M.Bassy Dialogues

M.Bassy Dialogues #1
with Mohau Modisakeng

Mohau Modisakeng
Mohau Modisakeng

We want to stay in touch with the M.Bassy familiy, artists and audience in this exceptional time! Thus, we are delighted to launch a series of dialogues with artists who have collaborated with us in the past or who will collaborate with us in the future. We invite you to an inside view of their current artistic practice, spiritual state of being and personal reflection of the realities of life – shifting the perspective to the global south and raising vital questions that eventually affect us all.

In SERIES #1 we are happy to provide an intimate online interview with the artist, Mohau Modisakeng.

What does your current artistic practice look like?

For the longest time I have been needing a break. I have been working none stop since I graduated for the university of Cape Town...jumping from project to project without much space between the various moments of making. So for the first time, due to the nationwide lockdown and the restrictions on both local and international travel I’m now able to take a breath and reflect on previous projects and research. Since the lockdown in South Africa I have spent time in my home studio, not working on pre-production for the next project, or writing proposals and treatments, finding excuses to be elsewhere other than the studio...but searching. The stillness of limited movement, and having more time has meant that my studio process has become more about searching, experimentation, and establishing the foundation for new ways of making. Besides searching through hardrives, editing (re)arranging projects from my archive, I have started taking music a little more seriously as an element of my work, particular with regard to my film and live performance work. Taking time to practice Instruments, collecting and recording, curating soundscapes, and listening anew to my environment.

For which three things are you very thankful at the moment?

My family
My health
My work

What have you learned during this time: What can you do without, that you usually stick to?

I have learnt that many of the distractions plaguing our daily lives as social beings are detrimental to our wholistic well being, particularly our spiritual wellness. The rat race is exhausting, and whilst “the chase” is the only means for some to keep up their households, raise families, and build for the future…the time away from family, the fast pace of life, huge sacrifices and low returns are not justifiable beyond a certain point.
I have realized that I can do without a lot. Strangely, other than my family, business partners, and a solid connection with a few friends, I find that many of my relationship with accountancies are draining. I have become more acutely aware of the unbalanced nature of many of this relationships, where it seems I have been giving of my time, of myself, and of my peace and serenity in order to meet the content demands from people that tend to take and not return anything wholesome. So I can do with a lot less people…and the stresses that comes with that.

How do you deal with the uncertainty of the future?

For as long as I can remember there has always been some uncertainly at various point on my life. Growing up a racial ghetto in the township of Soweto, life was almost always uncertain…from where your next meal will come from, of when next you will see your parents who work for the shirt establishment, to whether you will have money to go to school, and so on…so my upbringing has sort of prepared me for uncertainty. Fortunately, a few years back I was forced to deal with a lot of uncertainty in my professional life. I came to the realization that a lot of the connections to the people within the industry I work in are frivolous and superficial.…this was a wake up call and I have been working since to be more self sufficient, defining my days, weeks, months and years based on what I would like to achieve…in a reasonable time frame.

At which place would you choose to be at the moment?

If you mean a physical place, then I very much wish to be on my own plot of land, on a remote farm somewhere, where I’m able to work, spend time with my family and continue to grow in my business, my relationships with family and community. I would want to be somewhere were i would be putting down the foundation for my future work…meaning physically building spaces for my vision of setting up an arts academy for disadvantage youth interested in the arts.

Which connection do you have to nature currently?

With the stillness and quietness of lockdown I am listening to my environment more intensly. As a spiritual person I always try to observe my relationship with my environment…but of late I have noticed a particular clarity in my communication with other forms of life nature. I’m particularly drawn to the birdlife in my area. Birds have a particular symbolism in my visual vocabulary...

How much of an allegory of golabal capitalism is the Corona pandemic?

I would think it is an antithesis of global capitalism in that the pandemic has halted economical systems of changes, which rely on people (and goods) moving from one part of the world to the next. Since the 1400s westerners have been criss-crossing the world, to found colonies, to loot other nations, and to enslave. This is how the wealth of western nations was founded, aided by the trans-atlantic discovery of the Americas and the passage to the Indian Ocean at the Cape Of Good Hope during a pivotal moment in capitalism and maritime history.

African intellectuals such as Felwine Sarr, Achille Mbembe and Wole Soyinka consider the Covid-19 crises a chance for Africa. What do you think about that?

I think COVID present some good opportunities for reflection and adaptation. It is clear to a lot of people that things cannot return to the old normal once this passes. Africa has been in desperate need to account for its many losses, its misdirection by neo-colonialist agendas. Africa has been subjected to various social, economical and health blows for centuries…one would hope that in this time of redefinition there will be a firm stance to return Africa to her glory, or at the very least, ensure that Africa is a equal player in the global capitalist system, on its own terms. But this a a hopeful outlook, history will show that at moments with opportunities to define new nations there has always been an imposing hand destroying any chance for self determination.

Which topics are drowned out by Corona at the moment?

STRUCTURAL RACISM, cultural intolerance, and economical violence.
It would seem that while the world is preoccupied with the pandemic there seems to be a high destress amount for previously disadvantaged communities, a disproportionate amount of which are black communities.

Who should view your art right now?

My Kinfolk. People of my socio-economical background

To what extent do you feel responsible for educating white people in term of rascism?

I think for my context, as a black South african, I have a greater duty to educate my people about WHITE SUPREMACY and Racism in there own country. A lot South Africans had the wool pulled over their eyes by their own kind, and since we have bred a generation of disconnected people, detached from their culture and customs, strangers to their past selves…There is a deep rooted sense of self loathing that goes back over 350 years which was beat into our heads by Racists…and the saddest thing is that we have leant this behaviour and we are victimising each other as a result. White people from my experience are not interested to be educated about racism or much else, in fact south africa is a monument of white ignorance and indifference. They built an entire country and government based on what they called good neighbourliness…meaning white will live with white and black will be confined to the labour camps and ghettos…precisely because white people (a category which now include black africans) in my country do not wish to be educated about the way that they have destroyed and continue to destroy us, the same way that most Israelites are oblivious to the struggles of the Palestinians. No amount of education will change that.

What options are there to fight racism?

Can't see anything working (in South africa) beyond self determination and self-rule…In South Africa some of us talk of a place called Azania, a true black african state in Southern Africa, where its people are truly free…I want my generation to be the one that awakens that idea and goes to work to build.

What is your ONE question to the world (that you would stitch onto your M.Bassy-mouthgard)?


About Mohau Modisakeng

Mohau Modisakeng, born in Soweto in 1986, uses his body to explore the influence of South Africa’s violent history on the understanding of cultural, political and social roles as human beings. Represented through film, large-scale photography, installations and performance, Modisakeng’s work responds to the history of the black body within (South) African contexts, which is inseparably intertwined with the violence of Apartheid and the early 1990s. His images are poetic invocations where the body is transformed into a marker of collective memory. He completed his undergraduate degree and Masters at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston (2014); 21C Museum, Massachusetts (2014); IZIKO South African National Gallery (2014); Saatchi Gallery (2012); and the Dak’Art Biennale, (2012). Modisakeng was awarded Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art (2016) and represented South Africa at the 57th Venice Biennale.