The Cape Gallery, Sheila: Hello Xolile!
Xolile: Hi, I’m ready! I’ve just finished cooking for my uncle who came for lunch.
Sheila: Do you remember me? I’m Gail’s daughter, I’ve been working with her for a year and a half, I studied graphic design and later print making.
Xolile: Oh! Do you know what? I studied graphic design for one year, do you know who my lecturer was? Nicholas Maritz! He was my first lecturer at the Foundation School of Arts, then I dropped graphic and went to fine art. I still remember him saying ‘The eye sees and the mind perceives’
Sheila: Was that the first thing you studied?
Xolile: No, I started with the Community Arts Project in Woodstock.
Sheila: What had you be interested in art?
Xolile: The Community Arts Project (CAP) was started in the deprived communities… I never knew about art materials. I have had so many people in my life who have inspired me. The first time I went to CAP I met Ricky Dyaloyi, he was very young at the time. It was on Saturday at Barbara Jackson’s sculpture class. I saw this young guy with his sculpture portraits and I was like – Ay! This young kwaai, he can do this… I was coming from detention in Mitchels Plein, three months detention and I was told to go to CAP. I got lost on the way there and I met Velile Soha… he gave me directions, afterwards I would go back to my prison mates where I was detained for political reasons.
Sheila: Under what circumstances were you arrested?
Xolile: I used to keep banned political material, I was called the media convener for the South African Youth Congress. I was taken at about 3am on a Monday morning. I got out because I pretended I was dying and so they took me to hospital in Athlone. I pretended to take the pills they had given me and poured them down the drain. That Friday about 13 policemen came to take me back. Yes.. and then I went to CAP… Velile showed me the way. Ricky was there, I was impressed he was a young guy – born 1964. Then there was Billy Mandindi, that was the first time I saw him that Saturday. I attended classes at CAP for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, painting and drawing. You know… there was Lionel Davis also – we would share techniques. On the way home we would draw people on the train, I stuck with Billy Mandindi and we became friends… Brett Murray was my lecturer in sculpture and Sue Williamson as well, in print making with Lisa Brice. I was also enrolled in CAP media courses, Lionel was my teacher there.
Sheila: What Media did you study?
Xolile: We were doing print making, posters, banners and photographs.
Sheila: Who was the mentor who stood out for you… you also seemed to connect with Billy Mandindi?
Xolile: Billy was born 1967, you know I stuck with Billy, he was a township guy. We would go to parties in town… meeting people like Roger Meintjies, Beezy Baily… liberals, people who liked us. We would go to the Base in Shortmarket Street. You know it was quite interesting… we met so many people. I’ve collaborated with many successful people… although I’m still poor, like Louis Jansen van Vuuren, Tamlin Blake, Zwelethu Mtetwa. There was that time I was in Germany, Louis was in France and I drew something and posted it to France and then to Zwelethu in South Africa. I collaborated with Tamlin in sculpture – I think we did two pieces.
Sheila: It sounds like it was a dynamic time.
Xolile: Ya that time, the time of ‘The Purple Rain’ in town, my art was resisting art… the galleries didn’t like to see my art.
Sheila: It all started when you saw Ricki Dyaloyi’s portrait then?
Xolile: That was 1987…
Sheila: What was the Art you found yourself making?
Xolile: I was doing resistance art. I did history of art with John Cowen. History helped me understand my anger. There are people who inspired me, like Dumile Feni from America who was exiled at the time. The black and white drawing you have at the gallery was inspired by him. Barbara Pitt was my lecturer. I was told – ‘you must never stop drawing or you will stop breathing’. I used to sketch from life. Now I also draw to music, my moods. Drawing is therapy for me.
Sheila: I am moved that even though you were arrested and could have been angry you found your expression at CAP in drawing and had people assisting and inspiring you on your way. A lesson in peace we could all learn from you. Once you completed CAP, where did you study?
Xolile: The foundation school of art with Barbara Pitt, who was my lecturer. Do you know Tyrone Appollis? He came before me. Tyrone was admired for his expression. I was fresh from CAP meeting Lionel and inspiring people. Me and David and Solomon Siko, we used to draw until the next morning, cooking rice with Saldanha (Pilchards) on the heater. I was part time, Solomon Siko and Billy, the big guys were full time. They would say who is this artist? This boy must stop coming here, he disturbs us! My inspiration was from Billy, Solomon and Lionel Davis who taught me life drawing… my first time to see a white woman naked, you know those days… my hand was trembling because I couldn’t draw… I’m sorry about this… (he laughs)
Sheila: No worries… after that you got involved with Thupela?
Xolile: Aah yes, the name Thupela means teaching by example, it’s a Sotho name because you mingle with different artists. There is Thupela Cape Town, Thupela international… Thupela Jo-burg where I met Pat Mautloa and David Koloane. I went to other workshops… Caversham Press… printing workshops. I discovered drawing it was my medium. Rose Korber dubbed me the black William Kentridge in a book she wrote at the time… I was, how could she, I’m me, Xolile Mtakatya! I’m not William Kentridge! Maybe then I didn’t know the meaning of that. Jill Trappler, Garth Erasmus – if I ever have a bioagraphy, you will hear I’ve met a lot of people.
Sheila: It sounds inspiring, and you met some influential people.
Xolile: Yes, International, even when I was doing Murals people admired my drawing because I was drawing from memory. I did Murals in Chile… Den Hague.
Sheila: Do you have images of your work over time?
Xolile: Jill Trappler has kept references of my work, documentaries… made by Thupela. I did Thupela workshops with Lionel Davis and Billy. Billy made me come – I was afraid – he was so inspiring.
Sheila: After this you had an exhibition at the AVA – it sold out?
Xolile: Yes.. where you there?
Xolile: At that time I went to Germany… for a week and had no work to take with me! It was winter and I had work at different Galleries (Aachen)… I was surprised that it was winter and people were buying these works. I had nothing to show. It was like that. I want to have my own show. And I know what is in my mind.
Sheila: Xolile, I have some idea of what it is to be assisted in another culture. I trained as a traditional healer in the Eastern Cape with Christopher Reid. I’ll never forget how the Isibonde at Mdeni took me aside and said… this is a difficult path, and he spoke to me like a daughter. It was comforting in a difficult time.
Xolile: Do you know Jonathan Shapiro the Cartoonist? We used to have classes at the committee house. His mother would make us lunch. There was a project where 30 mothers from all over the world assisted us. I would go to America for workshops. I then quit that contract, I was paid well R12 000, I wanted to go home and do my art – I was exhausted. Another thing, Everard Read sold a work of mine on brown paper for R15 000. They wanted to renew my contract and I said to myself no! Let me quit this selling one piece for R15000! No!
Sheila: If I look at the difficulties Zwelethu Mthethwa is facing, perhaps you did the right thing.
Xolile: I’ll probably die a pauper. Galleries… sometimes… if you want to paint your anger they will say no, this is not for this gallery.
Sheila: You wanted to keep your freedom..
Xolile: Now I’ve lost my Fiance. There is a therapy in art to me now.
Sheila: Now that we look at your path and where you have come and how you have got to be the artist you are today, what inspires you for the future? Things have shifted and you no longer have to resist.
Xolile: What I do now will keep me going. I want to do my own show, what is inside me, the healing that is in me. I don’t just draw figuratively, I draw abstract too. I have recently done a mural for Nandos in long street. You will see it. Long street is… was my home with Rosa van Wyk, Rob van Wyk… 222 Diane Pass. I used to know the life of Long Street… I used to go to long street swimming pool, parties at night mingling with people I knew. As I work more in black and white, I think that is how I will tell my story. I used to work in colour because I knew what I had to say.
Sheila: Listening to you I see a past filled with drama and vibrant colour and stories you had to tell! Now you speak of healing and reflection. Is astract a way of connecting with your feelings?
Xolile: When I do abstract now 150cm by 150cm I can do it daily. When I draw figuratively and in colour I know what I want to say and what inspires me. I love drawing, linear drawing, I can tell my story. I like drawing women a lot – monumental women. Women are the ones who raised us and they are the ones who are abused… the children aswell. I want to show others, not just healing myself, but to show others what is really happening, what is the solution, how do we do this? To get that harmony back. That respect for women. I can tell you the statistic in South Africa of rape, domestic abuse. There is a lot that has to be told. We need to speak more about this.
Sheila: I resonate with what you are saying and there needs to be a balance. Women can be quite abusive of men aswell!
Xolile: I know! There is a story about my teacher… I know this. In our culture the man comes first. There is no home without a woman and yet the man is the head of the house.
Sheila: You talk about the nurturing of our children… our mothers and what binds us in difficult times.
Xolile: There is a neighbourhood watch opposite my place. Today I was cooking for my uncle and there was someone who went through the window. The whole street came and said no… they even called the police. This boy’s mother is my cousin. It takes a village to raise a child. These boys are vandalising people’s houses taking TV’s and they smoke Tik. This incident happened an hour ago. He was arrested now now.
Sheila: These are daily moments you describe… they are important and we need to look at them as a society and as a community and that is what is occupying your thoughts, now as we talk, you and I finding balance.