The Association For Visual Arts (AVA) in partnership with Spier, 35 Church Street, Cape Town, is hosting three new exhibitions. In the main gallery Thembeka Qangule will exhibit an installation of artwork in mixed media, a selection of the body presented for her degree in Master of Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT. In the long gallery Louise Linder will show recent paintings depicting aspects of her childhood growing up in Mozambique, while upstairs, Madi Phala exhibits mixed media collages produced since his move to Cape Town from Gauteng earlier this year.
Thembeka Qangule, in the main gallery, was born in 1969. She holds a B A Fine Art from the University of Fort Hare (1994), a Higher Diploma in Education from the University of Cape Town (UCT) (1997) and a Master of Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT (2003). Her Master’s dissertation was entitled: “Claiming, Breaking and Creating: A Visual Response to the Experience of Constructed Social and Spatial Constraints.” She is currently a lecturer at the College of Cape Town, teaching Art and Design at secondary and tertiary levels. She has also worked as an assistant co-ordinator for the North Sea Jazz Festival Craft showcase in 2001, as a facilitator, assessor and moderator for the International Competencies Network (ICN) (2003), as a facilitator for the Khulumani Banner workshop (2001) and as an organizer of students’ annual art exhibitions in 1997 and 98.
Qangule began exhibiting in 2000 on a Thupelo International Workshop exhibition at the South African National Gallery(Sang), followed by Margins In The Mainstream: Sadc Arts & Craft exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Windhoek,Womenbeing (2001), Voicing The Abstract at Cap (2003), her Master’s work at the Michaelis Art Gallery (2003), Committee Work at AVA (2004) and Herstory at AVA (2004).
Of her exhibition Qangule says: “Like many other black people in South Africa, I entered the field of fine art at a tertiary level with no prior art training. My early work was informed by social concerns and focused thematically on the upbringing of children in a safe and conducive environment. This idea emanated from what I observed and perceived as the submissiveness and subordination of women in my neighbourhood, either as mothers or as girlfriends. The failure for women to stand up to their authoritative, abusive husbands has detrimental effects on children. One of the reasons being that children ‘… attempt to protect a mother who is being attacked by a male companion or a husband, or they are emotionally damaged by witnessing violence and abuse’ (hooks 2000: 72).
Once I had obtained my undergraduate degree I enrolled at the University of Cape Town for an HDE (Higher Diploma in Education) in pursuit of my career. That was a distressing experience. I constantly felt alienated from the tutorial group as I was the only black person in the art tutorial class. This was my first involvement with ‘white establishment’. Language and culture, among other things, created a gap and a barrier between my classmates and me and I discovered that this was the case with other black students also from Fort Hare. Unlike at Fort Hare, I could not easily approach lecturers at UCT to discuss problematic areas concerning my studies. Entering UCT felt for me like an act of trespass. I made up my mind that I would not allow myself to feel as if I was at UCT under protest. It is this approach that is the impetus for this dissertation.
About the work
My aim and intention is to record and share those personal experiences that, to me, spell the erection of barriers. Inevitably, most of my experiences parallel those of a wider society and this paper focuses on issues affecting black women in social, political, and economical spheres of life, and discusses their contribution and efforts towards restructuring the nation. I employ this gesture as a way of highlighting the strengths of women and to mark their initiative ability in not succumbing to abusive male domination.
The lack of representation of black women in the art arena in South Africa., particularly in the Western Cape area, is my premise. The focus in this body of work is on three areas: Firstly, I identify problematic areas pertaining to the plight of black women and draw parallels between personal and general experiences. Secondly, I comment on and visually portray the present status of black women in South Africa, particularly in the urban context. Lastly, I discuss a strategy that portrays the will to transcend oppressive norms.
The work also touches on the deeply rooted patriarchy within the Xhosa cultural tradition. This approach cannot negate the effects of colonisation, Westernised education and the impact of economic deprivation. The manipulated Xhosa culture and traditions are discussed with the aim of highlighting the evolving oppression that is embedded in the selected traditional practices. I’ve sometimes wondered whether, in the promotion of some of the patriarchal traditions that unfairly discriminate against women, a political question should not in fact be asked – ‘Who benefits from such traditions?’
There are four bodies of works:
Pages Series: The material used in this series signifies personal struggles that I find myself confronted with as a woman and as an artist. The material in this series has subjective, personal reference and comprise of: German fabric dresses worn by Xhosa brides, Sorghum, rusted corrugated iron, Xhosa Text, mats, children’s clothing etc. This series acts as a memorial to my prevailing experiences. This work seeks to serve as commentary on social issues as well as serving as a personal narrative.
Statistics Series: This series is triggered by the statistics of black women in art institutions of higher learning as well as those, if any, that are represented in art competitions and exhibitions particularly around the Western Cape. Not assuming the non-existence of these artists, this questions the number of artists in the township environments that are not represented on the art arena. In the changing South Africa how the art world is impacted is indicative of the transforming society.
Wall Series: This series employs the symbolic burning of wood as a reference to the dismantling of barriers. This is also a symbolic act towards reclaiming space and personal liberation. The rusted metal plate has positive and negative interpretations. It signifies the interior, the state or the condition of the inner self. I associate it with the impact or the effect that domination has. The flaking off of the metal signifies the wearing off of the inner frustrations.
Ash bowls: Some of the experiences that I once recorded as pertinent are currently an issue of the past. I find returning to these issues an act of reliving the past and thus an inability to transcend barriers. In avoiding the state of regress, I burned the records that I once treasured. Some of these records expressed fears, bitterness and anger. They contained scars and pains that were once a part of me. What remains from the ash serves as a reminder of what used to be. Symbolically, this is a gesture that expresses the decayed or the effects of memories that are in the process of decay but the actual memory of events still lives. For me, ash still holds unpleasant memories of the past but strongly recalls a sense of victory, transgression and liberation. Here, ash is as symbolic as it is literal. On a literal level, I burn certain areas in my work and the residue is an evidence of the work done. The exhibition of the residue is the public display or a public declaration of a task accomplished. Ash is exhibited in bowls covered with fabric. The fabric is known as the German print.
Having once been worn, these fabrics are loaded with human experiences. Some of these were dresses were worn by personal family members. They are linked to social passages within the communities where they come from, they are also linked to political and economic history and so they are a record of these experiences.” Louise Linder, in the long gallery, holds a B A Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, (1982), an Advanced Diploma in Fine Art with distinction, UCT, (1983), a Master in Fine Art with distinction, UCT, (1986) and a Master in Philosophy with distinction, UCT, (1996).
During the course of her studies she received numerous scholarships and awards,
which include: the HSRC, the UCT Postgraduate Research, the Irma Stern, the Mac Iver (twice) and the UCT Research Scholarships, the Siri Johnson and the Centre for Development Bursaries and the Jules Kramer Grant (twice).
Linder has worked as an assistant to a set-builder (1987/8), a special effects assistant (1988), a computer graphic artist (1988/9), and a part-time lecturer at Michaelis, UCT, (1992/3), and at the Cape Technikon School of Design (1994). In 1990 she was commissioned by UCT to make an artwork for the Department of Environmental and Geographical Studies in Cape Town which is a permanent installation of relief sculpture entitled Noah’s Art, mild steel and enamel paint, 15 x 6 m.
She began exhibiting in 1986 and has since exhibited at a variety of galleries and museums throughout South Africa and abroad, including the Michaelis Gallery UCT, the Rembrandt Gallery at Witwatersrand University, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Peter Visser Antiques, the US Art Gallery in Stellenbosch, the Yellow Door, the Irma Stern Museum, the SA National Gallery, the Grahamstown Festival, Primart Gallery, the AVA, Area Gallery, the Siegert Gallery in Basel, the Joao Ferreira Gallery and the Millennium Gallery in Pretoria. In 2000 she held a solo exhibition at AVA.
Her work is represented in the public and corporate art collections of SANG, Michaelis Gallery, UCT, Wits University and MTN Art Institute, as well as in private collections in South Africa, Singapore, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Of her exhibit, Louis Linder says: “This body of paintings represents a pictorial interpretation aided by memory of images taken from the artist’s family photographic archive. The source of the majority of the works draws on those images depicting aspects of her childhood growing up in Mozambique. The “Family Laager” series refers to a later period, here in South Africa.”
Madi Phala, upstairs, holds a Primary Teacher’s Course from Mafikeng College, and is currently studying for his B A Fine Art through UNISA. Most of his working life since 1978 has been spent teaching in primary schools, but from 1981 to 1986 he worked as a model builder, special effects artist and set painter. In 1975 he founded the Bayajula Group of the Arts. He began exhibiting on group exhibitions at the Germiston Town Council in 1979, and has since participated on group shows at Goodman Gallery, the Triangle Workshop in New York, FUBA Gallery, various Thupelo Workshop exhibitions from 1985 to 1992 and Greatmore Studios as a visiting artist in 2004. From 1992 to 1998 he was involved in a programme for educating and exhibiting the work of artists, both young and old, in Ekurhuleni. From 2000 to 2002 he taught at the Mbira School of Music and Arts and in 2002 was a participant at the Joy of Jazz in Gauteng.
Phala says of his life and work: “I was born in Payneville, Springs, Gauteng, in 1955. My family was removed and relocated in Kwa Thema in 1960. I have since moved down to Cape Town at the beginning of 2004. I use oils, acrylics, leather, canvas, wooden pieces and artist’s gel. My affection for working with collage has just begun to develop in a much more interesting way for me.
After participating in the Triangle Workshop (New York) in 1992, I realized the need to work and develop my community in arts. I was still a full-time teacher, teaching Science, English, and Art. I used to teach Art after school in my garage. One of my students was the late Nhlanhla Xaba, who recently died tragically in a fire. My commitments removed me from the world of professional art showcasing.
After participation in the Triangle and Thupelo Workshops (1985-1992), I finally decided to become fully involved with the real and solid art world. My stay in Cape Town has begun to bear fruit. After my three-month residency at Greatmore Studios earlier this year, I have already secured an exhibition at the Association ForVisual Arts.
I have thus far participated in the Cape Town Festival, teaching school children recycling through tie-dying. I have also taken part in two printmaking workshops, in preparation for exhibitions.”
Thembeka Qangule’s Exhibition Has Been Sponsored By The National Arts Council Of South Africa.