Atlases of Art
Moshekwa Mokwena Langa, born in 1975 in the Northern Province of South Africa, is an outstanding representative of South Africa’s young generation of artists in. Influenced in his aesthetics by television and MTV, Langa refuses to let himself be pinned down to a particular artistic medium. His collages, room installations and video films explore issues such as territorial domination, exploitation, identity and social affiliations. Langa lives in Johannesburg and in Amsterdam.
In April 1994, the first democratic elections since the end of World War II were held in South Africa. At the time Moshekwa Mokwena Langa was nineteen, a recent graduate of the Waldorf School in Pretoria – and poised at the very beginning of a meteoric artistic career. Langa had his first solo show in 1995 in the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Gallery in Johannesburg; after that his career took off. In 1996 he took part in the exhibit “Colours – Art from South Africa” in the House of World Cultures in Berlin, and in 1997 Langa was invited to the biennales in Johannesburg, Havana and Istanbul. In 1998 this was followed by the São Paulo Biennale and a solo exhibition in the renowned Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam.
Langa, born in 1975 in Bakenberg in the North Province, is one of those contemporary artists whose aesthetics are influenced by television and MTV video clips and who refuse to let their art be pinned down to a particular medium. He became known for drawings and collages using painted-over maps, a series which he titled “New Visual Atlas”. One critic described this “New Visual Atlas”, which includes everyday artefacts such as photographs, balance sheets and invoices, by saying that Langa had “redefined continental drift”.
This can be taken in a figurative sense as well. Geography and geopolitical guidelines have always played a special role in South Africa, a country which was created more or less arbitrarily on the drawing board, like so many other African states. Colonialism and usurpation, the demarcations and exclusion of Apartheid, cities with a “white” centre and “black” townships – for decades the Cape of Good Hope was dominated by a social system which displayed the rifts within society more overtly than in any other African country.
Clearly, the questions raised are those that dominated the international art of the 1990s in general. Thus, Langa’s works also resonate with issues such as national affiliation, identity and the construction of identity, territorial domination, territorial battles and more subtle forms of violence.
The same is true of the artist’s large room installations: here too, fundamentally banal objects are filled with symbolic significance through slight shifts in meaning, as in the work which Langa presented at the Johannesburg Biennale in 1997. The installation bore the somewhat elaborate, but apt title “Temporal Distance (with a Criminal Intent). You will find us in the best places...” and consisted of countless cotton reels of the type used in industrial spinning factories, which Langa had distributed about the floor of the entire room. Some of these reels were still unused, while some were partly unrolled, and they were interspersed with bottles of different, mainly alcoholic beverages. In the photos of the Biennale all the colourful yarns and bottles look light-hearted and playful at first glance,– yet the chaotic scene inevitable calls to mind issues such as work, exploitation and dependency.
Another medium which Langa favours is video film. There too he uses documentary methods, formally speaking – but only in order to shift, expand or counter the connotations and borders of the genre. At this time Langa is probably the most prominent representative of South Africa’s youngest generation of artists. Langa lives in Johannesburg and has had a second residence in Amsterdam since 1997, when he received a grant from the Amsterdam Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten.
1975 born in Bakenberg in the Northern Province
1993 graduated from the Waldorf School, Pretoria
since 1996: freelance television producer at the South African Broadcasting Company
1997/98 grant from the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam
Lives in Johannesburg and Amsterdam
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa
(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)
Contemporary Art from South Africa
(24 May 96 - 18 August 96)