PANEL: Curating Mancoba

Title: The expressive modes of Ernest Mancoba and the question of a universal language of art

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

“A Black Aesthetic and the Contest of Art History”, including works by Ernest Mancoba, curated by Dr Mdluli, Standard Bank Art Gallery (Johannesburg), 22 Feb – 18 Apr 2019

The exhibition titled A Black Aesthetic: a view of South African artists held in February 2019 at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. It was not only an attempt to explore what a historical narrative of Black South African art might look like but also more importantly an attempt at beginning to explore its theorization with a particular pedagogy of art. The artists and artworks featured were curatorially linked together by common thread of ‘a black aesthetic’ as an attempt to interrogate what constitutes Black expression. Mancoba featured as one of the prominent figures in not only the narrative of what the exhibition referred to as the early Black modernists alongside Gerard Sekoto and George Pemba. The exhibition thus sought to not only explore the expressive modes of these artists in relation to the term early Black modernists but in Mancoba’s case it became necessary to probe his contribution to the modernist question through his participation in both Black artistic expression and the western art canon. This paper suspends the curatorial rationale of including Mancoba’s work in the exhibition and elaborates further on his artistic repertoire in relation to his positionality within Black expressive modes and extends this by returning to some of his ideas around African spiritual expression. I argue that while these ideas were guided by Mancoba’s interest in how art connects to spirituality, they also connected him to a much larger purpose and view of defining art as a universal language. I suggest that Mancoba thus advocated for this universal art language through not only his expressive modes of working but also in his use of reoccurring motifs in his work and an approach that centered on man and mankind.

Same Mdluli is an artist, art historian, and writer living in Johannesburg. She holds a PhD in History of Art, MA in Arts and Culture Management from Wits University and a B-Tech degree in Fine Arts (cum laude) from the University of Johannesburg. She has worked as an administrator at the Goodman Gallery and projects in both Cape Town and Johannesburg and taught art at various school levels. She has participated in various exhibitions, conferences locally and internationally and won some art awards. She has also participated in a number of international residencies including being invited as a Junior Research Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and as guest researcher at the Institut National d’histoire de l’art (INHA) in Paris for the ‘Culture Profession’ programme under the department of Art and Globalisation. Her research interests are in contemporary African art, black expressive modes and aesthetics as well as the conversations between jazz and visual art. Before she was appointed curator at the Standard Bank Gallery she was a sessional lecturer at Wits University.