Durant Basi Sihlali: Race Against the Machine

Durant Basi Sihlali: Race Against the Machine

Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg presents Race Against the Machine, an exhibition of recent work by contemporary South African artist Durant Basi Sihlali.

Sihlali work is informed by the many situations that confronted him growing up in South Africa, he recorded each of them through his art.  If he had been a writer, he would have produced volume after volume of life under apartheid South Africa.  Looking at Sihlali’s repertoire as a visual artist is like going through several timelines of many lifetimes.  His records span the entire spectrum of life as seen by the artist.  He did not choose ‘nice’ subjects but rather rendered each of his subjects ‘nicely’.  In his “rush against the machines” series, spurred by the forced removals of Pimville, Sihlali used the fast and efficient watercolour medium producing as he did beautiful images of a dire situation.  

The ease with which the artist renders images in watercolour makes him one of the leading watercolour artists of the 20th century in South Africa.  He manipulates the medium effortlessly and this translates into an amazingly clean and translucent layering of colours.  In his Pimville series, it is possible to see dust rising all around as bulldozers demolish house after house.  It is clean dust!  There is clean smoke.  The masterful manner in which Sihlali renders imagery of gory scenes makes for a delightful viewing that makes one, for a brief moment, forget the subject of the artwork.

“Preparing to Cook Sheep’s Head after the Ceremony” transports the viewer to many such ceremonies in family rituals and traditional observance.  In the many township scenes that the artist creates, the viewer knows that they are looking at dire living conditions but Sihlali cushions this fact by employing his skill to give a ‘nice’ picture in watercolour.  His landscapes of rural and mining scenes show attention to detail and do not directly translate the tough conditions faced by people in rural and mining areas.  We know these conditions because we know the history and the times of these recordings.



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