Lawrence Lemaoana

Exhibition catalogue
Being there : South Africa, a contemporary scene
Fondation Louis Vuitton & Dilecta, Paris, 2017

I think the media have a huge influence on what people think. They very much shape the psyche of the masses.

Born In Johannesburg in 1982

Lawrence Lemaoana graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. His works, whether sculptures in the public space, digital prints or printed and embroidered textiles compositions, are inspired by the language of the media and politics, and its hold on the collective imagination.

In 2008, after a scandal involving a South African leader, the artist began a series of slogans embroidered on khanga Njeti fabrics. Khanga is a multifunctional piece of fabric whose use and prints vary according to region, depending on history, beliefs, fashion and trade. Industrially produced, the fabric is sold in the markets and worn mainly by the women of southern Africa and East Africa. Designed in the Netherlands and made in Asia to be exported to South Africa, the fabric is a globalised product of trade. In the context of South Africa, it is also used for its spiritual nature by sangomas and inyanga, soothsayers and traditional healers. Its prints and designs are associated with ancestral gures, who may be represented in the forms of suns and animals, conferring a metaphorical meaning on the fabric. 

In Lemaoana’s work, the layout of the text refers to the posters of newspapers headlines plastered all over South Africa (shopping centres, crossroads and motor- way exits). These slogans refer in turn to the ght against apartheid, political quotations and the artist’s cultural in uences.

The artist criticises the in uence of the media on the collective consciousness, while celebrating the power of language in the liberation of peoples. His oldest embroideries (2008) were directly inspired by the pages of the widely read newspapers such as the Mail & Guardian and The Sun. In other compositions from 2015, superposing different types of khanga, the text takes on a more iconic dimension. Our Freedom Can’t Wait thus refers to a headline in a newspaper brandished by the American political activist Malcolm X in a 1963 photograph. The most recent series (2017), pro- duced for the exhibition, explores the fusion of polit- ical and religious imagery, such as Zuma Is Like Jesus, anc Will Rule Until Jesus Comes. Finally, the composi- tions Silence Falls and Freedom Is a Stone Throw Away evokes the #RhodesMustFall movement, which began in 2015. Isolating, fragmenting and appropriating discourses, the works afirm the power of words as favoured instruments in the political struggle.