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Mkwenyana (Son in Law)
Moshekwa Langa
Artwork c.2006
Artwork: Moshekwa Langa, Mkwenyana (Son in Law) (c.2006). Mixed media on paper. 140 x 100 cm. Private collection.
Artist Moshekwa Langa Title Mkwenyana (Son in Law) Date c.2006 Materials Mixed media on paper Dimensions 140 x 100 cm Credit Private collection

“Many things have happened to me, around me, and away from me,” Langa says. “I do not remember them sequentially. I remember some of them… I recollect certain things. But I have no memory, at least not in the conventional sense.” Mkwenyana (Son in Law), like all the artist’s text-based paintings, is a gesture against forgetting. The words written are seldom linear, arranged as they are in constellations of associations and synonyms. Committing to paper past impressions, Langa allows the remembered and invented to coincide. Memory, he suggests, is fluid and indefinite, necessarily nonfactual – “what I make are a series of mental annotations and every time they are told differently.” As a stream of consciousness made visible, each word-image becomes a marker, “an anchor…notes for things I would rather not forget.”

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?