Neo Matloga’s ‘Back of the Moon’

Home or domestic space — has taken on additional meanings during South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown. These spaces are seen to be places of safety and comfort but also of danger, concern and nostalgia. Feelings have oscillated between feeling trapped and restricted to feeling protected. Back of the Moon, an offsite show through the Stevenson Gallery and Neo Matloga‘s first solo in South Africa, highlights aspects of social life and domesticity through his painterly use of charcoal, ink and liquid charcoal.

Mpharanyana, 2020

Matloga describes a time growing up where their family TV set broke thus leading his family to use the radio as their form of entertainment. The mix of music and aural renditions of local dramas implanted seeds of imagination within Matloga. Absorbing the form and performance of these dramas, they etched into his consciousness the vocabulary and power of storytelling. From the description of his work as “straddling choreography, conducting and creation”, the impact of these moments at home becomes clear. Inspired by plays and family photo albums; narrativity plays an important role in the construction of his painterly scenes.

Modjadji o stout, 2020

The use of mediums that can easily smudge and that leave traces despite attempts to be erased is significant when linked to his explorations of home spaces and social life. These traces are evidence of existence, of a mark having been made albeit now faded and slightly unclear. This mirrors what is present in this series of works; life and living. This relationship between medium and the emotive depictions of people in a bedroom, the kitchen, the sitting room, the stoep — highlights Matloga’s holistic understanding of building storylines. Each scene holds a recognisable element, prodding at the viewer’s memories, making the characters presented in the work feel familiar. His use of collage, particularly for the figures’ faces, layers components of legibility. “In my collage paintings, the figures refuse to solidify into simply drawn or painted material; there is a living presence there on the canvas that cannot be looked away from,” Matloga expresses. Through collage, the figures can take on the experiences and emotions that viewers think back to while also taking on personalities of their own.

Mmadira, 2020

“I have always wanted to show people my universe. This is a universe that expresses the fact that life continues in the midst of all the social politics of the world,” Matloga states in the video shared on the Stevenson Instagram page. The potency and poignancy of this statement has become even more fraught within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened re-articulations of social justice for people of colour. This statement, paired with Matloga’s work offers a kind of hopefulness that through contemplation, presents a momentary pause.

Mamazala ka di potsotso, 2020

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