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CityPress - - The Good Guide -

oes any­one know when the word ‘com­rade’ lost its egal­i­tar­ian – some might even say com­mu­nist – slant to be­come this fla­grantly self­gaz­ing state-bu­reau­crat eu­phemism for re­la­tion­ships con­sumed by self-en­rich­ment (an ap­par­ent par­ody of the word’s self­less­ness among cadres dur­ing the years of lib­er­a­tion strug­gle)?

Or was this the premise all along – that some com­rades are more equal than oth­ers?

Meleko Mok­gosi’s cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion, Com­rades, ex­plores many such as­sump­tions through fig­u­ra­tive and textbased works that fore­ground the am­bi­gu­ity con­tained in the “suc­cesses” of strug­gle, as seen in the ebul­lient post-lib­er­a­tion mo­ment.

The piece Com­rades I por­trays black chil­dren in a typ­i­cal school photo. Mok­gosi’s use of nat­u­ral light to bathe the fig­ures gives the im­age a “clean”, al­most saintly, qual­ity. A sub­ver­sion, per­haps, of the typ­i­cal por­tray­als of town­ship school­child­ren and, in some way, a chal­lenge to stereo­types of town­ship aes­thet­ics. The shirts, pants, skirt and tu­nic are of a typ­i­cally black school, but one ought to be care­ful of as­sign­ing ab­so­lute power to sig­ni­fiers, for the im­age is com­po­si­tional, and thus what one dis­cerns is merely one’s own bag­gage.

Con­trast it with that of Com­rades IV, where the con­struct typ­i­fies that of pri­vate school: one black per­son among a group of white stu­dents. Th­ese paint­ings read as a se­ries, al­though they are not hung as such. Be­ing un­able to de­ci­pher the Setswana text, one is left with the pure im­age, with the cor­re­spon­dence of colour and pose. In Com­rades IV, one ob­serves a de­pic­tion of post-lib­er­a­tion as­pi­ra­tions among com­rades.

I’ve of­ten won­dered if the whites who par­tic­i­pated in the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle in­tended for their chil­dren to go to the ma­jor­ity-black town­ship schools of their com­rades – or was democ­racy to be aligned with left­ist lib­eral ideals, which, to a large ex­tent, work to re­tain pat­terns of power and priv­i­lege, with only a hand­ful of elit­ist

PHO­TOS: MELEKO MOK­GOSI / STEVEN­SON

COM­RADES V

A seem­ingly in­no­cent, idyl­lic town­ship scene con­tain­ing a vex­ing metaphor of the value of black life

COM­RADES IV

Pri­vate school

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