Being there : South Africa, a contemporary scene
Fondation Louis Vuitton & Dilecta, Paris, 2017
I have been making a history of an unknown world, perhaps rather an uncharted territory [...] writing own remembrances of things past, people I left behind1.
Born in Bakenberg in 1975
Moshekwa Langa was born in Bakenberg, a rural village in the province of Limpopo, north of Johannesburg, a self-governing state that was only recognised by the apartheid regime.2 After having studied at a Steiner school in Pretoria, he settled in Europe, mainly Amsterdam, after a residency at the Rijksakademie from 1997 to 1998. His biography constituted the start- ing point of a narrative focusing on his native land. Since the mid-1990s, he has been developing an oeuvre based on the association of disparate elements, exper- imentation with materials, intuition and gesture. His installations, drawings, paintings, collages, photographs and videos are all attempts at reconstituting and cir- cumscribing a territory.
Behind his works is the childhood memory of an incomplete map: he discovered one day that Bakenberg did not gure in a world atlas. Many of his works were inspired by his desire to inscribe it in geography, to reconstruct it mentally and to make it exist. The map motif is also found in the early drawings and collages produced in the 1990s using maps of South Africa that became obsolete after the end of apart- heid in 1994. His installation Temporal Distance (With a Criminal Intent) You Will Find Us in the Best Places, a heap of wool threads, miniature cars and bottles, form an urban landscape reused several times between 1997 and 2009. It is also found in his recent paintings and his drawing-poems.
The series of “Drag Paintings,” produced in 2016, is an extension of it. Damp canvases attached to the backs of cars are dragged along the red-earth roads around Bakenberg. The cloth preserves the rough bits of the soil and its traces, forming an abstract cartography of the region. Once these canvases are hung vertically, they evoke topographical surveys: the artist’s subjectiv- ity makes way for a random process. They bear witness to the artist’s clear attachment to the territories recon- stituted in a fragmentary manner.
The looped video Where Do I Begin? (2001) was inspired by a childhood memory. Langa lmed in medium close-up at calf level a queue of people getting on to a bus: trouser bottoms, skirts and bare legs, shoes, umbrellas, canes and bags against a backdrop of red earth. The slow ascent of the steps is punctuated by the rst repetitive measures of the song Where Do I Begin? performed by Shirley Bassey. Seen from a child’s height, this video has the power of memory and of a haunting visual imprint. It reconstitutes the necessary everyday journeys of a population. The artist, a perpetual traveller, resumes contact here with ground abandoned by necessity and found again since, to which he also states his belonging.
1. Moshekwa Langa, quoted by Tracy Murinik, in “Moshekwa Langa”, Art Cities of the Future, London: Phaidon, 2012, p. 155.
2. Limpopo corresponded to the Bantustan of KwaNdebele,
a region created during the apartheid period, reserved for black populations and which enjoyed a certain autonomy.