Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sabelo Mlangeni at Brodie/Stevenson

At a recent colloquium held at Rhodes University, writer and academic, Ashraf Jamal admonished South African artists for their dour palettes and monochromatic art works. In his view the absence of bold colour in the South African art canon is a manifestation of a state of mind that pervades South African art (and literature), in which moral seriousness overrides a playful form of expression, which he likened to a kind of "wakefulness". Jamal suggested such choices are not stylistically determined but are ideologically and culturally motivated, reflecting a vexed and existentialist relationship with the South African landscape and society.

Within this context it appears as if Sabelo Mlangeni is continuing this legacy with this latest photographic exhibition which presents two bodies of work in a monochromatic palette. He too seems caught within this staid artistic tradition that Jamal believes suffocates imaginative engagement with the present.

Without a doubt Mlangeni's art is propelled by a degree of moral seriousness; while one body of work documents visits to his hometown, Driefontein near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga, articulating this fixation with place that Jamal lambastes, the other features the poor living conditions at a men's hostel on the East Rand. One can suppose that Mlangeni's documentary mode of expression motivated his decision to shoot in black and white (or perhaps he drained the images of colour in Photoshop afterwards): this stark, no-nonsense palette is the language of the objective documenter. Colour, which is aligned with emotional responses, introduces subjectivity into the art making.