Mongezi Ncaphayi

Of the seeking or the finding

11.05.2019 – 05.06.2019

Johannesburg

SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Of the seeking or the finding, a solo exhibition by Mongezi Ncaphayi.

We have come a long way since the days when abstraction was a sore thumb in the South African art landscape and the stakes were higher for black artists on whom the burden of responsibility for more representational art was imposed. In our contemporary moment, we can now witness a diversity of styles and approaches to art in ways that aren’t only reflective of our time and place, but also indicative of a relief from any kind of superego imposition on what is appropriate, and what is not. Abstract art has been one of the vehicles with which artists have used their rights to refuse certain forms of co-optations, representation, and identity. While a form of social commentary through a refusal, it must be said that this [refusal] didn’t at all mean that these artists weren’t concerned or critical about the state of the world.

Today, new forms of representational expectations are enforced, and artists from marginalised societies are urged to once more stage their marginality and exclusion by representing, performing and speaking to their backgrounds. To opt to disengage, retreat or to flee can be a form of expressing valor, for those (as Sun Ra would say):

“who wish to be attuned/
To the vibrations of the outer Cosmic Worlds,”

Artists like Mongezi Ncaphayi insist on speaking to the world, but not necessarily in the languages and forms that are convenient to our tastes and expectations. They tap into the recesses of their souls, to the nothingness of the cosmos, to determine their ways.

The language of abstraction in Ncaphayi’s work is a journey that vacillates between the real and the ethereal. Its exploratory thrust investigates the realness of the artistic materials at its disposal; with materials that are conventional but subjected to a process that never guarantees predictable outcomes. Left to chance, this unknowable fate opens the paper or canvas to be more than a substrate but also a site of exploration; a map from which we seek and discover the unknown via the chitchat of the paint, the ink scissors, brush, the cut-offs, and the water. Ncaphayi’s paintings, largely minimalist, vacillate between collages and painting using the wet-on-wet technique. Wet-on-wet refers to a procedure based on water based pigmentations, whereby a watery pigment is applied on top of another in a semi controlled way, causing a complex and rhythmic orchestra of painterly effects. These images tend to resemble a topographic layout, a blurred form of mapping out. Here the art object becomes a cartographic sign in which we trace the labyrinth of self-developed shades, rendered elegantly and seemingly effortlessly. This is something Ncaphayi extends on in the current exhibition.

Of the seeking or the finding continues on this trajectory into the abstract and incorporeal worlds, embracing serendipity and improvisation. Ncaphayi has the unexpected relentlessness of a seeker. The title of the current exhibition is pulled out of a poem by African American poet and writer, Langston Hughes called Old Walt. In the two stanza piece Hughes employs the rhythmic and repetitive language that loops, rocks and sways back and forth.

Old Walt Whitman
Went finding and seeking,
Finding less than sought
Seeking more than found,
Every detail minding
Of the seeking or the finding.

The loneliness that characterizes Old Walt’s journey, the movement that portrays his endless pursuit and impossible satiation, inspecting every crevice “pleasured equally/ in seeking as in finding,” is an apt description of Ncaphayi’s process. The solitude, the movement and pleasure that pervades’ Hughes’ poem is analogous to Ncaphayi’s own satisfaction in the enriching procedure of searching and spontaneity. This is “poetry coming as blues and the blues coming as poetry” as Jayne Cortez once said. Music haunts, which is to say, it hones in on and harnesses Ncaphayi’s art. The current works are somewhat musical, not only because they follow a kind of theatrics of the muse or musing, but because they also entail a great deal of “play.” As a saxophonist himself, Ncaphayi somewhat employs the notion of play in the very development of the pieces.   This sense of play also affects the way our eyes receive the subtle and runny palette, making the artworks lighter and inviting to the eye. The shapes, lines, dots, and other interrupting but subtle features of these beautiful images extend this sense of play, without being frivolous or necessarily decorative.

This is a body of work that asks of us to think about forms of embodying freedom, as elusive, fantastical and tenuous as that might be. It’s a collection that explores issues of time travel, spatiality (literally and imaginatively), beauty and play. Mongezi Ncaphayi’s Of the seeking or the finding concerns itself with issues of spiritual freedoms, material exploration, and virtues of human exploratory practices.

– Athi Mongezeleli Joja