Avhashoni Mainganye at the AVA
by Ivana Abreu
Through the theme of 'Journey', Avhashoni Mainganye traces the many political journeys that we as South Africans undertake, as well as the spiritual journeys we go through as individuals. Mainganye's work seeks to reconcile these on both a conceptual and formal level.
The show is loosely divided into paintings and collages with stone sculptures interspersed between these. The titles of the works assist in guiding the viewer through these journeys. The artist's statement, which unfortunately was not included in the wall text, could have provided viewers with vital information, and would have enabled them to engage with the exhibition on a deeper, more meaningful level, thus allowing for more productive readings of the exhibition as a whole.
A combination of abstraction and figuration, the sculptures function strategically, providing a formal and conceptual link between the paintings and collages. The sculptures establish a relationship between the themes of political and spiritual journeys. Stylistically referencing the Shona sculptural tradition, Mainganye creates interactions between the rural and the urban, and between the political and the personal. His sculptures in part reiterate ideas of traditional, spiritual and cultural practices strongly associated with the rural experience, and, in part they reflect on the politics and struggle for freedom, which is more often than not played out in the contested urban space. Some refer to spiritual practices, as is evident in Tribute to the Spirit of Nehanda and Praying for Rain, whilst, in Waiting for Freedom and Basking in the Sun of Freedom Mainganye refers to political journeys. Expressed in these sculptures, the political theme of freedom starts to feed into the collages, particularly the ones that make reference to 'the struggle'.
By implying some sort of chronology in the titles Waiting for Freedom and Basking in the Sun of Freedom, Mainganye sends a strong message regarding the political journey of South Africa and how one should not, years on, take this for granted. This point is further stressed in the collages Forward Ever Backward Never and We Remember� where he suggests that, as our political journey progresses we must not become complacent and should always keep in mind the struggle of the past.
The paintings with their abstract and organic forms seem to reflect on the spiritual 'journey'. This is confirmed in their titles Walking the Ancient Path, Life and Death and In the Belly of the Lake. In Venda culture, water plays a significant role and there are many myths and spiritual practices connected to the lakes and dams in the area. The painting In the Belly of the Lake has a mystical quality. With soft transparent washes and fluid forms it embodies the spirituality associated with these bodies of water. The theme of a spiritual journey is almost magnified by the fact that Mainganye is a rural-based artist, where cultural and spiritual practices are very much intertwined and are a significant part of daily existence.
There are two paintings which appear to distinguish themselves somewhat from the rest. In these the brushwork is looser and the colours allowed to mix, creating a sense of turbulence and energy. These works were placed near the collages whose violent and chaotic imagery provide a good link between the media and between themes.
The collages in the show refer to a political journey, explicitly South African. Images of violence and protest line the far wall of the gallery, immediately recalling the apartheid era. The image of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying Hector Pieterson's body became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising. Mainganye manipulates this image in the collages We Remember� and The Wall of Shame I. The tears, gaps, layering and warping of the paper add to the materiality of the works, whilst emphasizing the violence and chaos.
The political journey is then brought into the present with three large collages Election 2004, Mr President (Mbeki) and Mr President (Zumaology). Inthe first two Mainganye uses old campaign posters, and through the manipulation of the poster fragments, creates subtle disfigurations on the faces of the candidates. Mr President (Zumaology) hangs in the middle of the room. On one side it is made up of many different pictures of Zuma taken from newspapers, and on the reverse it is filled with headlines and fragments of articles concerning Zuma. The scale and repetition of Zuma's image as well as the numerous headlines on the reverse embody the extent of the media hype around this political figure.
This collage neither condemns nor reveres Zuma: instead, as the title suggests, it makes Zuma the subject of study. This work gains more significance when viewed in relation to Mr President (Mbeki) that hangs in the background. The Mbeki collage is composed entirely of campaign posters, which repetitively present the same image of Mbeki. The strategic placement of these collages contrasts Zuma's colourful personality with Mbeki's more one-dimensional character.
There are further links that provide formal continuity between the various media. The two collages suspended in the middle of the gallery are materially significant works, their scale and the intensity with which Mainganye has layered on the images has resulted in the paper (onto which these images were glued) being entirely engulfed by the collage element, making the works very sculptural. The formal effect created by the torn paper fragments finds continuity in the large painting, entitled Le Mond.
The works on this show have been produced over the last 16 years. The 'Journey' beginning in 1992 takes the viewer through a range of media and styles, itself a 'formal' journey. Mainganye appears to create numerous links in various ways, some subtle, others obvious, but nevertheless these effectively serve to map out the journeys he proposes.
Opens: August 25
Closes: September 12
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