Mawande Ka Zenzile: The Problem We Didn't Create

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MAWANDE KA ZENZILE THE PROBLEM WE DIDN’T CREATE



MAWANDE KA ZENZILE THE PROBLEM WE DIDN’T CREATE


Letter for Sarah batman to Josephine Baker 2011, earth, cow dung and oil on canvas, 180 x 119cm

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A Lesson, 2013, cow dung and oil on canvas, 167.5 x 139cm

Portrait of Patrice Lumumba, Portrait of Toussaint Louverture, Portrait of King Hintsa: Aa Zanzolo, Portrait of Elizabeth II: forever more, all 2013, cow dung and oil on canvas, 50 x 50cm

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Ikati elel’eziko, 2013, installation with commercial wood and stones (igoqo) and found family portrait (reproduced, enlarged and framed)


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Inqawe: Series (detail), 2013, smoking pipes (meranti wood), wallpaper and steel, 90 x 54cm each


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Inqawe: Series, 2013, smoking pipes (meranti wood), wallpaper and steel, 90 x 54cm each


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Double date, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 170 x 240cm

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Sabotage: after Muhammad Ali, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 182 x 102cm Crime scene, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 182 x 101cm

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uGologolo-indoda yaseKomani 2013, commercial wood and stones (igoqo), money box, dimensions variable Performance with Lihle Mananga, 28 November 2013, Stevenson, Cape Town


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JFK: Historical painting, 2014, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 160 x 280cm

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Martyrdom: Geronimo, 2014, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 85 x 85cm

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Plan for Titanic I, 2013, cow dung, bitumen sealer and oil on canvas, 50 x 50cm Plan for Titanic II, 2013, cow dung, bitumen sealer and oil on canvas, 50 x 50cm Honoring the Flag, 2014, two American flags, sound, installation dimensions variable

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Black man you are on your own, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 170 x 240cm


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Crash: Letter for JG Ballard 2013, car with customised licence plate, approx 160 x 360 x 160cm

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Silence, 2014, drums, metal, hessian, gloves and wood, installation dimensions variable

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Charlie Chaplin, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 100 x 50cm Untitled: Scarecrow, 2014, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 180 x 170cm

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When things fall apart, 2014, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 239 x 110cm Mowgli and Bagheera, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 80 x 49cm

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You come closer, I will jump Performance with Sarah Grace Potter and Zwelakhe Khuse, 29 May 2014, Stevenson, Cape Town

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Amehlo akaphakelani , 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 60 x 51cm Portrait of Saddam, 2015, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 85 x 85cm

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A Homage to the Magicians, performance with Buhle Siwani, 27 November 2014, Stevenson, Cape Town The Mythology of the Rape, 2014, cow dung, earth, buttons and oil on canvas, 151 x 180cm

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Untitled, 2014, diptych, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 90 x 90cm each A Homage to the Magicians, performance with Buhle Siwani, 27 November 2014, Stevenson, Cape Town

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The Problem We Didn't Create (The Death of Socrates) 2014, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 170 x 241.5cm

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Rope Trick, 2015, wood and rope, dimensions variable

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Usoze, 2015, mud and mud bricks, dimensions variable Performance with Ayanda Charlie and Ondela Simakuhle, 16 April 2015, Stevenson, Cape Town

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Tenacity/Audacity, 2015, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 90.5 x 60.5cm People need to be controlled (The Fall), 2015, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 60.5 x 90cm

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Intsimbi ayigobi, 2015, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 90.5 x 60.5cm A Moment in the Millions, 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 160 x 160cm

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Untitled (Memory), 2015, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 91 x 150cm


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Makaveli, 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 152 x 91cm Destroy This Mad Brute (Caliban and Miranda): The End of an Allegory 2015, cow dung, gesso and oil on canvas, 150 x 90cm

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Dangerous truths, 2015, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 60.5 x 90.5cm Suicide Note (The Honey Trap), 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 150.5 x 90.5cm

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Kiss my Ass, 2014, cow dung, earth, gesso and oil on canvas, 170 x 240.5cm

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Coup d'État I, 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 150 x 90.5cm Coup d’État II, 2014, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 149.5 x 91.5cm

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I demand that you assassinate me, 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 150 x 90.5cm

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Martyrdom: Gaddafi, 2014, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 85.5 x 85cm

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Untitled (Gothic), 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 134 x 92cm

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The execution style, 2015, diptych, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 149.5 x 90cm

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Runaway, 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 150 x 91cm They Don’t Give a Fuck About Us, 2015, cow dung, earth and oil on canvas, 131.5 x 77.5cm

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Anglophone/Francophone, 2015, two-channel video installation, durations 2 min and 2 min 15 sec

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Untitled: Reason over passion, 2010, oil on linen, 86 x 86cm


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THE PROBLEM WE DIDN’T CREATE MAWANDE KA ZENZILE

First of all, I would like to pose a few questions as a brain

experience of the world. Through my work, I engage

exercise. The first one is: does a spade always mean a shovel

politics, memory, violence, history, colonial legacies, and

used to dig soil? Does a ‘painting’ of a smoking pipe made

the notions of space and time. I constantly aim to negate

from cow dung and oil paint on canvas necessarily invite us

stereotypes imposed on my work. Each and every artistic

to think about a Magritte? These are the questions I hoped

process I engage with is a continuous deconstruction of the

the audience would reflect on while confronted by my huge

ideologies and limitations I find imposed on me by the world.

paintings and piles of sticks in my exhibition, Statecraft. Sometimes in my work I like to confuse people; I

I’m against the belief or assumption that contemporary art practice is affected mainly by a singular genealogy of

intentionally conceal the meaning of the work. I do this by

art history and epistemic methodologies, as if being taught

giving the works ambiguous titles that have no obvious links

or teaching inside an art institution gives one the birth right

to my ‘true’ intentions. But sometimes I use the titles as

to understand or become an expert in all forms of visual

clues for the audience to access the work through.

aesthetics and cultures. This belief limits other possibilities

Primarily in my work, I draw attention to my heritage as a conceptual and a contextual frame of reference for my artistic practices. But my work is also a fusion of references

of understanding the material culture of the art object or the artist’s creative processes. Appearing continuously in my work for example, are

and motifs from different sources including Western

woodpiles/igoqo1, a motif which is intended to challenge the

art history, popular culture, literature and my personal

viewer to engage with the artwork’s material culture. Igoqo


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in its original context is viewed as an aesthetic form. The reading of the work therefore lies in the understanding of its contextual meaning. In the work titled Ikati elel’eziko (2013), one sees igoqo

some is a conscious reflection of the realities of our times. Cow dung is traditionally smeared onto the floors of the houses in Eastern Cape and is used as a binder when building mud houses. It too has an aesthetic quality that

and, on display on the wall nearby, a family portrait with my

attracted me to using it in my art. Cow dung has become a

mother, father and my older brother Thanduxolo. The image

predominant cultural material in my work and a language

is a reproduction of the original photo which was taken a

to communicate with creatively. I start this creative process

long time ago. It is the only photo we have of our father.

by selecting an image or images from my own memory or

Some got lost and most of them were destroyed by our

from popular culture. Then I begin with a charcoal drawing

uncle after our father passed away. This work was from an

onto a primed/unprimed canvas surface. If it’s an image

autobiographical graduate exhibition at Michaelis School of

from popular culture or an art historical reference, I don’t

Fine Art, University of Cape Town, entitled Center Ring. The

just mimic the sourced image, I fabricate its composition

igoqo is a representation of my mother’s strength, weakness

and colour in my work. The image then takes on a new life

and tenacity, raising three young men and a daughter

in a new context.

alone after our father passed away in a violent ambush by

Cow dung is a natural pigmentation and when it’s mixed

a group of taxi drivers in a taxi conflict. This phenomenon

with other pigments it transforms the colour palette of my

of violence recurs in my work. Most of it is unconscious, and

work and I attain a greater range of colours, which are not


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Bat girl, Now I become death the destroyer of the world, Zangief, What does that matter (Fuck Avantgarde), Bling Bling: The invisible hand, all 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 50 x 50cm

necessarily based on the principle of the colour wheel that

contrast two atrocities: one involves white people inside

is rooted in Western art history or its visual schemas.

a luxury cruise ship and the other involved black people

But sometimes I contrast the cow dung mixtures with oil

inside a slave ship. I was commenting on the basis that

paint colours and consciously allow an aesthetic dichotomy

race plays a role in the representation and suppression

to unfold. With this process I achieve contrasting surfaces,

of historical memories concerning violence perpetuated

which sometimes are in co-operation with one another and

towards Africans and Europeans.

sometimes repel one another. My practice deals with history in a similar way to how

My recent project, Statecraft, interrogates how the construction or deconstruction of a nation state is facilitated

I deal with visual cultures because I believe that images,

ideologically by the use of images as a form of propaganda

just like words or written history, are not used only to

or to sway people’s imagination and to control them. Edward

document historical events but also to maintain, propagate

Bernays coined the term ‘public relations’, inspired by

and/or to problematise history. In my previous exhibitions,

Sigmund Freud’s theories of the human mind’s susceptibility

I engaged critically with images and their histories. Titanic

to persuasion. The work The Problem We Didn’t Create (The

I/II (2013), another work from my graduate exhibition,

Death of Socrates) recalls a neoclassic work, The Death of

portrayed a simplified diagram of the iconographic slave

Socrates (1787), a painting by Jacques-Louis David. I am

ship in cow dung and oil paint. The Titanic was a ship that

using David’s representation of Socrates’ death as a catalyst

sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912. In this work I

in my own work to comment on conventional ways of


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The commodity (Exotic), Untitled: Two hooded man, both 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 50 x 50cm

interpreting contemporary works of art. The disciples around the dying Socrates are removed from my painting and are replaced by a smoking pipe from Xhosa heritage on a paint and cow dung background. This

pipe (inqawe). The smoking pipe’s motif, as in the painting described before, signifies death, and it is this dichotomy of signs which make the reading of the work possible. To access meaning in these works, I would like the

symbolic gesture of introducing the smoking pipe onto the

viewers to challenge themselves to understand the

cow dung picture plane shifts the meaning of the primary

dichotomies within and to respond not only to the formal

source. The smoking pipe, a motif from my early work which

features of Western aesthetics, but through visual and

references a Xhosa idiom known as ukubeka inqawe (that

material references specific to the cultural experience that

loosely translates as putting down a smoking pipe), implies

informs my creativity, and how they relate to each

that someone has passed away/died.

other or not.

Inqawe: Series (2013) is intended to draw attention

And lastly, I would also like to acknowledge the

to the Berlin Conference of 1885, where Britain, France,

contingent nature of art making and its mysteries. Joseph

Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy literally drew

Beuys once performed the role of himself, the artist, and

maps onto the land and shared the continent amongst

at the same instance the role of art historian/art critic, in

themselves without any Africans’ involvement. In my

his famous performance titled How to Explain Pictures to

practice, each of the country’s national flags is printed on

a Dead Hare. The hare is the only spectator since the real

wallpaper, and on top of each flag I’ve placed a smoking

art goers were locked outside the gallery by the artist.


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Head of an anonymous moor, 2011, cow dung and oil on canvas, 86 x 86cm

In this performance piece Beuys appeared with his face

theoretical justifications of this critical standpoint today is

painted with gold leaf and beeswax and he is holding a

the argument of Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author

dead hare and playing with the hare’s lifeless organs. What

published in 1967. This is precisely the problem we didn’t

is he trying to tell us here? Could it be he, the artist, who’s

create, the ideological problem we are forced to inherit,

mad, trying to explain something and communicate with

the problem of violence: wars, ecological disasters, racism,

a dead animal? Is he trying to tell his audience something

sexism and all manmade prejudices and injustices.

impossible to articulate in words? Or is he saying that the art historians or art critics are ignorant or perhaps mad by trying to rationalise something beyond their intellectual capacity? Does the hare represent the ignorance of his audience? Who is the protagonist here and who is the antagonist? Whose problem is it to make people understand art? The reality is that most people who write about art don’t make art and their opinions matters more than those of the art maker. The artist, his creative process and the art object run the risk of being nullified. The most popular argument or ideology amongst all

1 I goqo is material culture, a structure that represents women within the Xhosa communities, mostly found in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The igoqo loosely translates in English as woodpile.


MAWANDE KA ZENZILE was born in Lady Frere, Eastern Cape, in 1986. He graduated with a BA Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, in 2014. He won the Tollman Award for Visual Art in 2014 and the Michaelis Prize in 2013. Previous solo exhibitions are Experimentation: All Hell Break Loose at Stevenson, Cape Town (2014); Autobiography of Mawande Ka Zenzile: Iingcuka ezombethe iimfele zeegusha at Vansa, Cape Town (2011) and Crawling Nation at the AVA, Cape Town (2009). Group exhibitions include Between the Lines at the Michaelis Galleries (2013); Umahluko at Lookout Hill (as part of Cape 09) and X Marks the Spot at the AVA (2008). In 2014 he completed a residency at Nafasi Art Space, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; he was awarded a residency in Norway in 2008 as part of the Abazobi project, organised by the Arkivet Foundation and the Robben Island Museum. Ka Zenzile has been a regular participant in academic conferences including Between the Lines at the Michaelis School of Fine Art and Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig (2013); The Exuberant Project, Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, University of Cape Town (2012) and Thinking Africa + Diaspora Differently at the Centre for

CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 F +27 (0)21 462 1501 JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 403 1055 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 info@stevenson.info www.stevenson.info Catalogue 83 May 2015

African Studies, University of Cape Town (2011). Many of these projects have been accompanied by his performances.

© 2015 for work and text: Mawande Ka Zenzile Cover Black man you are on your own, 2014, cow dung and oil on canvas, 170 x 240cm Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town




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