Phillemon Hlungwani: A Wu Xi Tivi Lexi Nga Mbilwini Ya Mani
With A Wu Xi Tivi Lexi Nga Mbilwini Ya Mani, Phillemon Hlungwani returns to the village where he was born and where his mother still lives.
The village is a modest place, indistinguishable from so many others in rural Limpopo Province, and indeed from countless others in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
It is however the wellspring of Hlungwani’s creativity, serves as his Muse, and to which he returns from the city for inspiration and renewal.
His subject matter here is familiar to us – the ragged urchins (in whom I suspect Hlungwani sees himself), the elderly women in blankets, and the young mothers carrying loads. They are so familiar they become invisible – memes for rural poverty – but however the title is a cautionary one in which the artist reminds us that even the poorest people lead inner lives fully as complex and rich as that of the onlooker.
The children at play have daydreams and hopes, some of which will be realised and others which will be dashed as they grow up. The young women with heavy buckets on their heads are still beautiful and have dreams and aspirations of their own, and the grandmothers are matriarchs and have seen joys, love and deep sadnesses. In short, these are depictions of all of our lives and must touch us all with their clear-eyed humanity.
Phillemon Hlungwani is recognised as one of the most accomplished contemporary artists now working in South Africa. Known predominantly for his large-scale charcoal drawings depicting scenes from rural life and formal and informal settlements, his work is rooted deeply in a sense of community and the traditional values that endure there. Many of his recent drawings include proverbs in his first language – xiTsonga – as titles. These proverbs are often difficult to translate into English but they communicate an essential moral idea – showing how members of a particular community are either sustaining or betraying the values of the people living there. The people are inseparable from their environment, although his more recent images have introduced colour into the clothing of his protagonists to help them stand out in all their vibrancy and humanity. The scenes he depicts are usually full of motion and life – the characters bursting with thoughts, opinions and yearnings, which are communicated further through the arcs and lines that weave the different parts of each drawing together. Everything is connected. There is no distinction between the internal or the external, the animate or inanimate, the material or the spiritual.
Phillemon Hlungwani: A Wu Xi Tivi Lexi Nga Mbilwini Ya Mani runs until 2 August 2021 at Everard Read Franschhoek.
September 15, 2021
September 13, 2021
September 09, 2021