Objects
Bernadette Van Haute
Place of origin: Africa
Location: Africa
Lawrence Lemaoana
2017
embroidery on Kanga cloth
155cm x 115cm
Johannesburg
Afronova

New Generation of Artists redefine their Cultural Heritage

The embroidered work by Lawrence Lemaoana, entitled SILENCE … FALLS (2017), serves as an example of the ways in which young black artists in South Africa aim to express a specific South African identity which appeals to the global art world. His art demonstrates a concern with socio-political issues through a critical engagement with mass media. Lemaoana has managed to decolonise his art by grounding it in a local context and mobilising resources of cultural and artistic modernity, rendering it relevant to a modern Africa and a global humanity.

Bernadette Van Haute
Bernadette Van Haute

Lawrence Lemaoana’s work, entitled SILENCE … FALLS (2017) consists of Kanga fabric with cotton embroidery, measuring 155 x 115 cm. Lemaoana is a South African black male, born in Johannesburg in 1982, who lives and works in Johannesburg. The work serves as an example of the ways in which young black artists in South Africa aim to express a specific South African identity which appeals to the global art world. 

 

The use of Kanga fabric as medium is in itself very significant. Lemaoana states that: "Kanga fabrics [...] are used extensively in my work. Manufactured in the East, and brought to South Africa to be sold in markets and bazaars, the journey of the fabrics speaks of the idiosyncrasies and trade imbalances of globalisation. The textiles themselves though have a wholly different life in South Africa – they are regarded as significant markers of spiritual healing, imbued with great religious and spiritual power, used by diviners and fortune-tellers." (Afronova)

 

The Kanga cloth is “used specifically in Emandzawe rituals, both as clothing for the sangoma [diviner] performing the ritual and as cloth on the shrine inside the shrine room in which the ritual takes place” (von Veh, 2017, pp. 13-14). The use of this fabric thus establishes Lemaoana’s identification with both global culture and black African culture which does not belong to a mythical past but is still very much alive today. His own familiarity with the sangoma becomes clear when he maintains that the ambiguity of the traditional healer’s utterings parallels that of headlines in the news media. He also exploits the deeper meaning embedded in the three colours white, red and black to heighten the impact of his highly topical messages.

 

Lemaoana’s work is inspired by current socio-political events and the way in which they are reported in the local media. The composition Silence Falls evokes the #RhodesMustFall movement which began in 2015. This demonstrates the artist’s concern with the plight of the South African youth and his identity as an artist born in the 1980s – the so-called ‘born-frees’ who did not actually experience the ‘struggle’. The works of this generation of artists are described as “symptomatic of the new identity issues of the post-apartheid era. This young generation is appropriating a history that it believes has been confiscated and twisted in order to develop an alternative that takes into account its own subjective experience. Conscious of their responsibilities, these artists are helping to formulate and affirm a specific South African identity” (Pagé and Scherf, 2017, p. 8).  

 

Lemaoana expresses his concern with socio-political issues through a critical engagement with mass media in South Africa. He is particularly concerned by the ability of the local media to shape social consciousness. By isolating news headlines and appropriating political slogans in his very own cynical way he “turns didactic and propagandistic tools on their head” (Afronova). As Lepage (2017, p. 117) states, Lemaoana uses the power of “words as favoured instruments in the political struggle”.

 

The importance of Lemaoana’s work is vested in his participation in the Fondation Louis Vuitton exhibition in Paris in 2017. The exhibition was divided in three parts; the first one was entitled Being there: South Africa, a contemporary scene and aimed to show South African vitality through the works of 16 artists. In the accompanying catalogue the curators Suzanne Pagé and Angeline Scherf (2017, p. 8) explained that their choice of artists was “based primarily on the action of the artists themselves, on their engagement with the current economic and social institutions, their awareness and conviction that they can act and play a role: BEING THERE”.

 

Interestingly the curators also comment on the fact that this younger generation of artists, in the context of ongoing economic and social divisions more than two decades after the end of Apartheid, sees it as its mission to transform “disenchantment into the energy for renewal” (Pagé and Scherf, 2017, p. 8). Achille Mbembe (2017, p. 16) elaborates on the current tensions in South African politics and culture which have led to a stalemate. In a society where consumption has become the quintessential state of being, the visual arts are in crisis, characterised by radical fragmentation and dispersion of reality (Mbembe 2017, pp. 23-24). “What is needed in contemporary South African arts”, writes Mbembe (2017, p. 24), “are concepts with which to seek out the real … . This will not happen without a new collective imagination that will help to facilitate the passage from the past and present to the future”.

 

This is what Lemaoana has achieved in his art. His participation in the show confirms his status as a contemporary South African artist who has managed to decolonise his art by “seeking out the real” and grounding it in a local or national context. Furthermore, in Lemaoana’s works there is no room for, what Mbembe (2017, p. 25) calls, “tropes of pain and suffering” or the injuries inflicted “by the forces of racism and patriarchy” – tropes that are the characteristic traps of postcolonial discourse. His art is decolonised in the sense that all the resources of cultural and artistic modernity – both in terms of medium and narrative – have been mobilised in order to render itself more relevant to a modern Africa and a global humanity (Ekpo, 2017, p. 20).

 

 

References

  • Afronova. http://www.afronova.com/artists/lawrence-lemaoana-2/ (accessed on September 19, 2017).
  • Ekpo, D. (2017). Manifesto for a Post-African art. Unpublished keynote address presented at the SAVAH Conference, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa, September 21 – 23, 2017.
  • Lepage, A. (2017). Lawrence Lemaoana. In S. Pagé & A. Scherf (Eds.), Being there: South Africa, a contemporary scene (pp. 116-21). Paris: Fondation Louis Vuitton and Editions Dilecta.
  • Mbembe, A. (2017). Difference and repetition. Reflections on South Africa today. In S. Pagé & A. Scherf (Eds.), Being there: South Africa, a contemporary scene (pp. 15-25). Paris: Fondation Louis Vuitton and Editions Dilecta.
  • Pagé, S. & Scherf, A. (Eds.). (2017). Being there: South Africa, a contemporary scene. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Fondation Louis Vuitton and Editions Dilecta.
  • von Veh, K. (2017). Textual Textiles: Gender and Political Parodies in the Work of Lawrence Lemaoana, TEXTILE,1-19. doi: 10.1080/14759756.2017.1337381 (Accessed September 5, 2017).