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What is a home without a mother
Moshekwa Langa
Artwork 2008
Artwork: Moshekwa Langa, What is a home without a mother (2008). Mixed media on paper, diptych. Each panel 149 x 109 cm (framed). Private collection.
Artist Moshekwa Langa Title What is a home without a mother Date 2008 Materials Mixed media on paper, diptych Dimensions Each panel 149 x 109 cm (framed) Credit Private collection

Without the accompanying title as guide, the words written across the two sheets of paper at first appear illegible. What is a home without a mother? The question demands no answer, gesturing instead to grief’s weight, its worn-out words, its inexpressible silence. It is not a question to be read, the artist’s broken lettering suggests, but one to be asked, spoken into the absence of the other. The work is among Langa’s most personal and intimate, made in a year of profound loss. The artist, returning home to South Africa after several years abroad, arrived to find the fabric of his previous life unravelling. Notating his mourning, he traced the period of his life on paper, transcribing the minutiae of his loss with unclear symbols of personal significance.

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?