Thabo Motseki, Life of the mind II, Monoprint. Picture: Supplied
Thabo Motseki, Life of the mind II, Monoprint. Picture: Supplied

Thabo Motseki & Molefe Thwala unpack issues of identity, African spirituality through art

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Oct 3, 2021

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Celebrated South African contemporary artists Thabo Motseki and Molefe Thwala are seeking answers to some of the questions of identity while unpacking issues of spirituality through their artworks.

In their latest two-man exhibition, “Identity Redefined”, the dynamic duo reveal how their art aided them in finding their own identities.

Motseki’s body of work is an ongoing exploration of defining his identity.

Through his artworks, the Free-State born creative pays tribute to women in his family that have played a significant role in his life.

“My work carries themes of defending, celebrating and embracing women. I portray women in my work and represent my mother.

“Women are vital in my work, for I never had a father, so they played an important role in my life,” explains Motseki.

Thabo Motseki, Sesheshe sa Basotho. Picture: Supplied

He says the incorporation of maps and smudged fingerprints helps him gain an entrance into his world and informs the constant search for his identity.

Thwala’s recent body of work attempts to define personal identity but it gravitates more towards an African spirituality.

“My work is about the redefining and interrogation of spirituality for self in a contemporary South African context as a black male body in 2021,” offers Thwala.

He uses elements such as cow skulls, text and ucansi (straw mats) in his work. It is informed by dreams, reading, writing and research.

For Thwala, the process of creating artworks using smoke, candles and charcoal, acts as a mechanism to connect to the higher power.

Molefe Twhala, Ngiyeza, angibizwa, Smoke. Picture: Supplied

Commenting on the show, Thwala says, “The exhibition is inspired by the journeys, rituals, and life’s big questions such as, ”who am I?“ and ”what am I here for?

“As a father, I am tasked with passing on and instilling a sense of pride and knowledge of self to my son and the people I mentor.

“These responsibilities are exaggerated when interrogated through a spiritual lens.

“The artworks represent answers, questions and continuous redefinition of self, hence the title of the exhibition.”

Motseki and Thwala are co-founders of The Arts Company Soweto and their goal is to assist in making art accessible to people who don’t normally visit galleries.

“We started The Arts Company Soweto and with doing so we wanted to include the community and teach art, especially school children.

“The arts company's core mission is to engage with the communities, thus, making it less intimidating for people where we come from to engage with art,” says Motseki.

Thabo Motseki, Life of the mind II, Monoprint. Picture: Supplied

Thwala added that their works carry the much-needed message of healing, particularly during these uncertain times, where people across the world have suffered tremendously due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Soweto-born artist insists that despite the challenges that the pandemic presented, they managed to find innovative ways to keep the arts alive.

“The loss of life and income has affected and changed all of us. I have also witnessed artists become ’more’ creative, adapting and becoming different.

“To a certain extent, creatives kept the world afloat when people had no choice but to stay home.

“When we experienced hard lockdown, we momentarily took a knock, however, we quickly realised the opportunities to grow online to find new ways to source income.”

The duo says through virtual shows they managed to attract new audiences, locally and abroad.

“Before the pandemic, opportunities that were available for us were low.

“During the pandemic, we focused on our business as there were not many opportunities.

“It was a moment to be able to produce our artworks and sell them online which was a smooth and rewarding process.

“We managed to grow our business to a second branch. Also, interest from overseas individuals and organisations has more than doubled.

“We are young and dynamic creatives, so thinking outside of the creative box comes naturally to us and indeed during these troubled times, it came in handy,” explains Thwala.

He adds: “We have learned to translate some of our works into murals all over Soweto.

“We publish works into prints and distribute them widely to schools.

“We also invite non-creative parents to the studio to engage them about their gifted children.

“We also host a range of workshops for schools, organisations and individuals.”

Molefe Thwala, Izimendlela namakhandlela, Monoprint. Picture: Supplied

Motseki says he fell in love with the arts through a tragic accident that resulted in him spending three years in the hospital.

“For the entire duration that I was confined to a bed with no sense of movement, stirred within my deep curiosity and drive to share my mind with the world through art.

“Right there in the hospital, I decided that after completion of school I will study art. Through research, I realised just how powerful art can be and I’ve never looked back since,” Motseki shares.

He adds, “Some of the patterns that are found in my work are inspired by medical instruments.

“Lines are vital in my work for they aid in portraying my life experience, emotions.”

The duo credits their artistic influences to a diverse range of artists including legends Benon Lutaaya, Frida Kahlo and Nicholas Hlobo, Paul Molete, Megan Theunissen, Thokozani Mthiyane and Wim Botha.

“Identity Redefined”, a two-man exhibition by Thabo Moletsi and Molefe Thwala, opens at Riboville Boutique Hotel, Waterfall Equestrian Estate, Midrand, from Saturday, October 2. The exhibition runs till October 30. Entrance is free.

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