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Bongo Mei showcases his contemporary African art in new exhibition at Keyes Art Mile

The Contemporary African Archives Exhibition at Keyes Art Mile Gallery. Picture: Supplied

The Contemporary African Archives Exhibition at Keyes Art Mile Gallery. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 4, 2022


“Let me plead with you, lovers of my Africa, to carry with you into the world the vision of a new Africa.”

This was the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe quote that inspired Bongo Mei, a contemporary conceptual and abstract image maker, to embark on the Contemporary African Archives Exhibition project while he was still a student at Nelson Mandela University in 2007.

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The Contemporary African Archives Exhibition is an art exhibition on show at Keyes Art Mile Gallery in Rosebank until April 20.

After his stint at Nelson Mandela University, Mei went on to found MAD (Music, Art, Design) School Society at varsity, which coincided with the merger between the school of music and that of art and design.

“In 2010 I founded an independent multidisciplinary collective in the city, with emerging artists, self taught and trained, named the Basement Project,” he says, explaining his journey.

“I self funded exhibitions and workshops introducing high art concepts and practice in previously and presently disadvantaged areas of the bay.

“The project infiltrated old art perceptions and institutions through collaborative effort and moulded a new face for contemporary African art, motivated by excellence and an independent mind set.”

The Contemporary African Archives Exhibition at Keyes Art Mile Gallery. Picture: Supplied

In 2013, he began an independent research project looking at how to digitise public archives such as oral tradition as he had found no indigenous visuals complimentary of the verbal archive.

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This came after seven years of research in the outskirts of the Eastern Cape where he was working with the bantu language, Xhosa and discovering singular perceptions fundamental to the multicultural urban discourse driven by temporary insight.

“In 2019 I presented my findings in Marshalltown, Joburg, where I interpreted clan names, heritage figures and ethnic mythology using contemporary Art practice, which included but not limited to conceptual and abstract Art.

The Contemporary African Archives Exhibition at Keyes Art Mile Gallery. Picture: Supplied

“The multidisciplinary exhibition was called ISIKO A Tribal Outlet.

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“It included a contemporary dancer from London, an ethnomusicologist of 20 years experience based in Soweto, a shaman/igqirha from the Eastern Cape and myself as the Curator and Visual Artist.”

The Contemporary African Archives exhibit at Keyes Art Mile Gallery is a showcase of his interpretations, with an emphasis on contemporary art practice.

“It is an eloquent display of profound meaning and pleasantries, introducing a new archive, a polished face and a developed outlook,” he said.

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Artworks and archives include a new totem praise for global icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and ANC founder Langa Libalele Dube, among other displays of industrial identities such as ethnic mythology and philosophy.

“The solo exhibition is made of 41+ Artworks created in 2021,” he said.

“The first two weeks did not have any labels explaining the abstract and conceptual.

“Visitors were allowed to view a different and organic display of unfamiliar interpretations, an intentional experiment with the purpose of exposing the audience to an abstract experience.”

Mei said the process was familiarising one’s self with an unidentified environment, giving space to a private abstract experience.

The Contemporary African Archives Exhibition at Keyes Art Mile Gallery. Picture: Supplied

He created a replica of the different identities that exist in the “human mind of an industrial subject”, which include ethnicity, political affiliation and private persona.

He explores the human psyche through his curatorial display of mimicking the mind as gallery walls, with each section mounted with artworks as thoughts.

’Each artwork has a description showcasing the thought as an archive.

“The artworks as visual interpretations are abstract and almost disconnected, alluding to the element of foreign influence instilled by the industrial regime.

“Political posters are mounted to symbolise the different industrial structures, racism, religion, legislature, community, etc.

“The posters are ripped off their boards, therefore defacing the industrial image, and posing a visual critique as to whether individualism and personal privacy is accommodated within the manufacturing ideology.”

One of the main features of the exhibition is an artwork labelled Imbeleko/Birth-rite.

“It is an interpretation of an African indigenous ritual celebrating the birth of a new-born.

Originally it was celebrated as a three day event, usually called Trinity, where the mother, father and new-born are introduced to the community as a family.

“The ritual was a way of maintaining a harmonious coexistence with families of different houses, complimentary of the phrase … it takes a whole village to raise a child.”

The exhibition is being showcased at the Keyes Art Mile Gallery in Joburg and runs until April 20, 2022.

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