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Modisakeng’s confrontation with dark histories
Community Coordinator
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It’s impossible to encounter the work of Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Visual Arts, Mohau Modisakeng and not have to deal with the blackness of his skin. It shimmers and radiates to foreground the socio-historical facts that skin colour over-determines. The exhibition that hangs at the 1820 Settler’s Monument is also loaded. Along with vignettes of his township life experience in the twilight years of apartheid, Modisakeng’s work deals with excesses of the same settler related histories of conquest.


The show comprises a grand sculptural installation, photographs and a four panelled video projection. Modisakeng’s central materials are coal, black ink and the racialised human body – his own. The visual impact of it all immediately brings up ideas of mining labour and its related troubles to mind. The artist also weaves in personal myths and themes of public conflict to form a stark portrait of the black condition today.


The exhibition is tilted Lefa La Ntate which in English means “my father’s inheritance.” As a young black male in a South Africa that is battling an often gendered legacy of violence and exploitation, Modisakeng confronts this legacy in his own life as a son, citizen and as an artist. His search for viable grammar to navigate and articulate its meaning takes him everywhere, even into spirituality. So he mines his own dreams, tales told to him by his mother and other personal archives. In this way, his body becomes a site of excavation and performed mediation of economies of meaning.


In the four panelled video projection, the artist appears as a lone character clad in a white gown, a rabbi’s black sun hat and a horse’s head harness. His bare feet are bone-white and match the colour of his robe and the sharp axe he wields as he runs across a ghostly coal field. As he slides, climbs and trips over the mounds of shimmering coal, the camera lifts and dips to transform how he is seen. At once, he appears stalked by an unseen sinister presence and looks like a stalker himself. He is at once vulnerable and threatening. These oscillations are central to the structural ambivalence and the histories of violence that Modisakeng seeks to activate with his work.



Travelling Tour Dates:


2016 - June/July

National Arts Festival Grahamstown

Contact: Mr Ismail Mahomed

Contact number: (046) 603 1103



Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum

1 Park Drive

Port Elizabeth

Contact: Emma O'Brien/ Melanie Hillebrand

Contact number: (041) 506 2000

Open: 27 July 2016

Close: 2 September 2016


October/November/December/January 2017

IZIKO South African National Gallery

Government Avenue

Cape Town

Contact: Andrea Lewis/ Ernestine White/ Ingrid Masondo

Contact number: (021) 481 3974

Open: 20 October 2016

Close: 29 January 2017


2017 February/ March/ April

Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery

SASOL UFS Library Building

University of the Free State

Nelson Mandela Drive


Contact: Angela De Jesus

Contact number: (051) 401 2706

Open: 22 February 2017

Close: 31 March 2017



Tatham Art Gallery

Chief Albert Luthuli Road (Opposite City Hall)


Contact: Brendan Bell/ Bryony Clark

Contact number: (033) 392 2801




Standard Bank Gallery

Corner Simmonds and Frederick Streets


Contact: Sue Isaacs

Contact number: (011) 631 4467

Open: 26 May 2017

Close: 8 July 2017



NWU Gallery, Potchefstroom

Building E7

North-West University Potchefstroom Campus

Hoffman Street


Contact: Christina Naurattel, Gallery Manager

Contact number: (018) 299 4341

Open: 20 July 2017

Close: 25 August 2017


By Percy Mabandu


Percy Mabandu is an award winning art journalist and author of the recently published Yakal’ Inkomo -Portrait of a Jazz Classic; a book about the historic South African jazz record by the late Winston Mankunku Ngozi. He has written for publications including City Press, Mail & Guardian, Rolling Stone and many others

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