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home is…
Thato Makatu
Artwork 2022
Installation photograph that shows Thato Makatu’s butcher-paper sculptural work ‘home is…' resting on a semi-circular white platform attached to the base of a white wall.
Artwork: Thato Makatu, home is… (2022). Screenprints on butcher paper, embroidery thread and plastic tubing. 75 x 50 x 25 cm (each). Courtesy of the artist and the Michaelis School of Fine Art.
Artist Thato Makatu Title home is... Date 2022 Materials Screenprints on butcher paper, embroidery thread and plastic tubing Dimensions 75 x 50 x 25 cm (each) Credit Courtesy of the artist and the Michaelis School of Fine Art

An excerpt from a conversation with Thato Makatu (T.M.), Josh Ginsburg (J.G.), and Sara de Beer (S.d.B.), held in person in preparation for You to Me, Me to You, 27 July 2023:

T.M. The suitcase rubbings are of the suitcase I had with me on my move to Cape Town. This was the first move I took alone, to study at university. International postings are for four years, and that’s the amount of time my family and I would spend in each place we were posted to, and then an undisclosed amount of time back in SA, before the next posting. 

My mom knows where our luggage has been, what it carried, how old each luggage piece is. That suitcase is apparently as old as I am. As a child, my mother did the packing. What was I required to do? I was required to push the suitcase to and from, and in, the airport. Moving to Cape Town, I used one of our older suitcases to pack and I found myself to be a useless packer. I pack everything. The suitcase explodes at the seams. The ladies at the check-in counter tend to take pity on me. 
I used butcher’s paper. I wanted to use baking paper, but I couldn’t get sheets large enough. The considerations of the art you want to make are often based around what’s financially feasible, particularly when living as an art student far from home but still wanting the work to achieve the effects I had in mind. I wanted this sense of being able to conceal, then reveal in layers, so nothing was fully see-through like acetate or clingfilm. I wanted the suitcases to feel more body-like, more fluid. The paper folds in on itself. The materials I use are the ones that are the most intuitive for me to use; that through their use, afford me the ability to get my emotions or thoughts out. Paper may not be structurally sound, and it may be difficult to archive, but I like paper best. 

I’m interested in containers as spaces. Objects that are put into the container affect the container itself. Recently, I’ve been working with delivery Takealot boxes for a project, and I found that when I see the box, I remember what I bought. The box prompts the memory of the object. 

The suitcase is part of a love letter to our family home on Olympus Road, in Boksburg, which we lost last year. I was asked by my lecturer at the time, “How do you access that home, that space, without being able to physically go there?” The artwork, home is..., came through thinking about the power of moveable objects, like suitcases, to evoke love, family, and community.

To Thato Makatu, art is intuitive. As a child, they would copy their older sister’s drawings while their mother sang and danced in the family’s kitchen. One of four siblings, Makatu’s childhood was dictated by their parents’ work in International Relations and diplomacy – moving often, and long distances. Preoccupied with objects that contain, or prompt, memories of previous homes, Makatu dislocates notions of belonging. “I’m interested in containers as spaces,” says the artist. “The box prompts the memory of the object.” Transposing memory into moveable artwork, they rebuild home elsewhere – their print installations emulating the tiles of a house in Boksburg; suitcase rubbings memorialising the many trips made. Foremost a printmaker, Makatu works in layers to conceal and reveal personal and familial intimacies.