Black South African artist Moshekwa Langa was a young boy when he discovered that his hometown wasn’t on the maps he saw at school. (The rural town of Bakenberg was located in the apartheid-era KwaNdebele neighborhood.) In fact, Bakenberg didn’t have street names in the conventional sense. Landmarks were used to describe “the wheres and how-to-get-theres.” The realization that his world was not reflected in history or atlases was distressing and left a lasting impression. At the age of 22, he left South Africa to study art in Amsterdam, but his fascination with his motherland and its topography is ever-present in his work. Langa's acute consciousness of unnamed things brings to mind another great African artist, Chinua Achebe, who as a young man recognized the “danger of not having your own stories.”
Langa’s latest large scale installation Mogalakwena (the name of a river near Bakenberg) has arrived in America--at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until May 12, 2013. A vibrant topographical map made of everyday objects lies on the floor, filling the space. Layers of yarn and string are drawn tightly between childhood fascinations (toys, books, anthills) and things representing his adult life (Dutch tulips, record players, wine). It’s an autobiographical landscape – one that evokes a complicated narrative of "(be)longing, displacement and solitude."
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