S’ka Motho (Just Like Man)
07.03.15 – 11.04.15
“Our duty is wakefulness, the fundamental condition of life itself. The unseen, the unheard, the untouchable is what weaves the fabric of our see-able universe together.”
― Robin Craig Clark, The Garden (2010)
In his work, artist Colbert Mashile recalls the impact his rural upbringing in Mpumalanga had on his life – the rites of passage and ceremonies that informed and continue to inform his visual lexicon. It is this way of seeing, these moments of interaction with the unseeable notions of culture that bring a particular uniqueness to Mashile’s vision.
In S’ka Motho (Just Like Man), Mashile made use of painting and drawing as a means to interrogate the spaces of our consciousness that house our fears and hidden hopes. Working in watercolours, gouache, charcoal, ink and bleach, he brings to life the creatures that inhabit the recesses of his mind and life. In his studio, Mashile, working with a sense of immediacy, fully engages himself in the process of calling forth his imagination in order to realise the subjects that are part of a long history of experiences and profound stories. The mysterious figures operate in way not dissimilar to the Jungian processes of accessing the veil between what is felt, what is seen, and what is known. Jung himself stated that “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” and it is this very act that Mashile engages in. The need to take into account the very things that occupy our minds in our daily lives, are treated almost as if they were folklore by Mashile.
The use of folklore permeates many aspects of African consciousness. Folklore in many discourses of African heritage and identity serves as cautionary, admonishing of errant behaviour, or in a didactic manner, as a means by which a sense of morality is established. Mashile’s representations respond directly to this, but at the same time, shift the reading of his folkloric concerns to a contemporary and discursive forum – a forum that relies on individual interpretation. Mashile is in many ways challenging the static nature of this understanding of folklore. Through reconfiguring the role of the individual, the subject of folklore becomes a means whereby he can extend old readings of right and wrong, of fear and of history. Determined to not allow his subconscious to become part of his fate, he accesses a visual vocabulary steeped in the mythical – more so the contemporary myth.
In this way, as a visual artist, Colbert Mashile joins in the literary tradition of African Magic Realism, in the vein of authors such as the Nigerian poets and novelists Ben Okri and Chinua Achebe, and South African novelist Lauren Beukes. A glance, a voice or an specific action by an individual inspires within his mind, a symbolic response as a gesture that attempt to understand and furthermore convey a personal insight into what he sees and experiences. These fantastical creatures may contain seemingly political overtones but they do not necessarily reside fully within in that space.
The innate psychological interpretation of various characterisations of human nature, manifesting as carefully constructed half-human, half-animal beings, or therianthropes, has long been part of Mashile’s visual vocabulary. It is this quiet reflection on aspects of culture, distinctly linked to Mashile’s understanding of the socio-political world that he occupies that is profoundly effective in this body of work. Mashile is quietly observing and studying culture as it applies to his own subjective reasoning. There are moments in which he applies the keen mind of a scientist at work, applying the known to the unknown world, re-framing and re-contextualising particular notions, aspects and objects in ways that when newly combined, elicit readings of a deeper and more transformative nature.
Figures appear shrouded, mysteriously hampered by their garb, masked by their baggage and hampered by peculiar tools and appendages, and one must wonder from which reality these characters originate. In many of the works on this exhibition, Colbert Mashile also references the classic text by George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945) not as illustrative of the events of the book, but more as portraiture of the various protagonists and antagonists of the book; a quiet and contemporary reflection and questioning on the nature of their being and the myth of their resolute characteristics.
Colbert Mashile was born in 1972 in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga and currently lives and works in Johannesburg. Mashile received his Diploma in Fine Arts from the Johannesburg Art Foundation in 1994 and later continued his studies at the University of Witwatersrand where he obtained a BA in Fine Arts in 2000 and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Heritage Studies in 2002. Since then Mashile has presented ten solo exhibitions, with the most recent being Messages from our Ancestors in 2013 at the Art Eye Gallery in Sandton, Johannesburg. Mashile has participated in a number of group exhibitions both locally and internationally. His most important shows include A Decade of Democracy: Witnessing South Africa in 2002 at The Smithsonian, Boston and Gibbs Museum, Detroit, United States and New Painting in 2006 at the KZNSA Gallery, Durban; The Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg and the Unisa Art Gallery, Pretoria. In 2000 Colbert Mashile won a Merit Award at the annual ABSA L’Atelier Competition and in 2005 he won the Brett Kebble Art Award. Colbert Mashile will be opening his next solo exhibition Beast of Burden at NIROX Projects, Arts on Main, Johannesburg in association with SMAC Gallery on the 15th of March.