Local mural artist, painter and printmaker, Thokozani Madonsela’s latest work ‘Love Protest’ advances on his portraits which celebrate human complexities.
By: Musa “Gift” Mqwashu
All images coutersy of Tholozani Madonsela
The Mpumalanga-born multi-disciplinary artist (specialising in charcoal drawings, painting and mural art) recently unveiled his latest series Love Protest, which forces us to dig deep within and practice the art of self-love. With the world grappling with the emotional distress of the covid-19 pandemic, his work is an offering that unpacks social identity and self-awareness themes.
Speaking to Blacklight, he says the series was his way to encourage serenity and healing during this dark-hour.
Over the years, his aesthetic has always conjured nuanced nude, faceless, and emotive figures (often laughing). A bold statement he has used in depicting the multi-layers of identity and a unique artistic style which easily distinguishes him from the rest.
Thokozani has participated in several group exhibitions, including the SA taxi Foundation and the prestigious Absa L’Atelier, to name a few.
“I always challenge myself to paint what I feel; I try and be as honest as I can be in my paintings,” he says.
Blacklight: Beyond the art, who is Thokozani?
Thokozani Madonsela: I was born in Mpumalanga, but I have lived in Johannesburg my whole life. I always struggle to describe myself outside of the art. I have always been creative – I feel like everything around me is because of the art. I define myself as a person who is in love with life and everything it has to offer.
BL: How did art become your chosen medium of self-expression?
TK: Growing up, I was a quiet child, and that bothered me because I could not fully express myself like other kids. I fell in love with drawing, and that became my communication tool – I did not know that later it would become my profession.
BL: What informs you and your art?
TK: My art is informed by interactions with different people. I feel like living in Johannesburg is such a privilege, not because the city provides various opportunities to make a living, but also because there are different people from all over the world. As a creative, my only job is to listen and comment through imagery and colour.
BL: When you are not creating art, what are some of the simple things that bring you immense joy?
TK: I love cycling through town, Johannesburg central, because you get to experience and see things and places you can never see while driving or walking.
BL: What was the inspiration behind your exhibition ‘Love Protest’?
TK: This year, if anything, has proven that the human heart can withstand the weight of cement bricks. This pandemic was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before; as a result, there was a complete state of pandemonium. So in making sense of it all I wanted to present a body of work that spoke both to and about my heart. I tried to achieve this through the use of warm colours to evoke a sense of comfort and reassurance, a silver lining of sorts, a light at the end of this tunnel.
BL: Artists are known to be mirrors of society. How do your works mirror your society?
TK: There is something I always try and display in my work, and that is the freedom to be. I always try to remind people that it is okay to be who you are and not conform to societal pressures.
BL: How hard is it to maintain and achieve a certain level of stability as an artist in this rapidly changing world?
TK: Consistency is important, and for me, it is about making sure that a day does not go by without me painting, talking about art, or even reading about art. It is also important to understand that what we do is not necessarily about being influenced by the world but also about changing how the world thinks.
BL: What have been some of the biggest hurdles in your career, and how did you overcome them?
TK: I have come across a lot of challenges in my career, but one that stands out the most is self-doubt and not believing that I could make a living out of my talent. I tried out different businesses to make a living but came to a point where I had to focus on my art and nothing else. I came up with a signature style that defined me as an individual – thanks to my mentors; I managed to stay focused (throughout the journey).
BL: What or who permitted you to pursue a career in the art so fiercely?
TK: I felt like I had a gift that very few people have – creativity is a skill that cannot be taught. After trying everything I could to make a living and failing, I knew that art was the only vocation and the only way I could be impactful.
BL: How do you deal with negative feedback or criticism about your work?
TK: I always say that every feedback is neither good nor bad because whatever people say, you need to build from that. I view feedback as just that, and I continue to work on improving myself.
BL: How did the coronavirus pandemic affect you, and how did your art serve as space for you to purge yourself of those emotions?
TK: Like many other people, in the beginning, I did not know how to deal with the whole situation of having to be at home and not interact with people. Having to cancel/postpone everything I had planned for this year was hurtful. The one thing I am grateful for is spending time with myself, painting, and sharing my work with different people through social media platforms.
BL: Looking back at your artistic journey, what would you tell the young Thokozani who was still struggling to find his artistic voice?
TK: Art is not an easy career; you are going to go through a lot of challenges; be misunderstood, and sometimes and that is okay – just do not ever quit!
Thokozani is currently-based at Ellis House art studios in Ellis Park, Johannesburg. His work is displayed in his studio for about a month, and people are welcome to visit.