a new talent emerges. It is a duty of those involved in its pursuit of visual art practice to unveil a new artistic language unique to their production in order that they are discernible from the multitudes of other artists. An artist achievement is unquestionable when, through hard work and prolonged search for individuality, arrive at a new artistic language to communicate ideas.

The triumph of an artist is in two respects. First, the artist must contend with their context in their pursuit of their chosen vocation this context differs from artist to artist. Secondly the artists must go through the rigors of mastering their chosen media.

 

With these two aspects conquered only then will the artist settle on a journey of self discovery and invention. These two aspects are here stated in their successive nature: first self discovery and second, invention. In their further elaboration: self discovery is attainable at that juncture when an artists fully embraces their vocation as creative participants in the visual arts and invention will stem from that point in their career when they stumble, more often through trial and error and seldom through luck, at what will be their formal language in art – their unique style. But before we swing wide we must retain and address context and media. Introduced at the first few lines of the present paragraph, context within which artists practice differs from artist to artist. More often it is financial circumstances that must be transcended in order to establish practice. With regard to the mastering of the chosen vehicle to deliver the message, or simply put medium, the artist must learn to acknowledge the artistic approaches laid down before him by his predecessors through Art History; blessed are those who learn directly from the master. Having gathered what is essential from the fountain of art practice, the master that is, the artist through time emerges and charts a unique route of their own. In the long run, through commitment and perseverance the artist will acquire his or her rightful place in the History of Art.

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A gentle invasion of Auke De Vries

The Holland born Auke de Vries is firm in his stance as to what the intention of art should be with regard to the public. He insists that art should complement the space it occupies. By this insistence he alludes to both the public’s mind as well as the actual space where art can be experienced. His work in particular is intended to be installed and viewed in public spaces especially the cities. He affirms that his art is not influenced by any artist in particular however he admires the work of Richard Serra.

I’ve had the opportunity of meeting the 73 year old in the district of the Cradle of Mankind at Nirox Foundation on 2 March while attending a writer’s workshop on Art Reporting: with him as a subject. The present jots are results of my impression of the artist.

Nirox Foundation is an expanse of nature reservation cum Sculpture garden. It is here that Auke is presently having 11 Sculptures entitled – A Gentle Invasion on show. The fact that these sculptures are inspired by birds nest is quite apparent to the viewer.

Surprisingly, contrary to the number of sculptures that the invitation purports to being on show – the body of work on show exceeds 11 if you take into consideration the work in the Cool Room exhibition space as well as in the Studio Gallery where there are what he calls proposal commissions which in essence are a cluster of miniature sculptures which one day may become huge gigantic sculptures in public spaces. On the walls there are preparatory drawings of these sculptures on show. Outside above a flowing river that feeds the ponds and lakes of Nirox a robust metropolis nest sculpture made out of stainless steel is suspended. And still outside there are several sculptures, about three meters high, across the green pathway that leads to the Studio Gallery.

Humorously, as we sat down in the studio gallery on that Tuesday afternoon to do my interview exercise, I noted an artwork, in the form of the motif of bird-nests, on exhibition that resembled a security camera. It was actually the second time that I saw this kind of sculpture. There was another one outside the studio gallery. I asked him whether I was off the mark in thinking that the artwork has any reference to a security camera.

‘Oh ya, with this work in particular I am paying homage to South African society by playing with issues of security. High security (security cameras) in South Africa was one thing that struck me the first time I came here’ he responded.

When I asked him whether there is still a demand of public art he points out that the demand is still there because the Cityscape is not complete without people and that public art is there to complements the interaction between the city dwellers and the city itself.

He points out that his art is inspired by the city itself. Ironically he was born in a rural area of Holland. When he was 16 years he hitched hiked to Paris and there began practicing art as a self-taught artist by making etchings. He constructed models from which he made his etchings and apparently someone at some point drew his attention to the fact that the small models could also be regarded as art – as sculpture. This sparked his fascination with three-dimensional form.

His birdlike colony sculptural form is actually a metaphorical reference to the form of the cityscape. He does not feel that titling the artworks is an important aspect of the work for the viewer inevitably brings their own meaning into the work of art, as such most of his work is untitled. By leaving the work untitled he sees this as an invitation to the viewer to participate in the creation of the meaning of the work. In the light of this, having done commissions in Germany, Amsterdam as well as Bangkok – he does not believe in holding public discussions of his commissioned work that occupies public spaces. However in a setting where he is having an exhibition, like the resent show at Nirox, he is open to do walkabouts and give talks of his work.

I ask whether he has ever done a collaboration work with another artist of artists working on the same piece. He is strongly opposed to the idea of corporations, organizations or cities giving commissions to two or more artists, who may not even work within the same concept or share concerns, one commission to work on.

He argues that the selection panel that is tasked with awarding the commission should choose one artist whom they think is the best to work on the commission. Each artist has their own unique concepts and concerns that they address creatively through their work.

*

Auke de Vries 11 Sculptures for S.A.- A Gentle Invasion runs until 2 MAY AT Nirox Foundation. Then 16 May – 1 July at Seippel Gallery, Arts on Main and comes to Tshwane/Pretoria 19 August – 26 September later this year at the Pretoria Art Museum.

14 March

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2010

Responsibility in Representation: Buthelezi

It is disappointing when one reads an article, in a reputable newspaper, that sparks serious debate or controversy with no person’s name attached to it! But then again there is something of a damaging effect attached to that article when the reader infers wrong meaning based on what the article under scrutiny purports. I draw the art supporter and lover of the visual arts to an article published in the recent South African Art Times (August 2009), page 13, wherein the ‘Staff Writer’ of this important art newspaper writes about the artist Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi. It is my belief that the Staff writer owes Buthelezi an apology.

The ‘Staff Writer’ of this prestigious newspaper has done three things which are not palatable as far as representation is concerned. Firstly he or she has misquoted a question that was posed to the artist by me. 2 Mbongeni at Work Catalogue

Secondly he or she has given away market value of the artists work as if they were doing a sale pitch as well as alluded to the artist life style.

Thirdly the writer of this article has ignored to reveal the contribution of Mbongeni R. Buthelezi to Contemporary South African Art, by so doing this he/she denies South Africa to be acquainted with one of the most important artist in our country practicing today¹.

This approach to writing gives a discerning reader acquainted with this country’s art the impression that the newspaper in question is careless in its approach to content concerning ‘some artists’.

By hiding behind the name ‘Staff Writer’, which in a sense, delimits debate and is imbibed with the grey area effect – for we do not know who writes, is suspicious of disrespect for the subject matter. As far as the article in question is concerned the discerning reader must just read between the lines to pick up the underlying message; that the development of black artists in this country has as its highest rung luxury and a disengagement with their immediate community. Such is a stigma that is erected and fixed.

So I shall write back to the Staff Writer, let us get rid of the quotation marks – for I am addressing the South African Art Times itself – it is they who have given space to a shallow reportage covering one of our most important contemporary artists in this country carelessly.

Let us established a fact concerning the day when Mbongeni R. Buthelezi gave a Walkabout of his exhibition to the Art Museum’s volunteers – the education assistants with whom I work very closely, it is only that day when I was present to ask a few questions, which one of them you misquote in your article, Staff Writer.

Were you there when Mbongeni gave the Education Assistants of the Pretoria Art Museum a walkabout?  If you were part of the group on that afternoon prior to the opening of the exhibition you will have gathered that the gallery owner that represents Mbongeni was present as well. You will also have heard him speak about the danger that an artist can run in inflating prices of his artworks at the outset when his or her career takes off, even during the development and run of the practice. A name must be built gradually as a brand.

You would also remember, that is if you were there which I doubt you were, dear Staff Writer, that the words you put in my mouth were not my exact words.

I asked: how did you develop your innovative technique of painting with plastic?

You say I asked: how did you develop the unusual and rather smelly technique?

Now dear staff writer (see how you loose your capitalization) why did you not introduce your self at the walkabout? The artist was there; available for discussion of his artistic output and I was also there to discuss the education benefits of having that exhibition at the Art Museum, and while you were at it you should’ve asked permission to quote me – you have no right to assert the power of documentation until you have stated your identity and we (your subject matter; the documented) grants you permission; by your carelessness you missed a one on one engagement with the artist. Surely your article is devoid of this intercourse (one on one) for those of us fortunate enough to have been there, and those who follow your column on a regular basis.

mbongeni in his studio

Reading your article, it is as if you are reporting a lethal riot from a remote podium without direct contact with the unfolding events. By entering the real space of your reportage you would’ve been able to highlight the fact that the artist, later in his career, returned to Funda (not forgetting the education he received at Wits) to teach and more also that he has been involved in Social development programmes using art as a tool to transform our society towards creativity and environmental preservation awareness which is an issue at the top of the agenda on this planet. You omitted these vital facts thus not revealing to your readers the emergence of new media’s interrogation with the degradation of our natural environment as far as humanity is concerned and Mbongeni’s contribution towards the reversal of the negative impact of this phenomenon – pollution by humanity, If we bear this fact in mind Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi advances further into the horizon by a giant leap amongst South African contemporary artists practicing today with regard to the green revolution.

Instead of entering real space and informing us that your paper was planning to write a profile article on Mbongeni you piped the same old song about struggle in the township and the yearning of the aspiring black artist to become a successful visual art practitioner which we have heard and read many times before. Why is this not the same methodology (omissions of vital information) you employ when you write about ‘other’ artists in your prestigious paper?

Naturally you have situated Buthelezi within a stereotypical fabric which will stay with his documentation forever when he is encountered through research. Need I remind you, staff writer, that your paper is part of a process of documentation of the development of South African Art? That it is presently constructing, together with other publications, the narrative of South African Art history. Black artists have evolved beyond the ideology you allude to in your article: They do not feel sorry for themselves anymore, they engage with the discourses of the visual art on the same platform as any other artists alive today does. You failed to reveal this in your article.

Your article lacks first hand intercourse with the artist. It is as if you used other newspapers and other publications’ contributions covering Mbongeni to construct your article. Take heed staff writer that should you have, on the day you claim your presence in our midst, introduced your self as a writer of the SA Art Times the artist would’ve joyously given you an exclusive interview, you would have learn that over the run of the exhibition the artist was going to do demonstrations of his ‘plastic fantastic’ painting technique and if you cared you would have attended and experienced the technique your self and have a better phrase for it your self. And you would have covered this in your exposition. This revelation of the practical demonstration would have inspired an interest in those venues where the exhibition is scheduled to go after Tshwane/Pretoria.

After that direct contact even more so you will have respected the fact that you do not have the right to speak about prices of artworks when you profile an artist – but if it is a sale pitch at an auction by all means you can. You would’ve covered the technical explanation of the artistic production of Mbongeni R. Buthelezi’s innovative painting with decorum like your paper does with other artists it covers (as I have hinted above already).

You have wasted space by not praising an achievement that is in the person of Mbongeni R. Buthelezi as far as evolving a progressive stylistic approach to painting using a non traditional medium is concerned. In a nut shell you should’ve reflected on new media which is an avenue whose door continues to open ever so wider in contemporary art’s evolution with reference to this artist.

Your article, while it might be well meant to other readers out there, it lacks first hand intercourse with the subject matter it purports to be about and runs the risk of an ideology that this country has interrogated and phased out. You take us backward SA Art Times and I believe you owe Mbongeni R. Buthelezi an apology.

*The images appearing in this article were scanned from the new catalog of Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi’s  work.  The catalog accompanied his exhibition entitled Imizwa Yami (My Feelings) that was on show at the Pretoria Art Museum  during from 13 May – 16 August 2009.

11 August

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2009

note

1. The reader may find it interesting to read the article Mbongeni Buthelezi: Blowing life into plastic http://wp.me/ptAqt-H this work narrates my first impression with the artist.

Interpreting Tshepo Mosopa – Artist/Poet collaboration

Idioms and proverbs have been in existence amongst our people before the introduction of the writing

Tshepo Mosopa

system as a form of teaching, guidance and knowledge transference. I use Idioms as a basis of my themes and make connection with the modern period that our people find themselves in.

– Tshepo Mosopa

Tshepo Mosopa

MENO MASWEU I

My eyes are dead like the sunken eyes of a skull

I victimized victim to victim

Collecting my keep for it is owed to me

By your flocks – the Mzanzians

You in whom I am disowned

With lack of employ

Bang my gun

I take

Ban my gun you wish

Think you can assert control over my destiny

My deeds

Do you?

Heh?

Forget you not that you raised the monster in me like Kgori said forgot you to give I skill to survive

You preach pedagogy for the selected few

So I shall be friends with you, laugh at you

While I cut you from underneath

And put you in a state of paralysis never experienced ‘afore

While the world watches you in shame

I crime the monster shall discourage visitations unto this land

I keep zapping at your possibility for I not alternative not have

But there is a monster that haunts me

Is this a sign of guilt?

And when son/daughter ask

What daddy does for living

What shall the criminal say?

 

The land of molalatladi has sidelined me;

that is why this goes.

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2009

Tshepo Mosopa

Kgori

I had searched for a livelihood in your bosom

I went from pillar to post (like they say) in search of your sap

Trying to eek a livin’ o Mzanzi whom us all were promised

And now I bow in defeat

Of your Class divisions

Artificial Mzanzi

School went I but drop of nectar of what you ooze I am denied

Hunger contort my body into a suffo’

cat

And survival tactics lack I.

I envy the northern ebony

Who grin in a skill

Who sweat by his own inspired efforts

For your former steering committee molded the present by ignorance Mzanzi

Forging my poverty by forecast and preemption

Entrapping me by denying me skill

So slave I

Are we to blame them or the present power controllers?

let us drop the question mark for no one cares, is there?

But if one out here cares there is a glimmer of hope

If one out there keep us in mind then there is a chance

But all of us careless; Then doom descend

Until then there is no strength to rise from the gutter

That has become the commonplace of the destitute

Acute it is now

For iron shap’n iron

As black downpress black

And Meno Masweu is justified

O the blackgeoisie give us hope in your dominion.

Will you?

Skill us

So that we can bake our own bread

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2009

‘The work of the poet is easy, like a sponge the poet observes. In interrogation s/he oozes personified

mmutle

impressions’

– Mmutle Arthur Kgokong

Mbongeni R. Buthelezi – Blowing life into plastic

“For me making art is like having an appointment with creativity itself, I am well aware that should I stop working I will never move closer to the objective of art making which through commitment inevitably results in excellence”

– Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi

*In the winter of 1999 I had the pleasure of meeting the late Ntate Durant Sihlali(1935 – 2004) at the Pretoria Art Museum. I remember vividly that it was on a Sunday and the art museum had the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition subtitled: Scientist, Inventor and Artist on show.

What was profound about that day was that  it was the first time I met Durant Sihlali in person and it happened that on the morning of that day prior to leaving my home in Atteridgeville to attend to my duty as a guide at the art museum, I happened; as I always did those days, to view the regular arts and culture programme that was being aired in the early Sunday mornings by the SABC and it was, I tend to think, by divine coincidence they were showing a documentary on Ntate Durant Sihlali. I remember that he was shown pouring paint on hand made paper. Ntate Durant had played a major role in documenting what was going on during the forced removals of the sixties and seventies in the townships of the Reef.

There I was on that Sunday beholding his rather stocky frame perusing Leornado’s anatomical facsimiles in Preiss Hall – one of the Art Museum’s gallery. It was five to six hours later after watching the pre-recorded interview of his. I chanced a greeting and I was delighted when he gave me a friendly reply punctuated by a slow and humbled voice. Such is the delight when an aspiring artist meets an established artists, polarity is established instantly. However my knowledge of Durant Sihlali is rather limited to books for I had only that one brief privilege encounter with him. His contributions to South African art started to flood my mind as time went by for I began to grasp the nature of black South African artists contribution to South African art later in my life.

Warren Siebrits Modern Contemporary Art Gallery has mounted a tribute exhibition to him during April this year. However what sharply stands out about Durant when one surveys his oeuvre is his handling of water paint and evolution towards the abstract form.

Today this heritage, this ability to delve into the non figurative universe can be discerned in one of Durant Sihlali’s pupils at Funda Centre, Mbongeni Buthelezi, who quite recently I have had the pleasure of meeting at his studio at the Seippel Art Gallery in downtown Johannesburg about ten minutes, through Jozi traffic from the Fordsburg Studios.

The studio is pervaded by the burning musk of plastic as he crouches in front of a black and white plastic painting which forms a series, they all burst with white slashes and splashes as if a stone has been thrown into a black solution whose depths are pregnant with a white colour and this colour; when disturbed explodes into various facial expressions and form. Our business in Johannesburg on 31 August 2007 was to introduce Nthabiseng Montshiwa to Ntate Koloane at the Fordsburg Studio. Because of elapsed time due to a burst tire we had to pass by the Seippel Gallery earlier than anticipated for our friend and colleague in the arts the curator of the gallery Mxolisi Xaba had a prearranged call that he was expecting from Europe and had to avail himself at the prescribed time.

Mbobengi welcomed us warmly, until then I had spoken to him on a couple of occasions on the phone last year at about this very time and had met him briefly in March of this year through Mxolisi Xaba. We found him squatting in the large expanse that constitute his studio. There was of course another person in the studio cutting panels on his behalf. By the end of our meeting I will surmise that it must have been his assistant. The piece that he was currently working on was a part of a six series, having rested the gun-like machine he uses to melt his media; for that is exactly what he does – he paints with molten plastic. We shake hands with him. He crosses over to switch off the music playing from a ghetto blaster atop a sofa strewn with sketch diary and some few magazines. The series of black and white plastic paintings he is working on rest against a wall and there is a supply of salvaged used plastic bags, visible one could already pick out coca-cola six pack plastic wrapper, six pack beer wrapper

‘so you are hard at work man’ says I after we have settled. We are not really seated, the images that surround us are overwhelming, it is actually Nthabiseng who is seating.

‘yes man I am hard at work, you know this is what I enjoy, and with the opening of my solo exhibition coming closer there is no time to waste’ says Mbongeni.

‘Tell me, how did you arrive at this point where you are using plastic’ I ask giving in into the alluring question because when one looks at the work it has a thick impasto of oil painting.

‘Lack of materials was a motivating factor, I do not think if I was a privilege artist who had accessibility to traditional art making materials such as oil paints I would not have discovered the art of plastic painting. I was initiated, groomed and trained through the art of watercolour paints.’

‘When I look at some of the pieces resting on the wall I cannot help but see the quality of water colour painting in them, now I understand that you were trained as a watercolorist; this watercolour quality reminds me of the art of Durant Sihlali.’ I observed.

‘Yes indeed, I was trained by him at FUNDA in the eighties when I use to attend art classes after school and later on when I took art seriously in the late eighties; Durant was a very disciplined and strict artist. I remember I once wanted to reject this medium for the simple drawing technique however Bra Durant enforced the media on us. At the time we had to do some plain air water colour painting so I remember I spent some time painting the old hostels in springs. After prolonged periods of practicing with the media I became better and secured in its use, but as I say I would later find it difficult to afford this medium and that is when I discovered the use of discarded plastic and it was not long when I experimented with molten plastic as a painting media.’ He explains at length.

‘Were there any highlights at point in your career?’ I ask

‘Yes when Nhlanhla Xaba won the standard bank young artist award in 1998 I was invited as an exhibiting guest artist. And my work was exhibited along side his. It was a great exposure for me, I could see then that I was going places with my art.’ He maintains.

‘What do you think of Kay Hassan’s work.

‘Well it is wonderful man, using discarded material always presents an opportunity to re-cycle, to give new life to material. Kay uses discarded Billboard paper – he gives new life to it, I forage for discarded plastic bags – I give them a new use, a new form, a new life.’ He affirms.

What one realises when one surveys the artist’s studio, is that the space is in par with what Mbongeni has just remarked. He does indeed recast a new life into plastic…and this is the ideal of the artist’s relation to new media – to breathe new life into it.

Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi’s plastic paintings are on show at the Pretoria Art Museum from 13 May – 16 August 2009.

*this  piece was written in mid 2008 prior to the opening of the exhibition officially in  May 2009.

© 2009 Mmutle Arthur Kgokong