Something out of Nothing
The township dog has been a recurring motif in David Koloane's oeuvre for the last 40 years. In the titles of his works they are referred to variously as mongrels, scavengers and most famously as mgodoyi. The dogs have come to represent the various stages of South Africa's recent history.
They span the turbulent eighties when apartheid police terrorized the black masses fighting for liberation in a series of states of emergency. The Mgodoyi series of 1993 represents the "play fighting" of the negotiated settlement and transition to democracy in the 1990’s. In the Zulu language, the term mgodoyi is an insult intended for a man who behaves like a dog. This captures David's feelings around the men responsible for the settlement. The mgodoyi's reappear in the 2000’s and 2010’s as symbols of the neoliberal reality and feeding frenzy which have overwhelmed contemporary South African politics.
Lastly, the mongrel has also come to represent black existence in general, in a country where the majority of the poor are black. Much like the scavengers David depicted, they are forced to eke out a life in the new South Africa.
David Koloane (1938 – 2019) was born in Alexandra, Johannesburg, South Africa. Koloane spent his career making the world a more hospitable place for black artists during and after apartheid. Koloane achieved this through his pioneering work as an artist, writer, curator, teacher and mentor to young and established artists at a time when such vocations were restricted to white people in South Africa. A large part of this effort involved the initiatives Koloane helped establish, from the first Black Art Gallery in 1977, the Thupelo experimental workshop in 1985 and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in 1991, where he served as director for many years. Koloane also tutored at the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in 1979 and became the head of the fine art section and gallery from 1985 to 1990.
Through his expressive, evocative and poetic artwork, Koloane interrogated the socio-political and existential human condition, using Johannesburg as his primary subject matter. Koloane’s representations of Johannesburg are populated with images of cityscapes, townships, street life, jazz musicians, traffic jams, migration, refugees, dogs, and birds among others. Imaginatively treated, through the medium of painting, drawing, assemblage, printmaking and mixed media, Koloane’s scenes are a blend of exuberant and sombre, discernible and opaque pictorial narratives.
Koloane’s work has been widely exhibited locally and internationally. In 1999 he was part of the group exhibition Liberated Voices at the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. In 2013, Koloane’s work was shown on the South African pavilion at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia and on the group exhibition My Joburg at La Maison Rouge in Paris. In 1998, the government of the Netherlands honoured Koloane with the Prince Claus Fund Award for his contributions to South African art. Koloane was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate twice, once from Wits University in 2012, and again from Rhodes University in 2015.
Earlier this year Koloane was the subject of a travelling career survey exhibition, A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane, which opened at IZIKO SANG in June and will travel to Standard Bank Gallery and Wits Art Museum in October.
David Koloane’s work focuses on socio-political matters and contributions to the furtherance of disadvantaged black South African artists during and after the apartheid era is evident. My work can be said to reflect the socio- political landscape of South Africa both past and present. The socio-political conditions created by the apartheid system of government have to a large extent transfixed the human condition as the axis around which my work evolves. The human figure has become the icon of creative expression.
Mobil Oil, South Africa
South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
South African Higher Education Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa
Department of Education and Training, Pretoria, South Africa
BMW Collection, Germany
Botswana National Museum and Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana
Larry Poons, New York, USA Robert Loder, London, UK
Sir Anthony Caro, London, UK