Siwa Mgoboza recently put up ‘If Found Return to Africadia’ at Whatiftheworld, a wild show with a riot of colours and ideas. I caught up with Mgoboza to ask him some questions:
Chad Rossouw: Africadia is obviously a pun on Arcadia, which implies an unspoiled, pastoral fantasy. And yet the style of your work seems hip and urban. What do you make of this apparent contradiction?
Siwa Mgoboza: The reason for an Arcadia is because I am trying to escape reality and trying to go back to an time where the problems of today no longer are there. It’s a positive projection for the world really. People are stepping away from past and the box and the definition of things and searching for a great humanity and unity. It’s a reference to a golden age/utopian ideal age that I see as something that can manifest today. People are choosing to be who and what they want to be as opposed to what society dictates, which is a utopic in itself. It seems like a contradiction but its actually part of the same coin. The work is about humans coming together, crossing cultures and people where your humanity is recognised and no longer about boxed culture. It does seem like a far cry with all the current issues Africa is dealing with (crime, poverty, xenophobic, homophobia, etc) but I think it can be achieved. At least for now I can dream about it…
CR: The photographic series reads as glam mugshots? What’s the crime? What’s the punishment?
SM: With all the homophobic and xenophobic and attacks of the other in general that have been occuring in the world recently, especially in Africa, I began to imagine where these people would be banished to. But little does the ‘system’ know, they are being sent to what I like to call the ‘promised land’, the land of Africadia. It reminds me of the kinds of (white) techniques used to control a minority who were deemed dangerous to society, in South Africa. More specifically in Cape Town, it reminds me of Robben Island. The whole concept of Africadia relies on the past which is replayed in the present and a prediction of the future. The crime is they have chosen to be themselves and the punishment is they are sent away to Africadia!
CR: There is a relationship in your work between cloth, photography and fantastic fashion. What is the importance of the intersection of these things?
SM: I’ve always been interested in fashion, but more importantly the ‘wall of confidence’ it creates for me. Most people think people who are super into fashion are arrogant or snobbish but I’ve found that its a form of recreating and redefining the self. And I know for some that need to create that wall comes from personal insecurities and whatnot and the fashion is almost a way to repel the world… And to hide away the insecurities you take on multiple personas or looks and that way you get to ‘be’, the true self in a way explored and that wanting to ‘be’ ends up dreaming up the fanstastical garments and sets.
CR: Talking of cloth, the Shweshwe is a big motif in your work. What attracts you to it?
SM: It reminds me of home, I often remember coming back to South Africa on holiday as a child and visiting ez’lalini (rural farms area) and being so attracted to the women in fully patterned clothing (omakoti(young brides) especially), no matter what was going on or who you were when the mgidi (gathering of sorts) was going down. It felt like a fashion show was going down before my eyes… I was always attracted to fashion and growing up in the West for so many years, I had seen great stuff but nothing so theatrical. Especially seeing as this level of glamour was coming from ordinary women, civilians and African women. Because you know when these international brands look to Africa for inspiration. It’s appropriated and altered for the market but the women I saw were real. It is not a ‘look’ they are pulling off, it is who they are.
CR: Your work veers from the abstract to the figurative. Why do you work in these two divergent ways?
SM: The work is very much fantastical and imaginative but it also references reality, whether it be the Beings which are the hybrid and fused characters or the landscape which references an imagined dimension but is portrayed as a recognizable landscape. If you look at the landscapes, they are always broken into three large horizontal planes; sky, mountain, ground, this allows for the my viewer to immediately unlock that this is a landscape. I am not asking them to rethink the landscape, I want them to rethink the dimension, the structures, start thinking of the possibility of another. I love the great Abstractionists; Picasso, Matisse, Battiss, etc but I am really enjoying the narrative African artists are portraying. I am fascinated by Blessing Ngobeni’s work! I think sometimes as artists we tend to over think things and but when work comes from a innocent and truthful place it allows for greater play. Visually and contextually, I am interested in taking my viewers on a journey but throughout and on that journey I want them to relate, so I use the figurative to key them in and abstraction to allow them to dream and come on the journey with me (and if you don’t know by now the dream is Africadia darling!)
CR: Where to from here? What are your plans for the future?
Uhh, I’m still recovering from my solo ‘If Found Return to Africadia’ but I am preparing for my first international solo. I will be participating in pop up shows in Istanbul which are aimed at establishing an African market in Turkey. I am working with a group of creatives (discojockeys, a visual jockey, a zine self-publisher, a former architect/film maker and a graphic designer/web designer) to produce a collaborative musical/performative project.