Moshekwa Langa at Goodman Gallery Cape
by Fabian Saptouw
Moshekwa Langa is known for his auto-biographical working methods and construction of complex narratives. 'The Inheritance of Loss' at Goodman Gallery ape continues his open-ended exploration of an identity in flux and a continually evolving set of personal perspectives and social positions. In order to successfully articulate these concerns, Langa refuses to be bound by any medium, material or technique and has previously employed drawing, sculpture, photography, video, and mixed media installations. This particular body of work features a series of drawings executed in ballpoint pen, pencil, coloured pencils, acrylics, pigment, enamel spray, nail varnish, Chinese ink, collage, gum arabica, water colour, iridescent acrylic and transparent lacquer. Each material is employed with great care and consideration to create images that are enticing on both a visual and tactile level.
Langa's exploration of medium and material encompasses a variety of visual strategies. The large group of works seems to sprawl across the gallery space, each offering a different avenue for exploration. A salient feature is his use of text and image in various configurations to build his drawings. In Saw the face of god (2007) the vertically aligned cursive text is almost indecipherable, and the thickly applied oil stick gives the words a certain visual density, pulling the composition to the right side. The lack of text in works like The specialist (2002/2007) imbues such work with a well deserved touch of subtlety. Langa's work should not be misunderstood as a diametric stand-off between text and image, but rather be engaged on how the two are intertwined to create a body of work that hovers somewhere in between.
At first glance, the inclusion of some works like You Cow! (2000) and Xavier and me at La Defense (1998/2007) is somewhat jarring. In the former, the cow's frivolous expression adds a light touch of humour to an otherwise appropriately sombre show. Similarly the latter seems visually out of sync with what appears to be a tightly knit group of work. The visual disparity of these and a few other works makes somewhat more sense when one steps back and takes the time to compare the various production dates. Situating the works in their place on that continuum is crucial for a deeper engagement with Langa's personal iconography. The older works' physical presence within the gallery space eases the essentially fragmentary process of remembering.
That process is what features very prominently in the works that rely more heavily on text. In The separate amenities act (2007) a variety of multi-coloured shapes float in a ground of light and dark blue patches. A large portion of the free-floating shapes contains small textual notations, some of which have been erased, rewritten, washed out or painted over. Examples of the texts that appear on this and other images are 'The Glitter And The Gutter', 'A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof', 'Justin', 'National Land Group Areas Act', 'Ntatoke', 'Kgafela', 'Jolting Joe', 'Mpho', 'Shembe', 'Labana', 'Ma-Sione', 'Suzan', 'Digashu', 'Setseta', 'The Separate Development Act', 'Tribal Woman' and 'Suddenly Last Summer'.
The text traverses the boundaries between the personal, the social, the literary and the historical. One cannot determine with any certainty what these fragments of information mean and to what events in Langa's personal history they are tied. The vagueness of the entries links it to the way we selectively remember the past, and the way these experiences overlap to create mixed memories that we cannot connect to a particular time or a place. That element of uncertainty that haunts these fragmentary moments is infinitely fascinating. It is almost as if these images map the complex terrain of Langa's lived experience.
Maps are generally meant to provide the means to orientate oneself and facilitate safe navigation through unfamiliar territory and in this sense Langa manages to deceive the viewer quite effectively. His promises of clarity and guidance quickly become undone as we are drawn into the picture plane. Although he does present us with a myriad of names, places, peoples and events, the links between these are entirely obscured. To my mind these images form a crucial part of an abstract narrative that is centred on Langa's personal growth and discovery.
As viewers we are presented with maps to a territory that we will never be able to access and explore, we only have transcriptions, interpretations and metaphors. Whether it is the thin strand of brown hair that crawls across Kwa-dokotela (2007), the tuft of hair that almost managed to escape from The separate amenities act or the dusty feather that has been subdued by the transparent lacquer in Co-operation (2007), Langa's meanings and motives play a clever game of hide-and-seek with the viewer's gaze. The clues he leaves behind come across as intentionally unintentional, they obfuscate rather than inform, and serve to underscore the open-endedness with which Langa approaches his practice.
Fabian Saptouw is a Master of Fine Art student at UCT's Michaelis School of Fine Art
Opened: November 17
Closes: December 8
Goodman Gallery Cape
3rd Floor Fairweather House, 176 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
Tel: (021) 462 7573
Fax: (021) 462 7579
Hours: Tue - Fri 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sat 10am - 4pm