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The Morning After!
Moshekwa Langa
Artwork 2000
Installation photograph from the 'A Little After This' exhibition in A4 Arts Foundation's gallery that shows Moshekwa Langa's mixed media on paper work 'The Morning After!' mounted on a white gallery wall.
Artwork: Moshekwa Langa, The Morning After! (2000). Mixed media on paper. 140 x 100 cm. Private collection.
Artist Moshekwa Langa Title The Morning After! Date 2000 Materials Mixed media on paper Dimensions 140 x 100 cm Credit Private collection

In The Morning After!, colour frames and dissects the figure, but seems unable or unwilling to flesh out the implied intimacy of the title. Subtly varying between anticipation and remembrance, it could just as easily be an exclamation of either triumph or grief. Tracing a line from waking to sleeping, the figure is drawn, erased and redrawn in pencil. A caricature by reference almost solely to sensory organs – eye, ear and skin – belies the expressiveness of their posture as equally rapturous and crestfallen. The erasure with white slightly curbs a colour palette that would otherwise have recalled the revelatory colourism of Kandinsky, arguably signalling a pause or reservation. While the later colour additions evince the use of stencilling, it is perhaps the drawing of the figure that is most suggestive of a search for a stable and repeatable shape.

In 10 Years 100 Artists: Art in Democratic South Africa, Colin Richards described Moshekwa Langa as “a magician, an enigma, a stranger,” profiling his prescience and malleable sensibility. Sean O’Toole, revising this characterisation for the Institut für Auslandsbeziehunge, draws attention to Langa’s particular negotiation of the “inflexible colour regimes” instilled by his schooling (an interesting note considering that Langa graduated from a Waldorf school). This particular work seems a telling inflection of both these observations. A mixed media work on paper, the dimensions of The Morning After! is close to life-size, its gender-nonspecific subject an almost impish provocation to look sidelong as one would in a bathroom mirror. 

Asked for an adjective to describe his practice, Moshekwa Langa replies with fugitive. In medium, his work is disparate; in sensibility, inconstant and changeable. He moves across such mediums as installation, drawing, video and sculpture with easy fluency, his materials as various as string, paper bags, oil paint, words, photographs and found images. Like an anthropologist recording his surroundings in obscure maps, Langa’s practice is an exercise in visual note-taking. It is perhaps fugitive in that the artist’s attention is transitory, each work an index of a moment soon passed. In a text accompanying the exhibition Ellipsis (2016), the artist’s wandering mind is made evident: “Something broke in the description,” he writes, “and I am just leaving it here for the moment and I will open another topic because I am talking about many different things… There is a break because I get distracted – maybe it was sunny and then it started raining, and then suddenly, I do not know, something else happened.” His work is a gesture of time-keeping, a record of things come and gone. Langa’s maps may be illegible, unfinished, without compass, but they pose a curious visual question: how might one transcribe a life in all its routine complexity?

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