WHATIFTHEWORLD/Gallery, Cape Town
16.03.2016 – 30.04.2016
Moffat Takadiwa has emerged as a born-free generation, African artist who has a profound interest in the remnants of consumer products. His latest solo exhibition ‘Across Borders’ is the most recent instalment in a succession of found-object-related works that have been the pivotal point of his artistic practice for the last six years.
Currently based in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, Takadiwa’s home ground surroundings have incited a deep fascination with the lifecycle of the objet trouvé. As a self-proclaimed ‘spiritual garbage man’ he intentionally brings debris into the white cube gallery space that act as a catalyst for conversation about the significance of found consumer waste and its connection to a Zimbabwean identity. His practice is suggestive of the work of the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui’s emblematic ‘bottle-top installations’. Anatsui has been recognized for his enormous metal cloth-like wall figures that spark conversation about the environmental impact of consumer waste and is indicative of his Ghanaian cultural identity. Although not as monumental, Takadiwa’s works also stand as dense, totemic assemblages that are evocative of a society that is dedicated to consuming and disposing. As a predecessor in African found-object-art, Anatsui is a definite influence for Takadiwa’s work. Takadiwa incorporates his own identity into his work by using waste straight from Zimbabwean streets. He has also created an overall sensory experience of these found objects. Which is intrinsically tactile and even emits the scent of the Zimbabwean debris.
This exhibition is evidently influenced by his cultural identity. Which leads one’s thoughts to the long-standing relationship between Zimbabwe and China (who is their priority stakeholder). Harare’s economic growth as a new-fangled metropolis greatly rests on its trading association with China. Which makes the political, economic and cultural ties between the two nations quite strong. Having studied at the Harare Polytechnic College during a time of severe inflation and economic depression, Takadiwa explored the use of unconventional materials because he had limited resources. This is what led him to the use of consumer waste. As this hits close to home for the artist himself, it becomes quite evident that his artistic intention is of a somewhat personal nature that speaks of the economic progression that his country has made.
The impact of the surfeit of cheap Chinese products manifests in the masses of materials that Takadiwa now has access to. These sculptures are comprised of hundreds of pieces of found waste. The composition and patterning of his wall sculptures is reminiscent of African textiles and beadwork that one typically sees at flea markets and African jewellers these days. Many of them are also reminiscent of the beautiful ethnic jewellery pieces that one comes across on the adorned necks of tribal women. As they hang, suspended upon the smooth surface of the gallery walls, one pictures the lengthy neck-pieces that these women traditionally wear.
With regards to works such as Vendors Teeth Tight (2016), Takadiwa has produced densely clustered arrangements of plastic bottle caps and trashed computer keys that exhibits the execution of imaginative, ‘crafty’ designs and a bright aesthetic character. The bulkiness of these ‘object sculptures’ speaks of an over-whelming abundance of goods and excessive disposal. These works hang as artistic manifestations of a consumerist fixation with cheap goods and the impact that mass production and consumption has had on our lives.
African beadwork is predominantly deemed as ‘craftwork’- the work of the artisan rather than an artist. However, in this particular exhibition Takadiwa raises the status of found consumer waste by using the technique of beadwork to create artistic assemblages. He then employs the gallery space (which has been institutionalized as the space where only ‘art’ resides) to disrupt the ‘art’ and ‘craft’ binary. He manages to then bridge the gap that exists between art and craftwork, by interlacing these found objects with elements such as artistic intention and aesthetic character. In doing so, he overcomes elitist conceptions of art.
A recurring feature that one picks up on is the use of circular designs. The ‘circle’ is placed either within a corner of the sculpture as an accent or embellishment, or is used as an overall structural shape. This can be seen in works such as Smell of Harare E (2015) and The Narratives (2015). The circle has inexhaustible connotations. However, in this particular exhibition it seems to be used as a symbol of African culture, unity and the notion of a completed cycle. This alludes to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery and new-found stability as a nation. In this way the circle then features as an emblematic totem that ties in with the Zimbabwean coat of arms motto that states: ‘unity, freedom, work’.
The colourful range of materials adds to the visual appeal of these imaginative arrangements. These wall-hung ‘object sculptures’ have made for a striking experience. Despite their ‘cheap’, dented status, one becomes irrevocably consumed by the astounding aesthetic character they possess. The bold colours and textures of the different plastic and metal materials catches the eye almost immediately. These discarded objects were once completely degraded and disregarded, but Takadiwa has reinstated value into them and compels one to reconsider and re-look. These dense multi-coloured assemblages are quite decorative and delightful. One does however tend to question the placement of ‘trash’ inside a gallery space, whilst at the same time respecting its magnificence and the technique involved in the process of creating these sculptures. Nevertheless, the visual pleasure offered by these sculptural sensations evokes a sense of contemplation about how that which was once devalued actually has the potential to be made purposeful again. In the instance of this exhibition the devalued has essentially been re-valued- igniting an invigorated appreciation for found-object-art.
Takadiwa stands as a forerunner of the young, emergent African artists in contemporary society. His use of the surfeit of consumer waste to create symbolic, tactile wall sculptures is an inspired artistic approach to telling personal narratives and are emblematic of the financial trials and accomplishments of his country, as to indicate that Zimbabwe has overcome economic calamity. He has elevated the worth of debris and has successfully contributed to the existing platform for found objects in a contemporary art world.