On Artists

Avhashoni Mainganye: tireless spirit

by Vonani Bila

Avhashoni Ntsengeni Frederick Mainganye Mundalamo is the prolific and versatile visual artist from Phiphidi. The village’s main marvel after Mainganye is surely the Phiphidi Falls which lie within a dense forest on the Mutshundudi River near Thohoyandou. Most people of his age are flabby with pot bellies and often complain about stiff and painful joints, backaches, arthritis, ceaseless headaches, diabetes, hypertension and gout. Not for the soft-spoken Shoni or Mainganye, as he is affectionately addressed by friends. He grew up eating the nutritious mopane worms – masonja – whose protein and iodine levels are super high. And yes, art has kept him young and vibrant. Diminutive in stature, the slim and energetic grey-bearded man wearing his not-so-long dreadlocks, a pair of jeans and a military cap is a hard working artist. His ID says he was born in 1960. I meet him dressed in his apron, busy at work, at the Thohoyandou Arts and Crafts Centre, outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo province. It’s a warm Saturday late morning.

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Directions to find Thami Jali

by  Witty Nyide

This text was first published by Durban Art Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Thami Jali: Restless Spirit’, 2014.

Going through ‘Top Rank’, Zazi road, Claremont you pass a bus shelter-turned kiosk, it’s busy, and the proprietor a pensioner in a white headdress seems overworked. Three primary school kids peck at a packet of cheese puffs next to a group of young men gathered around a red 1985 Jetta coupe, a youth magnet. Residential space collides with business here, newspaper headlines and 2014 election campaigning posters cling to the electricity poles, hand-written adverts tout for business edging out the digitally printed, some new some faded and tatty. Pass a white double storey near Mavundla tuck shop and turn left into Tenth Avenue. It’s the third house on the left, nearly 85-year-old the building is now an artist’s studio and gallery and home to Thamsanqa (Thami) Rutherford Jali.

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Terry-Anne Stevenson reflects on an artistic life shared with Thami Jali

by Bren Brophy in conversation with Terry-Anne Stevenson

This text was first published by Durban Art Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Thami Jali: Restless Spirit’, 2014.

In 1904 Constantin Brancusi on arriving in Paris was forced to support himself as a dishwasher. In response to Auguste Rodin’s proposition that he work as his apprentice Brancusi immortalized his refusal noting that “Nothing grows in the shadow of a great tree”. Within the South African artistic Zeitgeist one might presume to the contrary, that a great deal of creative growth and shared inspiration takes place under the shade of great trees. Thus it was for veteran KwaZulu-Natal artists Terry-anne Stevenson and Thami Jali.

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Thami Jali talks to curator Jenny Stretton about his vision for the future

This conversation was first published by Durban Art Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Thami Jali: Restless Spirit’, 2014.

JS: Metal features prominently in your work, what attracts you to the material?

TJ: You see, I have always been a person who likes to experiment. I have never been afraid to use alternative materials. Of course this whole thing about painting on metal, that on its own I see as a statement. I picked those things up in Clermont, they are of the area and they talk about process, life in the township. That particular container, when I went out in the street to dismantle it, I wasn’t sure I was safe doing it, because drug addicts and hooligans were using it as a shelter. So I was destroying something that was very important to them. Fortunately I didn’t encounter any problems. The fact that I managed to get out there, take all this iron sheeting and destroy this home that was so dangerous to people, to me it is actually a statement, because I live in that area. I am very much affected by what is happening there. Why metaI…I find that the material itself has opened up a new direction for me. I don’t just use any iron sheeting. I use sheeting that has been through fire. In the 80’s when the struggle was at its peak, we saw a lot of buildings being destroyed by fire … people just setting the buildings on fire. I feel that I don’t have to paint people to express the hardships in the township, I can just show it observing spaces and buildings.

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Thami Jali: Restless Spirit

by Jenny Stretton

This text was first published by Durban Art Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Thami Jali: Restless Spirit’, 2014.

Thami Jali’s story is so much about South Africa’s recent past: the fractured nation, its diverse cultures, seemingly endless journeys and the hunger for an authentic artistic home. His search for an aesthetic he could truly call his own took him from Durban’s Clermont township to Zululand; Nelspruit; Rorke’s Drift; Johannesburg; London; New Delhi and finally back to Durban to the house he grew up in. Called a renaissance man by those who’ve watched his career Jali is multi-talented, equally at home behind the wheel or at a canvas. But it’s the way this artist has interrogated South African society that informs his vision: he’s lived on the street, eschewed popular politics for artistic integrity, and given back to his students far more than he ever took.

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Madi Phala’s “Herdbooyz” at AVA – Exhibition review

by Mario Pissarra

This text was originally published on Phala’s page on asai.co.za, October 2005. A slightly edited version of this review appeared in Art South Africa, 2005.

For many years Madi Phala put most of his creative energies into mentoring others. Last year’s move south to Cape Town has coincided with him stepping out as an artist in his own right. Recent shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg have been well received by the buying public. His emerging profile is matched by a successful transition from small and modestly sized works to a much bolder scale, and in the increased physicality of his new works.

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Madi Phala: what place in ‘our’ art history?

by Mario Pissarra, 7 November 2007

This was written for the opening of ‘Madi Phala: A Tribute Exhibition’ at the AVA, 10-28 September 2007, and was originally published on Phala’s page on asai.co.za

I am honoured and pleased to have this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on Madi Phala, particularly on his contribution as an artist to our art history.

I say ‘our’ art history, conscious that most who have included Madi in their books have placed him within the frames of very particular art histories. Madi first features in an emerging inclusive South African art history (Ricky Burnett’s Tributaries in 1985). This is followed by his location within African art (Matsemela Manaka’s Echoes of African Art, 1987). He appears as a township artist (Gavin Younge’s Art of the SA Townships, 1988). He is included as a black South African (E.J. de Jagers Images of Man: Contemporary black South African art & artists, 1992). Ultimately where Madi has not been overlooked, including ironically The Neglected Tradition (Steven Sack, 1988) he has been situated within a myriad of qualified arts. A recent, possible departure from this may be found in his international debut in John Peffer’s soon to be published manuscript. Judging from an exerpt which appears as a tribute to Madi on the ASAI website, Peffer appears to be primarily situating Madi between discourses of Negritude and black consciousness, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the influence of western Modernism.

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Some thoughts on Peter Clarke [1]

by Mario Pissarra

This text was originally published on Clarke’s page on asai.co.za, 17 April 2014

Peter Clarke was, indeed is, a giant. Evidence of his achievements is (and will continue to be) narrated in numerous tributes, obituaries and testimonies. Evidence of his legacy as a mentor, across many generations, will increasingly become apparent.

With so many dying before their time, there is something so quintessentially Peter that he circumvented a traumatic death, stayed a very full course, and left quietly, on his own. And yet it is this image of Peter as ‘alone’ that I would like to reflect on.

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Awakenings: impulses and threads in the art of Lionel Davis

By Mario Pissarra

This text first appeared on Davis’ artist page on asai.co.za in 2014

Lionel Davis is a significant figure in South African art circles. Core elements of his personal biography are well known, and his contribution as an artist is integral to accounts of seminal art organisations such as the Community Arts Project, Vakalisa, and the Thupelo Workshop. His early history as a District Six resident and political prisoner has made him an invaluable resource for post apartheid heritage projects, such as the District Six and Robben Island Museums. An articulate, charismatic and sociable personality, Davis is popular and respected, with an active public life and media presence.

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Picking Up the Strands of Our Heritage

by Garth King

This text was originally published on Davis’ artist page on asai.co.za

Muizenberg artist Lionel Davis, 77, had a special connection with Nelson Mandela — as a fellow political prisoner in the B-Section of Robben Island’s Maximum Security Prison in the 1960s.

Initially, B-Section held about 30 prisoners — including some common-law prisoners — but was later reserved for those in the struggle leadership or those seen as potentially influential among the political prisoners. All were held in single cells but were exercised in the prison yard daily for an hour and often worked together in the yard, breaking stones or in the lime quarry on the island.

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