October 16, 2021 - November 27, 2021
WASHBOARDS AND MIRRORS
The Collages of Zakes Mda
Some of the works in this collection are collages of acrylic on canvas, fabric, newsprint, mirrors, and other three-dimensional found objects. They celebrate the coalescence and sometimes the clash of materials and traditions of South Africa on one hand, and the Appalachian region of the USA on the other. The washboard in its three-dimensionality is an important object of the collage – adding sculptural elements to a painting.
There is a washboard factory in Logan Ohio, a neighbouring town to Athens Ohio, where I live. It is the only washboard factory left in North America, as people in the USA no longer use them for washing clothes since the introduction of washing machines either at home or at laundromats. In South Africa the American-type washboard was never really popular even before the days of washing machines. People used wasplank instead, smoothed flat timber. The washboard in my paintings is part of the assembly of conceptual three-dimensional found objects from the southeast Ohio Appalachian region. Part of the mixed media include African fabrics and newsprint, both from South Africa and Lesotho. Each painting functions as a narrative of domestic, gender and workplace tensions.
So, who buys washboards from the Logan factory? Souvenir collectors and musicians. The washboard is a musical instruments, traditionally used in jazz, zydeco, skiffle, and jug band music. My wife, Gugu, and I played washboards with a blue-grass band at the Logan Washboard Festival one year. One of the paintings titled The Washboard and the Kora portrays a band playing the two instruments from the diverse cultures of Appalachia on one hand and of Africa on the other.
A lot of my work pays homage to performance – particularly dance and music – in a manner these art forms function as a healing force in society – for instance the Healers’ Concert series. Some are a tribute to my friend, the late horn-man Hugh Masekela. Hence you will see a lot of trumpet, especially in the series titled Jazz in Sepia.
You will see a lot of organ and concertina too. This is part of the work that speak to the symbiosis between my painting and storytelling as some of it is influenced by or loosely interprets scenes and characters from my novels. The accordion and to a lesser extent the concertina are the dominant instruments in a genre known as famo music popular in southern Africa but emanating from Lesotho. My latest novel, Wayfarers’ Hymns, is set in Lesotho and Johannesburg and in centred around the real-life wars of the famo musicians – where great music begets death.
There are other works as well that draws from my literary production; for instance, the Sister Woman Series, influence by my most enduring and most popular play, And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses, currently running in London at the Arcola Theatre, produced by Utopia Theatre.
Most of the works feature mirrors as part of the collage. These are shiny objects that otherwise would belong in a world of kitsch and have been tamed here to reflect you and make you part of the painting, albeit momentarily. They are also much beloved objects by graduands of isiXhosa initiation rituals, old-school amakrwala.
The works are a fusion of styles drawing variously from Basotho traditional murals called litema and lipatrone, South African township art and European expressionist modes, particularly Brasque-inspired Cubism. An example of the latter is Favela Love which subverts scale and perspective. Some of these are overtly political in a deeply South African context, as can be seen in The Man in a Green Blanket series.