The scent of freedom

2011-03-25 16:48

Lefifi Tladi’s work still ­contains evidence of a ­continued commitment to the grand struggle for a more liberated African experience. And we’re not talking about the propagandist or Parliament-type of freedom politics. Tladi loses sleep over what it means to be a fully realised human being in a post-1994 South Africa.

To understand this, you have to see the collection of his drawings and graphics currently on ­exhibition at Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg.

The show is titled Monkgo wa Mothalo, ­Setswana for Scent of Line, and is a retrospective of Tladi’s work spanning 30 years.

His shows have mainly focused on the five senses. There was Mphophole in 2009, which loosely translated means touch me or feel me, and then there was Ditsebe Nkutlwe, or Ears Hear Me, back in Stockholm in the 1980s.

Most works were produced in Sweden, where he was in exile during the apartheid years.

Tladi was very active as a cultural operative of the black consciousness movement. He now spends his time between his home in Ga-Rankuwa in Tshwane and Europe.

Tladi belongs to a league of ­liberation creatives who have been triangulating poetry, music and ­visual arts since the 1970s.

He was drummer and poet in the band offshoot of Malombo Jazzmen, called the Malombo Jazz ­Messengers, which later became known as Dashiki.

Though he was trained as a ­visual artist and art historian at Gerlesborgsskolan in Stockholm, he has become better known for his poetry.

He can be heard on Zim Ngqawana’s Ingoma album and Brus Trio’s Aim.

With his latest exhibition of ­artworks, he insists that “we need an African consciousness” that ­concerns itself with our African humanity, “what we call ubuntu”.

Hence the title makes reference to basic human faculties of sight and smell.

Tladi says his use of line and form is a result of “observing how the intensity of the sun ­creates shadows and light in Africa compared with Europe”.

The European sun, because of that continent’s latitudinal ­position, casts softer shadows, ­“unlike Africa, where the sun is very bright, and shadows and their lines are sharply pronounced”.

“There was a need to create ­African drawings in that sense. Not images of shacks or pitiful blacks in need of saving .?.?. what the market called township art.”

Tladi jokes that “fighting for the land also meant its smells, colours and flowers. The environment should be part of the
liberation discourse.”

But the artist had to go beyond shadows.

So, among these ­drawings are a series of what Tladi calls “alphabets of fire, or third-brain calligraphy”.

He argues that “because the Roman alphabet is limited against an anti-colonial ­African imagination, the liberated artist as a guide must wonder ­beyond the confines of a given system of meaning”.

This system is the basic blocks of a language: an alphabet.

» Scent of Line is running at Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg,
until May 22. There is a series of workshops and a visual arts symposium at the ­gallery. The visual arts workshop is on Saturday, the symposium on April?9, and there will be a music and poetry performance on April 15. 011 833 5624

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