‘MAKWANDE’ – AVIWE PLAATJIE, 05 MAY 2021 – 25 JUN 2021
DEBUT SOLO EXHIBITION AVIWE PLAATJIE
EBONY/CURATED CAPE TOWN
Wednesday 5th May 2021 (4pm-7pm)
Continues until 25th June 2021
Cape Town based artist, painter and printmaker, Aviwe Plaatjie, has been drawn to the arts since childhood. His clear talent as a child was nurtured by his mother and her employer who took him to part-time art classes. In 2010, Aviwe joined Good Hope Arts Studios as a self-taught painter and later attended a mentorship programme at VANSA for three months where he was introduced to linocut print making.
An avid commentator on his community through his identity based paintings, his characters, friends, neighbours and family are staged onto an often aspirational and imaginary background. Subjects might appear ‘dressed up’ but these often simple garments appear sumptuous in the artist’s expertly malleable hands. His use of colour, texture and luxuriant attention to detail incorporating abstract backgrounds and patterns attend to his ability to weave a strong visual narrative.
‘Makwande’ delivers a series of bold paintings, often escapist, but they allow the artist to portray his subjects and himself outside their normal environment without diminishing their self-worth.
Makwande’ a solo exhibition by Aviwe Plaatjie
An Analysis: Lawrence Lemaoana
Aviwe Plaatjie’s artworks could be described as neither strictly drawing nor are they in a traditional sense painting. However, in terms of their construction they can be viewed as a combination of both. Here the artist uses borrowed processes from traditional painting and graphic drawing to apply to his canvasses. This way of working is reminiscent of a unique process of collaging employed by the artist Kay Hassan. Hassan’s process includes building up the surface with layers of torn and cut up billboard paper. Discarded paper used in this process is then creativity appropriated, for a different use in future.
In his work Plaatjie indicates he wishes not to appropriate the negative qualities that make up what Franz Fanon describes as a “zone of none being”. His works are layered with rich bold colours, which negate the peripheral spaces devoid of the richness of colour. His imagination is the foundation that holds up what he desires of his own work.
In a similar fashion to the photographic works of Samuel Fosso, his characters are staged in spaces that are far flung from their own modest environments. There is a cheeky aspirational quality to his work. This resides in collaging ideas and piecing together elements that could, under the current regime of social ideas, seem to be stereotypically and diametrically opposed to each other. His figures consist of neighbors, friends and acquaintances that are plucked out of their ordinary spaces and patched together onto his canvases. His acquaintances are his low hanging fruit, hanging about until he discovers ‘something’ striking about them. This examination or appreciation of his subjects can be formed by the fact they are wearing a specific garment in a certain way. Simple colour schemes that the artist views on his subjects may be reminiscent of a cologne advert that he came across in a magazine some time ago. His black figures are in poses that reflect relaxation and contemplation. It is striking that these male subjects are constructed in bold colours and reference the phenomenon of “colour blocking”.
Aviwe Plaatjie does not see himself as dark in complexion. He hears and understands the description as indicated by others, but he confesses that he does not own the implied complex reflected about his complexion. Something complicated emerges from this simple form of unseeing. An artist’s vocation is the visual means of communication and it is fitting to access the far reaches of this process. The contemporary art world has become populated with artists, whose business is the selling of their melanin induced artworks, often injecting their artist statements with notions of pride and visual presence. The Kerry James Marshall-esque phenomenon has become the staple diet in this market driven art zone. Plaatjie’s artworks however reject this and seem to evoke and take up further the conversation on colorism.
Plaatjie enters the art world with a rich history of personal experiences that colour his work and process. Art as a means of escapism and reaching out to an outside world was recognized earlier in his youth. The catalyst was the twinning of talent paired with practice and the driver to this was his mother’s access to the outside world. This access helped him study at the Peter Clark Art Centre and later taking up a course at Learn to Earn.
There is a sense that Plaatjie is continuing an interesting strategic trajectory in the content of his work filling the colorless void of despair with highly saturated images. Gerard Sekoto’s “Yellow Houses (1942-1945)” comes to mind, wherein the township architecture is layered with color and vibrancy. Plaatjie, on the other hand, abandons the architecture all together by painting out and drawing out the poverty that makes up his real world.
Ever the over thinker, Plaatjie takes time to build up his surfaces and produce his individual pieces. The pace of shows and demands on an artist today creates the environment of a depersonalized processes which can force one to use multiple assistants. Plaatjie has thus far been able to stave off having assistants and having more intimate relations with his work. Plaatjie is aware that people come with baggage and is suspicious of how others may tell his narrative, describing his artmaking as a selfish process. This process reminds me of a statement by another artist, Wangechi Mutu, “who indicates that the obsession with the black female body is actually an obsession with myself.”
Plaatjie’s portfolio is built of black figures; the majority is male, which indicates that his work is autobiographical. In his latest exhibition, Makwande, he stands as a storyteller and an unreliable historian. In our labor migrant society, it becomes almost an anomaly for a child to grow up with his whole family. Therefore it speaks volumes that he celebrates his maleness and upbringing, since the presence of a father is by design, a form of privilege.
For his first of many future solo exhibitions, Plaatjie opens our visual windows to some much-needed fresh air and elevating conversations that could easily be described as pedestrian to a level of theory. Armed with a curious imagination and tapping into his own ongoing biography, he speaks back to a history of image making. The sharp focus on his subject matter makes us contemplate the missing leisurely black subject and continues the discourse on the image of black people in art.