As comfortable as Michael Knight is with and in his ride Kitt, so is artist Ludomo Maqabuka with his jalopy. His Nissan 1400 embodies his personality and character; a laid back modest individual that’s been through his fair share, but like the 1400, maintains his authenticity and suave in everything he does. We’re travelling from Joburg in his classic van, headed to Tembisa. Maqabuka and I, are part of an exodus of labourers from the city, which pile the highway
Maqabuka is a deliberate visual artist, who is intensely inspired by the artistry of music, through thoughtful musicians. Like Bob Marley said, when it hits you, you feel no pain. The music inspires the work he creates. He tells me of a time while working, listening to HHP’s intro of his album O Rata Mang. Titled O mang? the song aptly made him question who he is. “I was like shit, who am I…and I did a self-portrait after that. It just clicked. I also listen to a lot of jazz when I paint, because jazz is very abstract, there are no sing-alongs or someone’s verse to come…it’s just abstract music that swallows you up. ”
In his studio at August House where we were before hitting the road, he has a piece of Dr Philip Tabane with guitar in hand, stationed on stage as a vessel of the spiritual music. “That piece is so special. I don’t want it being owned by someone who doesn’t even know him [Tabane].”
Having said that, he doesn’t get too artsy farty about his work to a point where he will hoard it to himself, because he thinks no one is special enough to own it. “Bab’Philp Tabane is a father to a lot of musicians, especially in Pretoria. I made that piece dedicating it to him…whoever will buy it, must be someone who’s gonna cherish that piece. I don’t care if they hang it up their wall. Hoarding it to myself would be some childish shit. You know I make work to be enjoyed by people,” says Maqabuka.
His work has the feel and boldness of graffiti largely because of the stencils he uses , but says he never did any graff in his past. “I was too chicken to spray walls, but my work is influenced by graffiti. I’m a Hip Hop head…growing up in the 90s, that’s all I wanted to do, but I never made it to the walls- I would just do a quick small tag on a school desk or bathroom wall,” he says.
A talented artist who doesn’t know who she or he is, is less effective as one who does. A pro-black artist who doesn’t make noise about it but lives it, Maqabuka understands the impact his work has and can have. “One thing about white people [at universities] is that, they don’t share knowledge with us. Our forefathers were not taught art. Only those who were fortunate, like musicians. During my course [of Fine Arts] I was reluctant to learn about white people and art- everything is European, there’s a bit of Egyptian. So from my first year until third year I was taught white art.” He studied Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology and graduated in 2007.
Only on his third year was Maqabuka introduced to African art. “That shit interested me…I connected with it. I believe art was the first communication tool, because the Khoisan would draw a cow or whatever on rocks and that would be a reminder when they go hunt that this is our meat for the month- how do they know how to sketch?”
He says that’s where his love for graffiti comes from. “That’s the root of graffiti, it’s expression. Like the youth in America were expressing themselves because they were like ‘no one is was listening to us’ that’s why the colours were bright and bold and the letters were very cartoonish.”
He continues. “I’m telling my reality, with the influence of Hip Hop. The elements of graffiti come from Hip Hop…and I’m also a DJ. Sometime when you make an art work, you don’t really see how deep it is, your choices on images. I’ve painted a lot of musicians that I love. I can’t do anything without music”
Stage name Dub-L-Tot, derived from his nickname Toto, he’s been using the moniker for some years as his alter ego as a DJ. “The nice thing about DJing is that a set is about an hour, so it doesn’t take up much of my time. A couple of years ago, I had a lot of time on my hands because I didn’t have a lot of projects so I would prepare my sets and spend a lot of time practicing…I would play at the Love Rebel in Maboneng on Thursday and Sundays, sometimes on Saturdays.”
A lot has changed for the artist from Vosloorus since teaming up with Cape Town based agency, Spier Arts Trust. He came across the agency while studying a graphic designing course in Sandton at Rosebank College in 2011. “I use to walk past their building, which had nice artwork outside and I always asked myself what happens in there, until I decided to go in and ask one day.”
The agency buys and sells art work and they have Nandos as their biggest client. Maqabuka sent his portfolio after his curiosity led him into that building. “They give you six blocks, you make an artwork and they buy it back from you.”
He has a group exhibition later this month in Cape Town at the AVA Gallery. “The theme of the show is rituals and I chose street rituals, for instance protest as a sub theme,” he says. The exhibition is titled Nandos Creative Exchange powered by the Spier Arts Trust.
“We as black people as’bekelani. I remember I use to go to Bag Factory and I wasn’t getting love. Let’s just call it art politics.” He’s a naturally reserved person, but opens up when feeling a sense of kinship with whoever he’s talking with. He says there are cabals in the Joburg art scene, which make it hard for one to crack it if they aren’t known there. “There’s a mafia typa thing…maw’ngaziwa, wubani ozok’fatela? Ama lecture wase Wits and UJ are running competitions…they are influential because they are teaching the future product. Ku rough dawg,” he says in laughter.
The adversity of not being able to fully utilize his university qualification saw him attempt a number of ventures, to make ends meet. In 2010, with a group of friends they tried their luck at running an internet café in Soweto and at some point he tried out at a call centre, which only lasted for three months. “I’m not really much of a talker. I worked in sales…imagine me trying to convince someone to buy a Cell C contract.”
It was while living in the South Western Township that his aunt told him to come back home. “Ma O’lady said I should come back home and try study some course. That’s when I went to Rosebank College to do the graphic designing course.”
Maqabuka lost his mother at a young age and his aunt has practically been his mother ever since. “She’s so dope man. Very supportive”
Amid his struggles for an income, he start a clothing label with a friend, called Intsizwa Z’phelele. “I’m no longer part of it, but I help them with graphics.”
Talking about his difficult period in life he says “You go through depression, because of pressure from society. As a guy who studied in Pretoria, guys you went to school with are driving nice cars, they’re working and wena you’re broke and still hustling. Those times made me strong. I had to go through that phase.”
“I would advise one to start out as a graphic designer…or get a course that’ll give you a job and then study art afterwards because it’s not for the fainthearted-it’s art. I studied in Pretoria and came to Joburg and it was kinda hard because no one knew me, but if I went to Wits or UJ, I would have things different.”
Clearly he knows people and some important people know of him now, as he is a resident artist at August House and he is part of their current exhibition. Artists from the renowned studio will be part of a group collection which opens today in Sandton, titled the August House Group Exhibition In collaboration with Teresa Lizamore Mentorship Programme. It will include Zamani Xaba, Bukhosi Nyathi and Kealeboga Tlaleng among others.