Images courtesy of Selloane Moeti

In search of a new Master: Selloane Moeti’s portraits through dreamscape

By far one my favourite thing to have learned is the concept of an African Epistemology. Where Epistemology seeks to understand how it is that we know, an African suggests that our understandings occur from a contextual basis. For me an African epistemology is about realising the very limits of our understanding as opposed to just defining it in terms of a universal one. It’s the act of engaging in the unknown as a part of a method of refining our knowledge.

The same cannot be denied within the arts. Having recently encountered Matisse at the Standard bank Art Gallery in Johannesburg I could see why this man would be considered a “master” within the Western arts. His style is one where form is not limited to the line and the artist relies on the unknown and unseen viewer’s imagination to fill in the images with the limited lines and shapes. His work can be seen re-incarnated in the present as that feeling of confusion that the lay person get when they utter the “but I could have easily made that myself”.  Yet what does it mean when this very master or revolutionary figure in western art would, like Picasso and other western masters, find themselves influenced by the racially reduced to – as Primitive art form that for me personify an understanding of an African epistemology.

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Coming across the works of Selloane Moeti I see an element of an African epistemology at play. Her work represents those works that, like the African artists before her, would influence the so-called masters of our time. Her works are bold in their representation of basic forms that coerce the viewer to fill in the blank spaces.  If one chooses to take up the politically contested argument over what makes her work African its answers must not be because of where the artist was born. Its answer must look at the very method one in which  she becomes a conduit of those unseen forces that guide us. For Selloane:

“It is a collective connection of dreams, symbols, lost love and social incidents that I have experienced. All of which is derived on how my late grandmother had a spiritual gift of healing through prayer, my mother has a gift of premonitions through dreams and that has been passed down to me. Through visual art is how I’m healing and regain that power. I am mourning in life, the parallel of life and death”

Having graduated from the Durban University of Technology in 2009 she majored in painting and sculpture.  She started off as a practicing artist but then would soon later pursue a career in fashion, styling various brands and musicians. Yet in her latest body of works she continues with her painting. She is currently creating content for her 2017 portfolio entry for application into her next degree.

Her current works include self-portraits, painting series, documented photographs and monologue video.  Selloane includes images of dark figures in her works. They are malformed in such a way that they seem as if they are about to shape shift into new forms. These figures in their malleability seem to contain as sense of becoming but one that is locked in the dark shadow of oneself.

“Using my spiritual journey and myself as a subject, I have recently gone through a cleansing ceremony, where my body gets transformed to a conduit of my ancestors”.

Her work is one that is deeply personal, an act of catharsis as she uses the painting medium to reflect on and engage with her journey and who she is to become. It is one that pays homage to those who have passed and acknowledged that they still have a n important role in our lives as living and flourishing beings.

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A striking feature in her images is the use of clay and It features prominently across her work.  Used in her photographs as a cover for her face but also used in her paintings to represent the face. The clay seems to be the tool used in her spiritualism as she journeys through her different states of being. From a woman in the markets in her photographs, stoic, beautiful, manoeuvring herself through the see of life concretely physical form.

“The use of ibomvu (red clay) as a medium is predominant in all my work. Ibomvu in South African culture is used for different purposes on people for physical and spiritual cleansing purification. It is always evident in my dreams, I am always smothered in it or walking in
masses of its mud.”

In her paintings the clay holds this malleable form that holds together that which wants to dissipate and transform. We find ourselves in such a social crisis of wanting to break free but being locked in a painful reality. Its symptoms are acts of protest and a search for new modes of being. Examples of Such modes include the alternative to capitalism where education is free or a place where black lives actually matter.

Selloan’s works speaks to the spiritual and unseen experience of this crisis. Where artists no longer seek the guidance of the old masters turning their gaze against the very intuitions that perpetuate their ideology. She like other creatives in her field are drawing their knowledge from an African and black self that is for me characteristic of an African epistemology. Maybe it is only through an African or even Black epistemology that we can only be able to pin point what this self is. It is a self in crisis, a self engaging with a materiality that would deny its existence under a white supremacist gaze but one in search of a self free from bondage of a material reality of a black self.

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