They are at the bottom of the food chain, but black women are the most resilient and beautiful beings. They are a perfect muse for artists because of their supple synchrony of belle and vigour.
“Celebration of great black women remains an inspiration in my work. Telling the history of these powerful African heroines is my source of inspiration,” artist Kehla Chepape Makgato says.
He has done a lot of work in his 20 years as an artist and says the common thread in all the work is the celebration of pigmented females.
His current and eighth solo exhibition, Chronicles From Makotopong which is showing at the RK Contemporary art gallery in the Western Cape’s Riebeek Kasteel, pays homage to the village he grew up in. It’s abstract portraiture of some women in that village. If you’re black, you’ll instantly connect with the work, as some women are portrayed in doeks and faskotis (traditional apron made from Shweshwe fabric) which is common for black females.
“What’s special about this show, is definitely a celebration of the village that made me the person and the artist I have become. It is more of a celebration than anything else,” Makgato tells me.
The exhibition opened on May 27th and will run until next Wednesday.
Earlier this year he had a two month residency at a US gallery. The idea was spawned through his visit to artist workshop, the Zygote Press in Cleveland Ohio, where he made his presentation to the staff there. This, he organised with Meg Harris Stanton of Harris Stanton Gallery, that represents him in America.
“I exhibited mixed media collages and Monotype prints. Prof. Zakes Mda visited me especially in Cleveland, so that he gets to see my show and that we continue to work on our future two-man show. This is one of the greatest highlights of my residency,” a proud Makgato says. The reception to his work was amazing in the US.
Although he’s been a practicing artist for two decades, he only became pro 10 years ago although his résumé is the envy of many artists. In 2015 he collaborated with the distinguished William Kentridge on a project. He was one of two Mzansi delegates to the 2012 Africa Utopia Youth Arts, Cultural and Olympia Festivals of the World at the Southbank Centre in London. He has won a studio art bursary from the African Arts Trust to be a resident artist at the Assemblage Studios from June 2014 to May 2015. South African great, David Koloane was his mentor.
“What I have taken from these giants is humility, dedication and passion to the talent. Those are important qualities I took from them. They have many things in common and that is love for books and a thoroughly inquisitive minds.”
Currently, some of his work can be viewed in Grenoble France, the United Kingdom, Museum of Contemporary African Art in Washington DC and other private collections.
Makgato works across three mediums; printmaking, painting, drawing and collage. “Printmaking is a traditional medium of art that is now graphic design.” he says “However printmaking has different techniques and processes that result in hand printed limited edition of prints done using press machine, sometimes collaborating with a studio technician or master printer. My approach to art is life, my everyday social, emotional and spiritual make up.”
Born in Johannesburg and raised in Makotopong village, outside Polokwane in Limpopo, Makgato was introduced to art at a very young age.
“I remember back in primary school when I was doing sub B, my teacher who was also an artist; instead of punishing one boy who made noise in class as a form of reprimand, he surprisingly made this boy pose for him as a model for drawing. The exactness of the boy on that piece of paper he shared with us after drawing him, which left me fascinated and that is how I got introduced to the arts.”
He has a professional three year certification, which is practically a Diploma when you look at it.
“Education is the most important engine that drives one’s career, however, hard work and dedication to one’s career is the walk that makes one achieve anything when the engine, say of education, fails or delay. Thoroughly journeys you to the destination of success. Education from academic institutions alone cannot deliver you a successful career, especially in the arts. Most of what we learn at institutions are basic skills and theory around the practicality of career. The work is our hands and passion, not academic institutions of learning, especially in the arts.”
A philanthropist at heart, Makgato from time-to-time is in townships and rural areas teaching kids art and shares literature with them.
“I have managed to inspire and mentor people who share the same passion for the arts and literature. My ever so busy schedule, when doesn’t permit my meeting with these beautiful children, my colleagues continue with this mission in my absentia.”
He has a passion of taking the arts to rural areas because kids there are often neglected. He started a socio-artistic movement called Chepapesim which “seeks to take ownership of our narratives and solve problems or difficulties we face as a new generation of art practitioners when it comes to funding. It’s an art merchandise that will gradually fund all arts and literacy educational developments in rural areas.”