AVA Gallery, Cape Town
17.08 – 23.09.2017
Viewed in tandem, the dual exhibitions of Rory Emmett’s ‘Concerning Alchemy’, and Ronald Muchatuta’s ‘The Great Exodus’ can be seen as a conversation held over the proverbial fence between two homes in Cape Town. Concurrently housed within the walls of the AVA Gallery, the artworks become a volley of blue collar banter as the two artists’ bodies of work exchange jokes and mutual frustrations which are lost on those who have never experienced the daily exodus in and out of the Cape Town CBD via Metrorail trains, Golden Arrow buses and various taxi routes.
As these sorts of neighbourly exchanges go – the conversation starts with “How’s work?”
These dual reflections on the questions of labour in Cape Town take on an audible quality as one is met by the sound from Emmett’s video piece Concerning Alchemy at the threshold of the main gallery area. If one didn’t know any better you could almost swear that the sound you were hearing was that of Muchatuta’s mosaic hammer.
On the other side, his neighbour, Muchatuta shares the frustrations around economic access starting with the mixed media collage, Who’s your connect? which hints at the stereotypes around how foreigners enter the Capetonian job market. They might take on work such as barbers, taxi drivers… or fall into security work. Or they open corner stores selling Okra, Fou-Fou, Thompson and Mabundu. Some open, what used to be, the traditional Cape Town corner Cafes.
The interchange relaxes as Emmett playfully titles his works with some swagger – Karretjie (a child’s toy car or homemade go-kart), My broertjie my bra (lyrical expression for my friend, my man) and Entjie (cigarette). In using the language in which he flows poetically he ‘loosens up’ and feels a sense of freedom to chat – so Emmett moves to speaking about his family , celebrating moments of traditional marital bliss with works such as Bride, Flower Girls, Wedding Cake , Cloud of Witnesses and Registration.
Muchatuta touches on the modern realities surrounding marriage in a sort of nodding and smiling tone with his series of mosaic heads. One of these heads includes the expression “Ucharoora rini” which in Shona means “When are you going to pay your Lobola?”
These topics don’t just serve as small talk but they serve to grease the gears for the discussion of tougher topics, which could easily start a more heated discussion, of both exhibitions. The language and labour in Rory’s paintings flesh out the habits and activities of many more homes and many more families characterized by the common heritages brought about by forced removals. The use of photoalbum-esque archival imagery is an insistence that the effects of these forced removals have still not been adequately addressed.
Motifs in Muchatuta’s large drawings point to a desire to share common ground in reflections on migration but In using the Voortrekker wagon as a motif there are also some questions raised around why certain types of migrants are referred to delicately as settlers and others –such as Ronald, who is now living in Cape Town for a decade – is referred to as a refugee.
With both exhibitions focused heavily on the access to economic opportunities for people of colour in the Western Cape the realities of presenting a solo exhibition are not lost on either artist. Emmett highlights the role of ‘colourmen’ in art studios, while Muchatuta scrawls the phrase “sellout artist” on the heads of one of his mosaics. Finally … the conversation perhaps ends with both men smiling wryly – finally relaxed enough to ask “So, how many works did you sell?”