The African Artist and the MuseAfter a Sabattical Soul-Sista Uhuru is back with her interrogation of art
African artists in rural areas create forms that express their own senses of modernity and belonging to a larger contemporary world. In this essay I will be looking at Jackson Hlungawani's sculptures and how he uses his traditional bases to create works that are meaningful to his community. This will often include a discussion of other works from sculptors like Noria Mabasa and Johannes Maswanganye. I will also analyse how these artists keep an eye on the international art theme. Firstly it is important to make a discussion of these issues around modern, modernist, traditional and contemporary against a bigger backdrop of a western understanding of art coming out of rural areas in
It has always been problematic trying to classify and distinguish rural art in relation to other forms of art coming out of
The problems around this discussion arise from the dominant ideology that that which is African cannot be modern, which was perpetuated by the colonial viewing of
Who are the contemporary rural artists?
Contemporary rural artists are those that hail from the rural areas, and most continue to reside there in their production of art. They were trained by either family or community artists. They use traditional materials, like wood, clay and beads, and use traditional methods. Traditional African art was always associated with sculpture but in the twentieth century other forms and mediums arose. These rural artists are not modernist in that they are not conscious or consciously follow the conventions of avant garde. They are also not urban in that they do not produce art with the gallery and museum in mind, but with a sense of community. They are also not school trained but trained by their fathers or grandfathers or an immediate community member. During the 1980’s a lot of rural sculpture from the northern parts of
The eminent rise of contemporary rural artists has led art historians, critics and academic researchers to see this art as transitional. By transitional, these works are seen as a transition from one cultural context to another, a cross fertilisation between western and African forms. The term ‘transitional’ becomes problematic, as many other words when African art is written about, because there are expectations of African art to be untainted and uninfluenced by other cultures, so these sculptures tend to have an international art theme and a sense of modernity. For instance when artists like Walter Battiss and Paul Gaugin started to make visual reference to other cultures like the Zulus and Tahiti, their works were not labelled transitional, but rather primitivist. This is problematic because in their case the spotlight is on the influences of their ‘new’ art forms whereas in the contemporary rural context the art works itself is seen as evolving and interbreeding. To put it clearer, Battiss and Gaugin were seen to paint new subjects whereas the contemporary rural artists were seen to have new subjects or influences evident in their works. This denies these rural artists any intellectual or creative pursuits.
I will now focus on the works of Jackson Hlungwani as an artist who has created forms that expressed his own sense of modernity and a belonging to a larger contemporary world. I will also look at how Hlungani, Noria Mabasa and Johannes Maswanganye created works that were meaningful to their communities while keeping an eye on the international theme. Hlungwani was ordained a minister in the