When I think of South Africa, I think of a country engulfed in rich history. From my own personal experience, when I hear South Africa … I think of lively house music. I think of the hustle and bustle of the streets of Soweto. I think of beautiful vineyards. I think of the fast and exciting life of African cities.
And, yes, when I hear South Africa, I think Art. To be specific, I think black African art.
I was really excited to speak with Mncedi Madolo a few weeks ago. The first South African artist to be interviewed on African Art Wave.
Mncedi is a 31 year old artist, born in a small town called Alice. In 2014 he obtained a National Diploma in Fine Arts at the Walter Sisulu University. His work has been exhibited in renowned spaces from the National Arts Festival (2011) to the Turbine Art Fair (2019).
Working primarily with a medium of collage and pop art, his pieces are aesthetic and unique. With his current residence being Johannesburg, Mncedi’s work captures the urban and modern environment that surrounds him. A majority of his work is influenced by classism, and the visible byproducts of such on his community.
Through the form of art, Mncedi’s work brings the urban life of Africa alive for me.
Mary: Talk us through your last collection of work – what was your focus. What do you want people to know about it that they may not already know.
Mncedi: My last series was focussed on classism in a country that still doesn’t fully understand or appreciate its impact on our communities. A lot of this is due to our history as a country. Racism is still a big part of our daily lives, so things like classism when crossing racial lines almost always go unnoticed and misunderstood.
Classism, particularly in SA, comes with geopolitical issues. This means that some people become confined to certain spaces, though not by law, as it used to be. Instead, they are now confined to these spaces by socio-political and economic standing.
It’s not us who get modernised, but our environment, and the majority of us are getting left behind. What struck me most was the advertising targeted at lower middle classes. The dream they are being sold by big business.
Mary: What most influences you and your work?
Mncedi: Coming from rural Eastern Cape in South Africa, the big city has always been of great fascination to me. I am inspired by how South Africans navigate and engage with modernisation. We are not being modernised; we are living in a modern world.
By MARY FISAYO
Mary: Would you say your surroundings while growing up influenced your work today? In what way?
Mncedi: No, I wouldn’t say my immediate surroundings influenced what I now call my art. Growing up I never knew art as a career. I pretty much did what my mood dictated at the time. Research and personal experiences as a much older person moulded the direction my work has taken. I am now able to express myself using the skill set I picked up during university.
Mary: How about growing up in South Africa, around the time of the apartheid, did this have a lasting impact on your work today?
Mncedi: In 1994 – I was only 6 years old and had no real comprehension of racism, let alone the oppressive laws that governed the country. 2000s I was in what we in South Africa call multi-racial schools and had friends of all colours. It was only after taking up history as a subject that I got to fully appreciate the gravity of South African history. My parents, much like other black South Africans, went out of their way to keep the children from being subjected to the ugly face of truth. My art is about classism, exploring classism – a direct result of Apartheid.
Mary: What do you want to leave as your legacy?
Mncedi: Lobola is a practice in my culture: where the groom’s family bestows part of their fortune to the bride’s family in gratitude for raising a good person. This money is usually used for the wedding and getting the new couple started on their new journey. I wish to teach black South Africans about the benefits of investing in art and exchanging art becomes a part of the Lobola negotiations.
Mary: Have you ever been in love?
Mncedi: I’ve been in love and it was the best and the worst feeling. I still miss her…