Who should we be putting on our currency?

Mandlenkosi Mavengere's #economicexile focuses on migration.
Mandlenkosi Mavengere's #economicexile focuses on migration.

Zimbabwe-born, Joburg-based visual artist Mandlenkosi Mavengere uses the motif of currency to comment on migration and economic exile. Grethe Kemp speaks to him about his new exhibition, which is currently on at Constitution Hill.

Mandlenkosi Mavengere paints what he sees and his work is often political.

His new solo exhibition at the Transwerke Building at Constitutional Hill sees him reimagine bank notes to reflect on the financial position of Zimbabweans.

Instead of the statesmen and national animals you usually see, he shows the citizens as they are – men and women forced to migrate to make a living, or worse, the victims of xenophobia.

When he does show state figures, it’s the country’s former president Robert Mugabe.

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But he resists easy interpretation: “I am not blaming Mugabe for the state of the country, but rather using him as a conversation starter. It is completely up to the viewer to decide how they want to interpret the image.”

I ask him about the exhibition’s title, #economicexile.

“This exhibition explores the observations that I’ve made on migration identities of ordinary people with regular occupations,” he says.

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“The linocut banknotes printed on canvas emphasise the constructed perambulation of the population in search of income and a better life.”

Mavengere is active on social media, with well-maintained accounts on virtually every platform. Even the title of his exhibition shows an awareness of the way audiences – especially young audiences – now consume art.

“Online presence and visibility has played a vital role in getting my work seen,” he says.

“Many have been drawn to my artworks and my studio space through my Instagram, YouTube channel and Facebook. I do not post everything, but I show what my work’s endeavours are and the progression of my work.”

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Another useful aspect about being online is that he can reach a global audience.

“In my work, I talk about the diaspora and, to some extent, I have reached the diaspora audience through online visibility.”

  • The work can be viewed by appointment. Email mandlenkosimavengere@outlook.com or go to @mandla_artist on Instagram

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