From April this year, TUT art graduates, Kutlwano Monyai and Mbhoni Khosa, have been working on a body of work that takes the ideas encountered in The Genesis II’ Xhibition, further. DIANE DE BEER catches them at their latest exhibition, Kopanong Art Studio Residency Programme 2019:
Both, Kutlwano Monyai and Mbhoni Khosa, went through the Pretoria Art Museum education and development programme having been involved with guided tours at the Museum and the facilitation of art-making workshops for visiting groups as education assistants. This qualified them for the Genesis exhibition which was held at the Museum in June last year.
Following this, they were given yet another opportunity to further develop as artists. As part of a group of six artists, they competed for an art residency and were nominated as winners by an independent selection panel to work for four months in the Kopanong Art Studio (from April until July this year) in the Pretoria Art Museum.
They were selected because their work impressed the panel as it showed “a wide breadth of content and an adeptness with the art media in which they specialise”.
Because part of the exhibition was going to be collaborative, Monyai and Khosa had an advantage because they had studied together (earning their degrees at TUT last year) and had through their work as educational assistants also become close friends. There would be no barriers even if the process would be a new one.
The envisaged body of work consists of 26 artworks with the two artists contributing ten art works each and six collaborative works. While Khosa’s graphics expand the narrative of Xitsonga traditional beliefs and practices, Monyai plays with the interpretation of dreams through her mixed media artwork with interconnected mapmaking. They were mentored by Thabang Monoa, Connie Leteane and the Culture Officer at the Museum, Mmutle Kgokong.
Already as a young child, Monyai became interested in dreams sparked by her own vivid night-time experiences. Because her mother had similar tendencies, they often talked about their interpretations and growing up, it became part of the artist’s life.
It was natural that her art would be influenced by this way of understanding her world. “I interpret my dreams influenced by tradition and cultural background,” she notes. She remembers nightmares as a child, which her mother would translate as myths and stories, in comforting fashion.
And that became her way of telling her own stories on canvas – interpreting her dreams through mapping and meditation. Her method of making art also plays into the final result because she allows the mapping and her way of throwing paint to determine where and how she meanders her art route.
And apart from layering ideas, she is doing similar things with her different techniques. “I am mapping my own work with spirituality,” she says and with titles like Releasing Bitterness and Excessive Anxiety, it is clear that these are very personal works and that Monyai is working through her own history in quite extraordinary fashion as she holds onto dreams, listens to the stories they tell and then has her own interpretation – and healing process. And she’s happy with every piece, taking a leap into the unknown.
Khosa works quite differently, but he also reaches into his cultural heritage to find inspiration. As a Tsonga his life has been influenced by the neglect of his home city Giyani, former capital of the Gazankulu homeland, but now part of Limpopo. He believes that because they are in the minority as a group, much of the infrastructure was moved post-apartheid.
From having very rich lives, his people, he feels, have been left with nothing and daily life has become a struggle. Yet, he is consoled by who they are as a people and wants to celebrate their happiness in spite of hardships.
“I needed to release my anger,” is how he expresses his starting point when making art. His methods are varied as he uses printmaking, scratching, drawing in stark colours to “define what is left” of their world.
What emerges and what he captures are his people’s joy in life, the way they celebrate and come together, their traditions and culture, all of which he loves. “For me it is a healing process,” he says in gentle tones.
In similar fashion, his titles, including A dance brings happiness to one’s heart and A friend is someone you share a path with express what he is dealing with and where his focus lies.
Collaborating opened a new world for both artists. While they might be dealing with similar topics, they do this very differently yet found a way to blend their art with both finding their signature expressed in the final product.
“Our methods are very different,” says Monyai. “My process is very slow while Khosa is fast.” She was also slightly anxious about working together as she has always made art in isolation. But the two know one another well, fed off each other rather than feel alienated and the collaborative works tell their individual stories – in tandem.
Another learning curve was a lack of funding and how to resolve that. While the space was provided and mentorship included, they had to bring their own materials and look after themselves during the residency. In in the process, explains Khosa, he also learnt to budget for art materials which are hugely expensive. They though the full experience was something that offered huge experience for their future art journey.
While Monyai is dreaming about future solo exhibitions, she plans to tackle the competitive art world next, while Khosa wants to study further and earn his stripes as an art teacher. “I want to give back,” he says. But he will keep making art.
From November 16, more of their art will form part of the group exhibition at Banele Khoza’s Braamfontein studio and gallery BKhz. To feature in two exhibitions simultaneously, for two so young, is extraordinary.
Listening to these two inspirational artists, their very exciting yet brief career path, it’s clear that they grab every opportunity, do the hard work, and sweep splendidly through doors flung open.
And then they tell visual stories that make your heart sing.
Kopanong Art Studio Residency Programme 2019 is on show in the Henry Preiss Hall of the Pretoria Art Museum on Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 4pm, with guided tours arranged by appointment. The exhibition will be on show until Sunday, February 2 2020.