Zanele Mashinini. Picture: Supplied
Zanele Mashinini. Picture: Supplied

Issues of identity and inclusion tackled in the artworks of Baba Tjeko & Zanele Mashinini

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Nov 21, 2021

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South African visual artists Zanele Mashinini and Baba Tjeko form part of the 25 local creatives that were invited by The Arts Company Soweto (TACS) to showcase their work at the inaugural Print Portfolio Exchange Project and Exhibition Joburg 2020/2021.

The exhibition gives participants an opportunity to have their works displayed in public and private collections all over the world, also allowing a shared value among the artists.

The exhibition drew artists from various disciplines including sculpture, multimedia, painters and non-printmakers.

Commenting on the event, Mashinini said: “The Print Portfolio Exchange Exhibition Joburg 2020/2021 is an amalgamation reflection of the various artist on socio-economic issues and general impact that the Covid Pandemic brought forth in the cityscape, art scene and country as a whole.

“I was particularly interested in partaking because not only does it afford me commentary and grants me a voice to express my qualms on the immense shift from Covid, but it was also exciting to participate in a print show, first of its kind, that is structured to grant collectors a unique opportunity to own the entire collection as per portfolio purchase of 25 works.”

For Tjeko, this platform allows artists an opportunity to express their views on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I chose to be part of this project not only to have my voice form part of other amazing creatives but also because the subject matter is more focused on our different views during this pandemic era that began last year,” said Tjeko.

He continued: “And I hope that artists reflect and try to make sense of various issues that people are faced with for the betterment of us all. I also hope they get to see and feel the energy that will be brought forth by the amazing works on display.”

When asked about the future of the art post-Covid, Tjeko said: “I see more people show interest in art, visiting and experiencing the beauty of art exhibitions in person. I also see new collectors coming through because many are seeing the importance of collecting art as a way to preserve important moments, history and culture.”

Baba Tjeko's artwork. Picture: Supplied

Mashinini, however, says though she embraces the digital space, she feels the use of technology will take away from people's experience of fully enjoying art.

She explained: “I foresee us going prematurely extremely digital with a very thin chance of exploring and experiencing a lot of things in the physical, which is unfortunate because sometimes the digital platform does not capture the essence of our creativity in a way it should. It does no justice.

“I hope that we do not lose the importance of experiencing physical recreational activities as they are mind-blowing and assist our lives to be less stressful and more exciting. Depression stems from stagnation, and as a nation being locked in, has sparked anxiety and depression.”

Zanele Mashinini's artwork. Picture: Supplied

Known for her monochrome pallet painted portraits with geometric, bright patterns from indigenous fabrics, portraiture of memorabilia and traces of the past, Mashinini’s art explores issues of identity.

Her body of work also reflects her understanding of gender and gender roles, particularly that of a female, as she navigates her own representation while observing and studying that of others.

“My art narrates the notion of identity, hybridity and multiculturalism. I am interested in the concept of self-representation, and in between that, I tap into memorabilia to trace my past to make sense of my being,” said Mashinini.

With more interest in black marginalised people who reside in the periphery of urban South Africa, Tjeko’s work explores various themes, including inclusion, diversity, displacement, culture, spirituality, and history.

“The legacy effects of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa are still lingering to this day, and it is partly our responsibility as artists to address them. I focus on those themes because we are in the process of rebuilding our lives and perspectives as black people, and my work looks at various issues that form part of our identity.

“My work is mostly leaning towards abstract art, and I use form and colour not only to express beauty but to confront colonial legacies as I redefine the African identity for myself and others.

“In the past, African art has been viewed as primitive, and I seek to challenge those notions by showcasing high craftsmanship and intelligent design,” shared Tjeko.

His work gained popularity due to collaboration with premium brands such as Mini South Africa, Nespresso Global and Stella Artois, among others.

The Portfolio Exchange is an archival process that not only includes the production of the prints but also incorporates a collection of essays from various writers. TACS is also in the process of creating a publication to document the entire process and further engage the idea of creating an artistic legacy beyond the pandemic.

Print Portfolio Exchange Exhibition Joburg 2020/2021 runs until November 26 at 120 Main Reef Rd, Benrose, Johannesburg. The exhibition is free.

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