Paul Molete at Art on Paper
by Robyn Sassen
There is something overwhelmingly satisfying in being able to look at a linocut printed with exactly the right amount of pressure, with the edges of its printed sheet left pristine. But is this all it takes for excellence in this medium? In his body of 17 impeccably printed linos, Dikgwele Paul Molete confronts social taboos. A little naïve in their literalism and earnestness, these works are extremely competent technically. Thus they straddle critical success, reflecting as much on the value of an art platform as on our society.
Affiliated with the Artist Proof Studio and educated by a variety of different arts institutions, Molete was involved with the studio at the time of the terrible fire which destroyed it in 2003, but there are a couple of works here that draw directly from the detritus of that fire. These are the first that one encounters as one enters the gallery, and they set a slightly dodgy tone: the burnt edges of the prints feel too sentimental and overtly dramatic an approach.
As one enters the gallery space proper, however, something entirely else emerges. Molete is very competent as a printer, and he has produced a body of work which is extremely confrontational on a social level.
This forces the works into a push-pull situation. They are seductive in their technical sophistication, in the situation of compositional devices and the nifty use of different line types in conveying and capturing an image. They�re also difficult to look at: Molete deals brazenly with issues ranging from the sexual molestation of children and the corruption of priesthood, to abortion and androgyny. Drawing from cultural sayings like �It takes a nation to raise a child�, he uses profoundly evocative devices like wire coat hangers and sonar scans to convey the horror of ending a pregnancy.
A crucified Christ sports a healthy erection in Odium. He�s surrounded by acts of buggery performed by various types of creature � from priests to animals. A terrified child�s face is emblazoned upon the moon in Children�s worst nightmares are not taken seriously. The fear is bloodcurdling, judging by the child�s expression of horror, but its source remains unspecified. The unamused face of Robert Mugabe amid many penguins is used iconically and ironically as a comment on African homophobia in Gay penguins (limited conceptions of homosexuality).
The most unsettling aspect of this startling body of work is one of literalism however. While the social taboos reflected are explicit, it is not always clear what Molete is intending in these works. Are they propagandistic biblical reflections on the ills of contemporary society, or are they intimate musings? Their directness in execution speaks of an agenda, but we as the viewers are not given access to this, which does impair the reading of the works.
Blending beauty with horror, Molete�s large scale prints resonate with a sense of challenge that might or might not draw investors. Either way, his emergence into the local mainstream gallery scene is noteworthy.
Closed: May 26
Art on Paper
8 Main Road, Melville
Tel: (011) 726 2234
Hours: Tue � Sat 10am � 5pm