'I was inspired by figures of people carrying firewood. I also made drawings of people with their mouths wide open, which were then stuffed with these sticks, so it looked as if some had long cigars or would not be able to utter anything ... I also used the motif of a kind of a halo. I was actually veering between the two. Sometimes the stick translated into a sack. So in a way I was addressing the things that people carry with them along their paths. However this was not made explicit in the drawings and paintings …You can see them as a façade, or as front windows none too clean.'
Moshekwa Langa's figurative paintings are frequently macabre at the same time as they are humorous, soulful and compassionate. In these portraits the intangible is made manifest, air becomes thick and solid, the atmosphere can be literally be felt. Langa is concerned with his subjects' inner psychological states as well as their outlook. In two works from 2006, figures with death's heads are named Golddigger and Socialite. Hidden or unspoken qualities are shown as nakedly apparent.
The paintings on Afterlife share a fateful sense that the living are haunted by their own mortality. The figure in The Last Sigh seems surprised by the force of her own exhalation, her breath spewing out as if finally escaping the physical body. The space around her vibrates with psychic disturbance. Atop the figure, and recurring in a number of works, is an oval shape like a halo that, instead of radiating light, seems to capture something of the mental state of the subject. In Gods of Small Things the figure is weighed down by a black thundercloud; the effect is oppressive and depressing. Goldie's aspect is by contrast lighter, uplifting. In Mamgobozi, a ghostly, ectoplasmic presence hovers around the edges of the 'scurrilous busybody' of the title, who wears an expression of mild amazement.
Langa describes the paintings as 'a kind of portrait of the same individual in different states, in different areas' (Danielle Tilkin, There & Back. Africa, Madrid, 2006). The thoughts and emotions of the haloes, which are also reminiscent of speech bubbles, have been displaced, cut off from their origins. In this perhaps can be seen something of Langa's concern with displacement of a more physical kind, as experienced by the immigrant to another country who carries his sense of home with him in the form of memories of a previous life.
© 2007 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.