PANEL: On Heritage

Title: Of Tradition in Artistic Modernism: from Ernest Mancoba to David Koloane

copyright the speaker. To reference the talk: Thembinkosi Goniwe, “Ernest Mancoba – Dialogue on his Art & Words” 10 Feb 2020, A4 Foundation, Cape Town

Thembinkosi Goniwe giving his talk at the conference
Thembi Goniwe explaining how ‘performing’ “The Black Madonna” helps him think about the form of Ernest Mancoba’s sculpture “The Black Madonna” (1929)

This presentation explores the implications of tradition in artistic modernism of black artists. As a discursive exploration, it works with Ernest Mancoba’s comment about tradition being like baggage and the ways in which he utilises his own art to reflect on the benefits and weight of tradition. Such a discourse on tradition is also informed by Amilcar Cabral’s often-quoted phrase, return to the source, to articulate the significance of traditional cultures not only in the political but cultural struggle within and beyond the context of colonial modernity. Tradition here is engaged with reference to artistic genres of realism, figuration and abstraction. Such an undertaking reflects on the cultural, social and political dynamics of these artistic genres; in so doing probe the meaning of tradition as both a gift and a burden to South African artists such as Ernest Mancoba, Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba, Gladys Mgudlandlu, Noria Mabasa, Esther Mahlangu, Peter Clarke, Albert Adams, Louis Maqhubela and David Koloane. This presentation features an improvised performance of Ernest Mancoba’s seminal sculpture, Bantu Madonna (1919).  A musician and a dancer will not only to reenact but re-imagine what a contemporary articulation of Mancoba’s comment about tradition being like a baggage as well as Cabral’s phrase, a return to the source, could be or become in a live performance.  This live performance will explore the performative practice of improvisation as well as call and response, to reflect on the implications of tradition in artistic modernism and its discourse regarding black South African artists.

Thembinkosi Goniwe is an artist and art historian who has lectured at the University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Fort Hare and Vaal University of Technology. His artworks have been exhibited locally and internationally. He has contributed essays to various publications and has curated exhibition in South Africa, United States of America, Venice and Edinburgh. He holds an MFA from UCT as well as MA and PhD in History of Art from Cornell University. Goniwe is currently a visiting researcher at the Wits School of Art and a senior lecturer at Rhodes University.