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Above and previous page Untitled (Skins), 1995, multimedia installation, photographed in the backyard of Langa’s Bakenberg home by the artist


In 2002, as part of his Fresh residency exhibition at the South African National Gallery, Moshekwa Langa


featured his seminal video Where do I begin? (2001) for the first time. It had been five years since he last showed in South Africa, after moving to Amsterdam to study and then work there. His previous South African showing, in 1997, had also been at the SANG as part of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale exhibition, Graft, curated by Colin Richards. Langa had arrived in Cape Town at that time with a European film crew in tow, recording his every move including the installation of another of his seminal pieces, Temporal Distance (With Criminal Intent.) You Will Find Us in the Best Places (1997) – an elaborate multimedia cityscape of thread, wool, bottles, toy cars – which he later reproduced, notably as part of the 2009 Venice Biennale. The question that Where do I begin? poses feels as poignant an entry point into Langa’s work now as it did in 2002. Fifteen years ago the inquiry appeared to be directed around how to explain and acknowledge the multiple aspects of himself – culturally, educationally, artistically, spatially, relationally – to his varying audiences, locally and abroad, who wanted to know who he was and what his art was doing. Today the question seems to have found more self-reflexive depth as he looks back and considers roughly twenty years of artmaking. In both instances, that ‘beginning’ is invoked by reflecting on his childhood home of Bakenberg – then still a small village in Limpopo (previously part of the then semi-independent ‘homeland’ of KwaNdebele), now a larger platinum mining town – as his earliest place of personal and cultural rootedness. The title of this exhibition, Fugitive, is closely tied to this self-reflection. It bears an acknowledgement of the refuge that his art and studio have provided


for him over these years of creative and personal

earliest radiance under the international spotlight.

maturation, away from others’ questions about

In Fugitive Langa questions, engages, connects

his existence. It also acknowledges his ongoing

with and tries to make sense of his process and his

experience as a young boy, and as a young artist

journey over these twenty years.

living away from home, in South Africa and abroad, as one of displacement at all levels of self-

connections that he makes between early and

presentation, having him feel not unlike a type of

current works are keenly considered and cited, as is

fugitive – always disconnected, somehow outside

their curatorial placement in the exhibition. At the

of the framework he found himself in; needing to

level of engaging his process, Fugitive presents a

explain details of his history and present experience

richly matured and self-reflexive expression by the

that would locate him in context.

artist of this journey.

From his earliest works, produced in the mid-1990s

Viewers are introduced to the exhibition by

when he was not yet twenty, Bakenberg became for

two works – a video piece, Martha, from 2011 and

Langa a deeply personal marker of relative distance

a diptych, Overseas I/Overseas II (2017) – that

from wherever else he found himself or felt himself

immediately set up a subtle dialectic for the show: of

or had to explain himself; a strongly formative

place and time, home and away. Of dry, dusty roads

location of belonging and un-belonging. The place

and deep, iridescent wateriness. Of worlds apart. And

where he lived for his first eleven-and-a-half years

Langa’s continual traversal of both.

has become, for Langa, a space – and an idea of a

Martha, which was shot in Bakenberg, stands

space – of continual longing; a signifier of home,

as Langa’s self-referential starting point in the

of stable existence – of his rooted self and life; a

exhibition – his context to ‘begin’ his telling of himself

place of refuge in his mind where he isn’t required

and his journey. Langa has been documenting

to explain himself to anyone: where he came from,

Bakenberg for many years, from the beginning of his

what that meant to him. And thus the relative

artmaking, tracking its residents, its landscape and

distance that Bakenberg represents as a point of

more recently its sudden infrastructural changes

evaluation for all of Langa’s experiences has become

since platinum mining began in the area. Filmed by

not only spatial and experiential, but also temporal

the artist, running with a hand-held video camera

– an imagined, longed for time of containment and

after his long-time neighbour, Martha, along the

relative simplicity and uncomplicatedness.

untarred main road in Bakenberg, the video piece

To some degree there is a conflation of the nature


At a material level, the resonances and

evocatively captures a sense of the place – its

of place and self, key elements that Langa returns

colours, sounds, textures. It documents for Langa

to repeatedly in his work. This deeply entangled

the ephemeral state of the village on the cusp of

evaluation and registration of himself in relation to

change, holds it for him as a moment in memory of

space and time is a fundamental motif of the Fugitive

the place as he’s known it, registering the landscape

exhibition, twenty years on from experiencing his

as a tangible referent. This place, which in his earliest

Where do I begin?, 2001, single-channel digital video, sound, duration 4 min 20 sec


Via Afrika Large Print Atlas for Southern Africa, 1994, detail from notebook


work he mapped almost obsessively, insisting on

including floor pieces such as Temporal Distance

giving name and presence to the small area where

(With Criminal Intent.).

he was born, but which failed to appear on official

While every work in this exhibition invites careful

apartheid-era government maps of the region,

reading and proposes associations with previous

seemingly disregarding and nullifying its – and by

and other current works, there are several pieces

extension, his – existence, is in some ways Langa’s

that particularly warrant drawing out some of their

symbolic key to self.

historical-contemporary connections. These include

Overseas I/Overseas II, on the other hand – cool

the powerful presence of the suspended series of

and watery and unpredictably in flux; all shimmery

Drag Paintings (2016) that hang centrally in the

surfaces and unknown depths of layered line and

middle room, diagonally opposite Halcyon Days and

pigment – becomes that relative distance from

in relation to Declarations of love (2013/17), Metseng

the warm, knowing intimacy and familiarity of

ya batho (2016), Spirals (2016), Rikisha (Ramokone)

Martha. Rather than embodying the rootedness

(2016) and The sweet simple life ... (2016).

of a particular place, the paintings map a space of

Langa speaks of the Drag Paintings as almost

transition and anticipation, which are also important

physical remnants of the Bakenberg of his childhood

referents in Langa’s narration of his journey.

– stretches of canvas that he dragged along the

One of Langa’s very early works, Halcyon Days

ground behind a car on Bakenberg roads to collect

(1994), installed just as one enters the next part

and literally become embedded with the earth of

of the exhibition, marks another careful inclusion

that place, and then lacquered to preserve them

in reading the show’s trajectory by providing a

as what he’s referred to as ‘locked documents’,

contextual backdrop of his earliest concerns and

representing part of a physical and memory

interrogations as a very young artist. This complex

archive echoing the landscape of Bakenberg as he

collage ironically reveals and maps a colonial plot

remembers it having existed. Or the fantasy of that

to take over Africa. The work includes many of the

memory. Other works on the exhibition, such as

ongoing material devices that Langa employs going

Bakenberg Imagined I (2016/17) present similarly

forward, using multimedia including tape, printed

as part of this archive, although through different

material, drawing, text and thread to layer image and

material means.

meaning. This early piece already poignantly reflects

In the third exhibition space are two further ‘drag

Langa’s pursuit to position himself, personally and

paintings’ installed as framed canvases – Wydhoek

politically, within the landscape of South Africa and

(2016), which is heavily imbued with additional

the continent, and to explore what that means.

pigment and thread, and Bokwidi (2017). Both have

In terms of his practical process, this work and

been intensively worked, reworked and – Langa’s

others from that early phase prefigure his ongoing

word – ‘deworked’, using the natural materials and

experimentations with materials and colour, both

earth of the particular places they reference, and

two-dimensionally and in his elaborate installations,

embodying the resonance of those materials’ affect.


But the drag paintings have a further echoed

included – that seem to supersede the discomfort

significance in Langa’s oeuvre, in that as much

and ineluctability of expressing that desire. The drag

as they infer place, landscape, map, complexly

paintings are among these works that appear to

saturated relic, rich palimpsest parchment, they also

come close to accepting the constantly unreachable,

reference Langa’s earlier Untitled (Skins) (1995) that

and embracing their expression, simply, as intimate

prominently featured on the exhibition Faultlines:

statements of emotion and declaration of where

Inquiries about Truth and Reconciliation at the Castle

the artist is at that moment. If the drag paintings

of Good Hope, Cape Town, in 1996, and which, in that

are bold and powerful objects, though, some of

context, took on a far more sinister character, as of

these other works are more softly stated, quiet

flayed human remnants.

and perhaps lightly unassuming – sparser than

Langa has noted in discussion about his work that

the other works on the exhibition, with a different

elements of self-portraiture may be read into all

colour palette and embracing a different energy.

of his pieces, as he writes himself into the histories

These are the Love Letters and the perhaps more

he infers, as well as through his referencing of

elaborate piece, which does appear on Fugitive,

what he experiences. His use of photocopies, for

titled Declarations of love. Even as the texts that

example, which recurs in various artworks over

they infer are not legible to the viewer – they appear

the years, builds a referential lexicon, as does his

as gestures rather than actual statements – their

inclusion of text, drawing and titles that locate works

intention is made evident and the simple intimacy

specifically for him, even if obscurely, or opaquely,

of their declarations rings true. The minimalism of

for his viewers. He describes himself ‘try[ing] to

line, colour and layering in these works is different to

perform being [him]self every day’ or finding

the intense layering of mark, material and text of so

himself reflecting on things he finds relevant and of

many of his works both on the show and produced

interest around him. David Brodie, in introducing this

over time – the complex registers of experiential

exhibition, commented about Langa’s process that

cues – names, titles, places, adjectives – that have

it intuits a sense of longing – something ephemeral

so regularly occupied his canvases previously, and

that remains on the periphery, just on the edge

whose titles have maintained their relative opacity.

of conscious understanding. Langa describes this

The Love Letters, instead, Langa openly titles as

phenomenon as a constant engagement and

such. Clear, but not literal in their presentation;

struggle with himself, both as a person and as

delicate, but by no means insipid, these works with

an artist on his journey, trying to find concrete,

their intimately coded texts seem to communicate

containable formulations to express that desire that

an embrace – of themselves, and their maker – in

feels constantly remote or just out of reach.

answer to that perpetual longing.

While this feels true of the entire Fugitive exhibition, there are several works – some part of this exhibition, others related to it but not ultimately


Tracy Murinik is an independent art writer, educator and curator based in Johannesburg.

Halcyon Days, 1994, mixed media on paper. Courtesy of a private collector


Drag Paintings, 2016, soil on canvas, installation dimensions variable




Installation view with Overseas I/Overseas II (2017), Drag Paintings (2016) and Spirals (2016)



Installation view with Mantlhakane (2017), Drag Paintings (2016) and Wydhoek (2016)


Installation view with Metseng ya batho (2016), Rikisha (Ramokone) (2016) and Drag Paintings (2016)




Metseng ya batho, 2016, mixed media on paper, 140 x 100cm



Izinduduma, 2016, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm

Declarations of love, 2013/17, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



Bakenberg Imagined I, 2016/17, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm

Baagishane (Neighbours), 2014/17, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



Bokwidi, 2017, soil on canvas, 142 x 173cm

Wydhoek, 2016, mixed media on canvas, 141.5 x 175.5cm



Cat on a hot tin roof (as if), 2014/17, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



The Parents II, 2017, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm

The Parents I, 2017, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



Mantlhakane, 2017, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



Overseas I/Overseas II, 2017, mixed media on paper, diptych, 100 x 140cm each



Mamonwana [Landscape with Beetroot Fields and Sugar Canes], 2013/17, mixed media on paper, 140 x 100cm

Passages I, 2017, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



Wydhoek, 2014/16, mixed media on paper, 140 x 100cm



Rikisha (Ramokone), 2016, mixed media on paper, 140 x 100cm

Kwa Khala Nyonini I, 2016, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



‘Tonsils’/Manwe uwe Buela bitseng [Verbal cure], 2017, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm

Spirals, 2016, mixed media on paper, 140 x 100cm



Yasmina, 2016, mixed media on paper, 162 x 122cm



The Love Letter III, 2016, mixed media on paper, 149 x 198.5cm

The Love Letter IV, 2016, mixed media on paper, 205 x 150cm



The Love Letter I, 2016, mixed media on paper, 150 x 197cm

The Love Letter II, 2016, mixed media on paper, 150 x 198cm



Shadow and Fog, 2016, mixed media on paper, 150.5 x 198.5cm

Shadow and Fog, 2016, mixed media on paper, 150 x 157cm



Martha, 2011, single-channel digital video, sound, duration 7 min 19 sec


MOSHEKWA LANGA was born in 1975 in Bakenberg, Limpopo, and lives between Amsterdam, Paris and Johannesburg. He studied at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 1997-98. Rising to international prominence in the late 1990s, he was an active participant in what is now considered the golden age of biennales, including those of Johannesburg (1995 and 1997), Istanbul (1997), Havana (1997), São Paulo (1998 and 2010), Gwangju (2000), Venice (2003 and 2009) and Lyon (2011). Solo exhibitions have taken place at institutions including the ifa Galleries in Stuttgart and Berlin (2014), Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois (2013), Kunsthalle Bern (2011), Modern Art Oxford (2007), the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts (MAXXI) in Rome (2005), Kunstverein Dusseldorf (2004), the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (2003), Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva (1999), the Renaissance Society in Chicago (1999) and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1998). Notable group exhibitions include Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); Afrique Capitales, Gare Saint-Sauveur, Lille (2017); The White Hunter: African Memories and Representations, FM Centre for Contemporary Art, Milan (2017); An Age of Our Own Making, Images Biennial, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Denmark (2016); Biennial of Painting: Yoknapatawpha, Museum of Deinze & Leie Region, Belgium (2016); My Joburg, La Maison Rouge, Paris, and Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden (2013); 12th Triennale Kleinplastik Fellbach (2013); The Global Contemporary. Art Worlds after 1989, ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art, Karlsruhe, Germany (2011); Flow, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2008); Snap Judgments: New Positions in

CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 403 1055 Catalogue 89 October 2017 © 2017 for work: the artist © 2017 for text: the author Covers Drag Paintings (details), 2016, soil on canvas

Contemporary African Photography, International Center of Photography, New York (touring 2006-8); Africa Remix, Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (touring 2004-7); Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Museum for African Art, New York (touring 2003-6); A Fiction of Authenticity, Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis (touring 2003-6); How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (touring 2003-5); Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, New Museum, New York (touring 2003-4); and The Short Century, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (touring 2001-2). The artist thanks Martha Mbiza, Hans Langa, Manas Ratladi, Hendricka Mothapo, Mpho Maraba, Oupa Mothoa, Tshepho Mothoa, Amanda Maleka, Bethu Nkgoeng, Tshepho Mnisi, Abel Mbiza, Tapuwa, Clive Langa and Lorna Ferguson. Special thanks to the Kadist Foundation, Marie-Ann Yemsi, Bénédicte Alliot, Corinne Loisel, Catherine Drey and the Cité internationale des arts in Paris.

Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini, Anthea Pokroy, Nina Lieska Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

Moshekwa Langa: Fugitive  

Stevenson catalogue 89