STEVENSON, Cape Town
14.04.2016 – 28.05.2016
The ellipsis: a marking that functions as a point of intended omission. Whether it is used as a means of postponement or generating tension, the ellipsis suggests that much has been left undone…
Moshekwa Langa’s latest solo exhibition, at the Stevenson Gallery in Woodstock, is entitled ‘Ellipses’. This title serves as a critical point of departure towards decrypting the deep meaning that is embedded within Langa’s most untranslatable visualisations. Langa has said that this particular exhibition is but ‘only an explanation’ of his life that is partial and temporary. The intentional open-endedness of the artworks within the exhibition ties in with the title ‘Ellipses’. Therefore, the overall fragmentary nature of the exhibition acts as an underpinning theme for Langa’s latest endeavour of creating abstract, mixed media art that is both personal and ambivalent.
Langa’s older works have conversely been investigated as anthropological pieces that speak of social and political themes in relation to power structures, as well as his own identity as a black South African man. Langa would quite habitually include two-dimensional, idiosyncratic drawn figures and faces that have been executed with a primitive aesthetic. This can be seen in works such as Night Life II, (2002). Langa’s preceding figures have always remained anonymous curios who lack clear identities and comprehensive contextual information. He has however indicated that these were faces of residents of the many places (locally and internationally) that he has travelled to and lived in. These people and places had influenced his sense of self and African identity. This practice of including personal, expressive drawings in his work is indicative of his artistic mode of making a statement about his ‘insider-outsider’ identity- a state of uncertainty. However, in ‘Ellipses’, there are but only five works out of a total of forty that actually include this practice of documentation via primitive portraiture. The intentional extraction of unidentifiable human-like figures from his artworks possibly indicates a shift away from the sociological and political concerns that were imbued in his earlier exhibitions. Langa is arguably progressing towards a more introspective form of art-making rather than allowing his work to be heavily influenced by ‘outsiders’ or communal figures.
Langa has also become well-known for his incorporation of multiple mediums. In this particular show, he has made use of masking tape, ink, spray paint, acrylic paint and even a grinded stone mixture amongst other mediums. He has argued that as part of his process of eclectic art-making, he merely makes use of whatever materials are at his disposal. In this way he thus allows the mediums themselves to take agency and progress spontaneously, rather than strategically putting together his materials and composition for the inclusion of communal figures. In many of his works such as Lilies of the fields (2016) this notion is true. Langa has created colourful tableaux where the mediums such as ink and spray paint have come into contact with masking tape and created what looks like a chemical reaction; an explosion of colour upon the canvas. One feels an almost unexplainable warm energy exuding from these colourful panels. The use of reds, pinks and purples have made for a harmonious combination of colour that is evocative of intimacy and a sense of passion.
This diverse piling up of mediums and colour creates poetic nuances in his works. This process of stacking up layers of materials becomes indicative of embedding mixed feelings and cryptic-like life references into his artwork. It is as so though the plethora of memories and experiences have overwhelmed Langa and have left him uncertain and contemplative. Due to his overwhelmed disposition, Langa has consequently created panels of mixed mediums which visually express a sense of inconsistency and indecisiveness.
As a well-known ‘neo-conceptualist’ Langa has now taken a visually eclectic approach to creating a ‘chronicle of his life’ and how he experiences the world around him. What becomes a curiosity then, is why exactly he opted for abstract documentation that is exemplified by metaphorical and text-based images. ‘Ellipses’ is arguably an amalgamation of Langa’s fragmented memories, emotions and life experiences- a step towards the onset of poetic sentimentalism. In which he uses intangible forms and romantic colours that possibly match up with his own cognitive constructions or emotions experienced at certain points of his life. Langa uses his blank panels and mixed materials to express himself in an imaginative manner, much like poets use paper and ink to textually express themselves. Thus, Langa is creating art that is both emotive and introspective. The artworks appear abstruse to the uninformed eye and stand vulnerable in the face of public enquiry as he has taken such subjective, visually perplexing emotive content and embedded them within his new abstract mixed media pieces. These personal elements could therefore form the underpinning structure of such an arguably ‘non-representational’ auto-biographical exhibition.
In other works, such as Mogadibo (2016), translated to English as ‘sister-in-law’, Langa has heavily included text into his work. In a sea of light and murky shades of turquoise ink, large pieces of unrestrained white forms hold textual cyphers, some of which are fading. Names such as ‘Xavier’, ‘Irene’ and ‘Vincent’ have been placed inside these white forms. However, without any contextual information the text remains unreadable. One cannot conclude with certainty what such ambiguous bits of information mean in terms of Langa’s past. The arbitrary nature of these texts could possibly be linked to the selective memory of humans and the manner in which life experiences intersect to form mixed memories that one cannot pin point to a definite moment in time. This component of vagueness is much like the lingering nature of disconnected moments. It’s as though these mixed media works are a personal map or form of ‘note-making’ of the complex ‘landscape of a person’ that is Moshekwa Langa: well-travelled yet unsettled.
Langa’s ‘Ellipses’ exhibition is a clear manifestation of ‘stream of consciousness’ artwork. Much like the ellipsis alludes to the unsaid or deliberate silence, the works included in this particular exhibition are deliberately unresolved and open-ended. The exhibition is evocative of an artist’s profound engagement with his private life, which simultaneously works as an aide-mémoire that meaning is dubious and that memories are transitory and never unmixed. In adapting abstraction as a means of narrating his personal journey as a black South African artist, Langa is arguably re-determining the vernacular of self-expression in the art world. These ambivalent works seem to explore a liminal space that exists between the physical, mental and emotional. Langa, however, does not definitively reach a resolution during this inner exploration, which he flamboyantly exhibits upon his panels.
Nevertheless, despite remaining completely ambiguous, these mixed media artworks are still quite enthralling. One does however wonder if Langa will return to resolve these unfinished narratives…