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.