Anyone who has come across David Koloane during his lifetime will tell you that he always cut a calm demeanor; as he came out as almost an innocent exuding soul who would not harm a fly. Of course, the harm he would not cause but behind that innocent-looking character lay a sharp mind; whose deep dissection of society was paralleled by a few artists in the country,
Certainly, a man of few words in his everyday interactions with fellow South Africans across class, race and generational spectrums; Koloane’s drawings are not that virtuous. They, in fact, cut deep into urban South African moral fiber, telling stories of ordinary people, who could only be narrated by the brave and empathetic, like Koloane, who gazed beyond the struggle and poverty.
Through his application of the drawing and assemblage methods, Koloane became the voice of the voiceless and those whose stories needed to be told. alongside those of affluent contemporary South Africa.
Quite evidently in Koloane’s body of work are people in the urban jungle that struggled to adapt to a harsh capitalist reality that urban spaces are often defined by. These are people that are often misrepresented or ignored by the mainstream. But for Koloane, this was a tail he hoped to retell in his depiction of them. In fact, through his art, Koloane wrote them out of non-existence into existence, making the artist the advocate of the downtrodden, or the people Franz Fanon called the Wretched of the Earth. And by documenting the lives of the poor struggling to keep body and soul together within urban spaces trough his art, Koloane played a very important role in writing these people into the South African urban landscape history.
These are people whose history would be forgotten completely had an artist such as David Koloane had not done so to the scale and magnitude he did. This is because the story of human existence, history, and struggle in most cases favors that of the rich and powerful. When people in “big cities” are facing challenges (like acquiring and sharing resources), it is often too easy to forget that the same landscape is also shared by those on the margin, and they too need a piece of the pie to if not thrive, to at least survive. This is the perspective and narrative one gets when viewing David Koloane’s current exhibition, which is on at the Standard Bank Gallery.
Curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe, the body of work has been selected and arranged in a manner that leaves one with no doubt but a clear understanding of Koloane. By just viewing the work, one is left with no doubt but rather a clear understanding whose side Koloane took in the socio-economic strata. And doing this consistently for 50 years, it is clear that the artist was inspired by the same subjects that he drew and represented in other media too.
Though Koloane was dealing with a difficult subject matter, he dealt with it in a sensitive manner, tackling their hard lives through his drawings, but remarkably avoiding making them look helpless victims of their circumstance. Hence his body of work resonated deeply with art fanatics and became something of a collector’s item,
Koloane is indeed a rare breed of the artist to have emerged out of the Concrete Jungle - Johannesburg
A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane is on at the Stanard Bank Gallery, in central Johannesburg.