Monday, May 25, 2020

Kuzolunga Mfana: Sizwe Khoza

Sizwe Khoza
Kuzolunga, Mfana
(All will be well, young man)
Acrylic on canvas

The Lockdown Collection (TLC): Extension Collection (South Africa). May 2020. 

Reflections by Guy Michel Telemaque, Pamela Allara, Mark Auslander, Avis Williams

Sizwe Khoza
Kuzolunga, Mfana (2020)
Overview:  A young man clad in a cap, jersey, and running shoes sits pensively on a wall, on which white paint has been splattered.  He holds a string of rosaries with a small crucifix in his left hand.  Behind him is a somewhat abstract yellow form that seems to include several vertical stripes, surrounded by brown pigments.

Artist's statement:  This work focuses on reflecting the past, our past may differ. may it be good or bad. but we are also longing and hoping for a better tomorrow, as we’re all situated in our homes as limited the space and resources, but we’re giving the opportunity that we always missing out on, no one ever takes time to rethink and shaping their next life, we’re always and this is the time, as lonely as it can be but you’ll never have it again.

Background video on the artist:

Guy Michel Telemaque:  In March of 2020, Sizwe Khoza spent a memorable visit to Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Participating in two exhibitions (a one-person show and one with fellow Artist Proof Studio collaborators), he was received with awe, by an inspired, diverse audience - particularly from the age group depicted in the print. He visited a number of high school and university classrooms, and collaborated in a community based painting project. Along the way, he embedded himself into a number of social environments, across classes, as his fan base grew. He is a formidable image-maker with a gilded future, on the international stage.

Sizw's “Kozulunga Mfana” is a compelling portrait and a wonder to behold. It and its subject deftly walk the line between virtuosic confidence and vulnerability, gracefully incorporating emotional expression with subtle cultural cues. It is a precise glimpse into the young man’s development in an uncertain world. In this work, Khoza again presents himself as a poised and accomplished humanist. He carefully communicates the bearing of a generation, grappling with all the setbacks and challenges it has been saddled with.  

Guy Michel Telemaque is a Visual Arts faculty member and the Sandra and Philip Gordon Gallery Director, Boston Arts Academy

Pamela Allara: Born in Mozambique, Sizwe Khoza moved with his mother to South Africa when he was a young child. He is one of many talented South African artists who have found their way to Artist Proof Studio, where he was trained to develop his skills and vision. For the past six years, he has taught first and second year students at Artist Proof, thereby helping to shape the next generation of artists.  He has exhibited both nationally and internationally. As Guy Michel notes above, in March of 2020 Sizwe enjoyed a residency and exhibition at the Boston Arts Academy in Boston, Massachusetts, the city’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts.

As his online statement makes clear, he considers Mozambique to be his second home, and travels there twice yearly. The photographs he makes there of extended family and friends form the basis of his artworks when he returns. Although his art includes a wide range of subject matter, women and children remain central to his practice. His vivacious portraits, drawn with a vigorous line and strong colors, project the personal interaction he has had with his sitters as well as their own individuality. Often the portraits are over-life-sized, as if the paper support cannot contain their personalities.

The new painting, Kuzolunga Mfana, is quite different in feeling. The young boy, seated slumped outdoors on a wall, is the very picture of isolation from family and friends. His unhappy introverted expression and his sports jersey and cap speak to the group activities that have been cancelled and have left him alone. His rosary dangles uselessly from his hand, providing little comfort. It appears that his takkies/sneakers have blades dangling from them, suggesting that they no longer offer quick movement along urban streets. Even the cement wall, which is randomly slapped with white paint as if to indicate a task begun and then abandoned, underscores his inactivity. Perhaps the yellow hand-shape behind him indicates that help is on its way, but the ambivalent gesture could also mean ‘stop!’ The young boy personifies the sadness we are all experiencing in varying degrees during this frightening time, and serves as a reminder to us to reach out and provide emotional support to others, if only virtually.

The artist (left) and Guy Michel, Boston Arts Academy  
The artist (left) and Guy Michel, (far right)  Boston Arts Academy
Mark Auslander: 
I tend towards a more hopeful reading of this striking work than does Pam. The young man gazes out into the middle distance, beyond the picture's borders, pondering, the artist implies, his own past and future. For isiZulu or isiXhosa speakers, the second term in the work title "Mfana"  usually references a young man who has undergone initiation but who is still unmarried. Appropriately, the young man's location, perched high on a wall, suggests he is on a threshold, ready for some sort of substantial transformation; in that sense he presumably evokes the millions of young South Africans wondering about their own futures, as well as the entire nation pondering what the post-lockdown world might look like.  Perhaps the entire society's condition is akin to that of a  recent initiate, having taken a vital step towards maturation yet still very much within the process of becoming.

The first word of the title phrase, "Kuzolunga"  (all will be well; it's gonna be OK, in isiXhosa and isiZulu) at times is used in popular music, a reassuring term amidst trials and struggles.  The phrase may also be used in reference to the comforts of prayer, which lifts the heavy heart of the afflicted, and the theme of prayer is certainly emphasized by the rosaries and crucifix that he holds.  The yellow that surrounds the youth is a standard marker of caution, appropriate to these anxious and perilous times.  Yet, speculatively, the yellow shape might signal a giant hand held aloft, signifying strength and protection, perhaps even granting benediction. He's got the whole world in his hands.  Perhaps by extension all of us, like this young man, are being quietly blessed in this time of great uncertainty, as we ready ourselves to emerge beyond the walls, physical and otherwise, that have confined us.

Avis Williams:  Deep in thought, the young man has white paint on his pants, and there is some white paint where he is sitting. Perhaps the other side of the wall, the face we cannot see, is fully painted white. The side we see is the raw side, with remnants of the job, work, and paint spilling over to where he sits.  

That's the story of the impoverished lives of young people of color, especially young men, around the world.  Their lives are unfinished, with much work to do, with loads of promise, but no paint, no resources, no raw material.  In the background, there's brightness and hope.  Perhaps he's thinking,  what divides me, what separates me from those with money and influence? A wall? 

He holds a cross and rosaries, almost set aside. Perhaps he is thinking of a song that I've known for years, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back;  The Cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back, Christ is enough for me, Christ is enough for me, Everything I need is in You."

The wall might represent barriers and separation for those who are oppressed. Yet.  in Christ, walls of separation can be torn down.  Ephesians 2:13-14 (NRSV) tells us: "But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,"   for he is our peace;  in the flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."

Even in our darkest hour,  locked down and far away from one another, we are offered this blessing, the promise of reconciliation and peace.

Rev. Dr, Avis Williams, DM, a Baptist pastor and community activist in Oxford, Georgia, received her Doctorate in Ministry from Emory University's Candler School of Theology in 2018.

For more information on The Lockdown Collection Extension:
#TLCExtensionCollection #ArtForGood #TheLockdownCollection

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