A conversation with Xolile Mtakatya


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’

Was that the first thing you studied?

No, I started with the Community Arts Project in Woodstock.

What had you be interested in art?

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.

Under what circumstances were you arrested?

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?

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?

Sheila: No..

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.













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Maureen Quin Tour Germany Sweden 2018


Germany / Sweden Tour

MAUREEN QUIN: “THE HUNT” (HUNT) 14 Sculptures Exhibited at The Dagmar Glemme Gallery, Helsinborg, Sweden Grand opening Saturday September 15 by Viveka Bosson (Translated from Swedish) Maureen Quin is an award-winning artist in both Europe and South Africa, where she has her roots. In this famous HUNTING SERIES from 1990 ‘s she captures the light and the dark depths of the human soul in a wonderful power game of innovative forms. Hunter, constantly associated with her cheetah: the faithful companion in the form of jaktleopardens smooth beautiful gestalt-words in each sculpture its own truth. Initially searched for Maureen Quin just give shape to “Hunter and his cheetah”. Subsequently developed the sculptures into a coherent sequence that involved the entire humanity’s constant quest – the quest for power, glory, fame and fortune. We hunt all the time through life – afterwards it becomes an internal search to find the right in ourselves. Companion grows together with the Hunter and symbolizes his surroundings.

Quin expresses her dismay at man’s inhumanity against his fellow man-desire to destroy their environment, driven by desire, greed, development, self-satisfaction. Jägargestalterna has huge muscles – physical strength-but heads are small. Man is a bit too spontaneous, and makes their tangents without thinking. Different feelings on good and evil, life: mankind’s strong aggression, the urge to destroy our environment, to kill our fellow human beings, hatred, war, and violence – and its consequences: pains, anxiety, fear, remorse, despair, grief and remorse. These are followed eventually by desire for reconciliation, adoration- approach to higher heavenly powers- joy, love and forgiveness. New hope for humanity is about to destroy itself?

African myths mixed with spirituality, figurative forms with abstract, three-dimensional with exciting spaces. Even empty rooms designed. The realism turns sometimes to absurdities with surreal ambiguous interpretations. Everything is collected into an aesthetic unit of rhythms -of surprisingly fantastic compositions.

1. BUSHMAN 1991: the exciting space between the Hunter’s reflexed stance against the long bow and his sågformade jagged spine underlines a certain arrogance and pride. But he’s still innocent. 2. HUNTER 1993: Bush man -belonging to an almost obliterated cultural group in Africa-are here counties with her cheetah (jaktleoparden which also symbolizes the surroundings)-while this on its way to extinction. This human and animal hunted ruthlessly. Both go under and be killed. The sculpture is about racism, destructive and inhuman rampage in the world. 3. CHASE I 1995 (hunting): the sculpture that moves at full speed forward almost looks to fly. He rests only lightly on the front right leg. Exciting balance between the two parallel lines of heads. This implied the mythological “Golden Horn”. Myth and reality are combined with stress. We do not have time to stay up in the moment and enjoy life without living in constant framåtsträvan and inner struggle. The time is not enough. 4. CHASE II 1995 (PROWL II): This is the man and the animal — thoughtfully-stalls to be able to control the situation-ready for a new leap! They are fused and expresses a strong inner tension and energy. The man’s Golden horns pointing forward to attack as well as the expression of the animal’s tail. 5. 1992 HUNTED (CHASED): according to Maureen Quin was born this sculpture to still an inner agitation. This riding an innocent man into perdition, meet in the middle of the chest by an arrow, slow down erratically and dies. Maybe he was unaware of the threat – an internal threat? Perhaps he sought to fight off evil forces? He looks like a crucified up there in space? The horse’s neck and tail shapes with arrow an aggressive trio. 6. THE KILL 1996 (the KILLING): A slain man is hanging around the Hunter’s shoulders. The weight of the arms, legs and head are linked in chaos and mixed with the moral weight of guilt, so that the animal in man and the dead arched. Everything has a spiritual reference. 7. PIETA 1996 (HAVE MERCY!): The Hunter (man) sits on his chair, leaning forward, grief-stricken over the death of his companions. He is now like a child in his lap – symbol of a dying humanity. -Quin spoke of an Africa that is being destroyed from within. -Vertebra leads down to the large Golden Horn-upside-down-where humans and animals – this symbol of our surroundings-grow together and become one. A world about to be destroyed! The sculpture forms a rhythm of forms around the pain.
8. GRIEF 1996 (SORROW): kneeling-in sorrow and outcast-man lifts his arms to the sky and seeking solace and forgiveness. The Golden Horn pointing down expresses guilt and despair. 9. REMORSE 1998 (REMORSE): kneeling envelops the man’s head with the Golden Horn pointing forward. Humble, burdened by its broad shoulders and overwhelmed by remorse, he seeks reconciliation. 10. DEVASTATION 1998 (DESPAIR): back at the knee with bowed head, the burdened the burden and the open awkward hands-seeking human solace while horn pointing down in despair. 11. 1998 the SUPPLICATION (WORSHIP – INVOCATION): kneelingleaning forward in prayer position-call upon the human being his creator of deep devotion and ask forgiveness. Vulnerable and exposed looks back to the echo of pain. The sculpture radiates deep spirituality. 12. THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE 1999 (the ULTIMATE DECISIVE SACRIFICE): Mary sits with the infant Jesus and the crucified Christ in one and the same figure. This WINS the love and forgiveness -and Maureen Quins deep spiritual faith shines brightly in this sculpture that reflects the child’s innocent victim Jesus to spread the love and forgiveness between people. Maybe an attempt to save the world.
In the face of the sculpture the force 14 games at this exhibition of collaborative innovative rhythms, we experience a spiritual trek through a multitude of powerful human emotions. A Trek from darkness to light, from the destructive instincts of deep spiritual faith and a higher presence of helping




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The Hunt a series of bronzes by Maureen Quin



The Cape Gallery Review of  “The Hunt”  February 2019, by Gail Dorje 

Maureen Quin began a body of work she subsequently titled ‘The Hunt’ in the 1990s, shortly after her return from her residency in the Cité des Internationale, where she stayed in one of the studios for artists in Paris, France.  She began to explore a theme which emotionally and intellectually lies at the crux of our choices; to aggressively destroy humanity and our natural environment with our greed or to nurture it with domesticity and love.

Quin mentions that while in Paris, she was unmoved by Rodin’s sculpture, which was not surprising even though Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ began a process of introspection reflected in the arts that led to the Modern Movement internationally. Rodin concentrated on the mobility of light and shade to dramatize the surface of his monumental works whereas Quin aligns herself with the introspective and reductive theory and philosophy of the Modern Art Movement, particularly referencing the influence the British sculptor Henry Moore.

During the formative years of her career as a sculptor, in 1956 Quin won the Emma Smith Bursary to study at Goldsmith College in New Cross, London under Mr. Parker and Mr. Robert Jones. Co-incidentally, thirty-four years earlier Graham Sutherland studied there.

Sir Herbert Read, leading British art critic and educationalist of the time, reviewed the decisive developments that took place in British Art in the decade 1930 -1940 concisely in a small book titled Contemporary British Art first published by Pelican Books in 1951, six years after WWII ended. He noted that in this period four artists dominated the English scene: Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland who achieved international recognition, emerging, as they did out, of the slumbering provincialism’ of British Art.

In the period leading up to during WWI and WWII radical changes were taking place in the arts and sciences and in the individual perception of self. Horrified by the ravages of WWI and WWII and cruelty of man to man, thinking artists and philosophers looked inward at the human psyche.

In approach and expression Quin’s ‘The Hunt’ is closer to Sutherland’s expressive style than to Moore’s monumental figures. It is apposite to recall Read’s comments on Sutherland’s capacity to wrest ‘out of any organic form, an image as terrifying as any invented by science fiction. The same is true of Bacon (mentored by Sutherland). Both artists seem to exude what it used to be fashionable to call angst- undefinable anxiety, fear of the reality behind appearances which they never-the-less were compelled to reveal – what Kierkegaard, who was the first to have this kind of vision, called the despair of immediacy, of not willing to be oneself, or not willing to be a self, of willing to be another than himself – demoniac despair, nihilism.’

In northern Europe, particularly Germany and Scandinavia the Modern Art Movement was associated with the word expressionism. Read qualifies this term saying expressionism is not, like Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, a specifically modern style in art.  It is rather a style that tends to appear in the north whenever the strength of external influences diminishes as, for example, in the art of the Norwegian Edvard Munch and the Dutchman Vincent van Gogh.  It is also present in Folk and Primitive Art.  He notes that ‘What is gained from seclusion, from intensive contemplation, and from obstinate independence is, objectivity, is an intense vision and subjectivity, is a visionary intensity.  Violent emotional content – carries  psychological revelation to an expressive degree of caricature (caricature being a persistent type of expressionist art).

Could it be a coincidence that in reverting to a subject as primal as the hunt in 1990s, in form and expression Quin’s sculptures carry some recollection of Sutherland’s metaphysical references and formal vocabulary, for instance, the bird-like and horned heads that bare some semblance to the Pterodactyl a creature that appear in Sutherlands paintings?  Or are these terrifying features an amalgam of references to malign horned and beaked archetypes manifest in many different cultures throughout the world? Quin cites the Koi San Tokoloshe?  Are these creatures the ‘ Avatars’; the exterior enactments of Quin’s deeply felt concerns and feelings?

Read was aware that there was no unity in the Modern Art Movement, anywhere in the world, but rather a diversity that reflects the fragmented nature of our society. Yet he saw two “predominant tendencies that may in the end prove complementary rather than contradictory – the search for formal harmony, for an equilibrium that compensates for our spiritual chaos; and a desire to express that chaos itself in images of uncompromising vitality”.

The scope of the Hunt Series redresses this balance, the blight of the ‘kill’ is followed by remorse and a plea for redemption, a better world for the next generation.

The dynamic, tensile, attenuated form and powerful bunched musculature of Quin’s figures in The Hunt convey the sensation and emotional mood of each sculpture with great presence. Being so ’ in the present ‘ they engender what anthropologist call participation mystic rather than detached admiration.  It is not surprising that she says that it was only as the series evolved a she felt a narrative could be perceived and endorsed this with the making of a final symbolic figure. It is possible that though Quin adamantly declares this work reflects her African heritage, the hunt is a universal theme and conveys truth that has universal significance in a restless world.  Nature and our existence are threatened by climate change and a relentless incursion into the wild places, the destruction of habitats driving to extinction so many of the species that populate earth, destroying the balance of nature and ultimately, in the not too distant future, human existence.   Perhaps the injunction of the final symbolic figure of the series holding forth a golden child is a plea for transformation, a heed to be aware of our natural heritage and use it with greater wisdom than the current generation have succeeded in doing, to think and to preserve it our children.

Gail Dorje (B A Fine Art) UCT



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