Lizamore and Associates

From 'Indigenous Calculus'

Zolile Phetsane
From 'Indigenous Calculus', Oil on Canvas ,


155 Jan Smuts Avenue Parkwood 2193




Samson Mnisi and Zolile Phetsane at Lizamore and Associates

Taking their cue from the predominantly Western thought of calculus, Mnsisi and Phetsane investigate the concept of calculus within African and non- Western civilizations. In short, calculus entails the mathematical study of change. Generally considered to have been founded in the 17th century by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, today calculus has widespread uses in science, engineering and economics. The artists deliberately chose to conceptualise this exhibition around two contrasting terms; indigenous and calculus, as Mnisi explains: “I know they don’t work together – they don’t mix together and that’s why we’re using this title”.

Mnisi’s monumental paintings draw inspiration from a variety of ancient cultures, such as structural elements from Machu Picchu, Ndebele patterns, architectural structures in Lesotho, traditional drawings of the Aborigine’s   and visuals from ancient cave drawings in France and Germany. The artist also draws inspiration from Modernist abstract masters, such as Kandinsky, Miro and Klee. Through combining these elements, the artist creates his own, symbolic language. He explains: "Language is an old expression of abstract thoughts, through symbolism. My art is a language, that seeks to express human emotion through colour, symbols and line. It is intrinsically linked and intertwined with historical reference points. I have fused what I have learnt over the years with what I invent. I have been influenced primarily by indigenous languages, and forms of expressions from everywhere, from the Khoisan to the Aborigines to the Egyptian and Native Americans. I reconnect the old and the new to find a dialect that is uniquely Samson. It is thus not unusual to find mathematical references and symbolism in my language. My biggest influence remains my immediate culture and surroundings, which are seamlessly fluid and in a constant state of evolution and metamorphosis."

Along with Mnisi, Phetsane uses colour as a language, scratching and painting on surfaces to get textured surfaces. The artist works with many layers of solid colours in pastel – creating colourful abstract landscapes. He then ads smaller texts and imagery – creating interesting and intricate patterns and details. The artist juxtaposes objects (chairs, bread pulls, boxes, road signs, water-marking and painted stairs) as metaphors. “I love playing around with objects and infuse numbers as a language or sentence, from time to time I use the last four digits from ID numbers.” Along with the use of various objects, the artist’s work mainly consists of abstract colour fields. “The use of the abstract came as a result of a fire at the Artist Proof Studio a few years ago. I started producing experimental pieces and I would use found objects as part of the prints. After losing more than 100 prints due to the fire, abstract was a destruction in the process of trying to find something completely outside the arts. At the time I was willing to get a job and forget about art. For some reason I always find myself going back to the studio and play around with inks and use anything I find interesting.”

On a subconscious level, these objects and the abstract representations deal with social issues surrounding women, children and human settlement. During Phetsane’s process mathematics and numbers also come into play. ”I started experimenting with calculations on my artworks, using square objects and infusing chairs, doors and Pyramids of Giza;  creating illusionary spaces, stairs between legs in some of the chairs, painting open roofs; playing around with reflections of light. I play with illusion and fuse calculations in every art work.”

Mathematics has a big influence on Phetsane’s work, as he believes we use it in our daily lives. Furthermore, the artist is very interested in the role of the conscious and subconscious when producing art. Whilst mathematics encourages a very linear and conscious line of thought, the artist relies on the subconscious as part of his technique. He seldom plans a work and rather sees his work as a journey and a process. In doing so, the end result always speaks for itself.

05 June 2014 - 28 June 2014