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Mmabatho Montsho master of all she surveys

Mmabatho Montsho will today unveil her solo art exhibition, 'Manyano'./Supplied
Mmabatho Montsho will today unveil her solo art exhibition, 'Manyano'./Supplied
Image: Supplied

Is there anything Mmabatho Montsho can't do? She currently has viewers glued to TV screens with her unflinching role in prison drama Lockdown. She just wrapped production last Friday on her film directorial effort. Today, she unveils her solo art exhibition.

Montsho is undoubtedly one of the busiest women on Earth, so much that catching her on the phone proves to be more of a mission impossible than Tom Cruise's thrilling hunt in the classic franchise.

We eventually settle on a 15-minute telephonic chat on a windy Tuesday afternoon. She's multitasking as we talk; pacing around and giving orders - at least judging by the cellphone ambient echo.

Before we are cut short, because duty calls, she offers me a florid view into her world. "I just finished shooting a film with a similar theme, so I'm only getting a chance now to focus on this exhibition," she explains.

"Yesterday I was freaking out, but the nerves are better now after seeing the space."

As it would be expected with many creatives putting out a new piece of art, it takes Montsho almost a minute struggling to put into words the inspiration behind the exhibition. After all, art defies easy interpretation and the answer is always complex.

Titled Manyano, the 20-piece exhibition features a series of oil paintings by Montsho depicting the spirit, defiance and strength of the Manyano women of the Methodist Church.

The exhibition is open to the public at Constitution Hill Women's Jail located in the heart of Johannesburg for the duration of Women's Month.

Montsho reveals that she was first approached last year to curate an exhibition, but she passed on the opportunity because "I wanted to be in the right head space".

"My mom, grandmother and great-grandmother all form part of the Manyano women. But how it all started to become artwork is that I had visions which I thought were ideas for a story, they wouldn't go away," she recalls.

"They were only resolved when I started painting or drawing them. It was a spiritual thing, it was never completely intellectual. Then I started doing research on these women, that it was a patriarchal disrupting movement within the church because back then women were not allowed to lead anything in the church. So the women organised themselves into a group that could have its own mission."

Her love for art dates back to primary school. She has been a painter all her life and as she points out to me her first art award was in Grade 1.

For Montsho, sharing her artwork with the world for the first time during Women's Month was not a deal breaker.

"I worry sometimes about certain things only happening because it's Women's Month.

"We should be able to find strong expressions every time of the year. Spaces should not only be open to us just because it's Women's Month."

Keeping with the religious motif, Montsho just produced, wrote and directed a 24-minute short film under the working title Joko Ya Hao with singer Simphiwe Dana in the lead. "It's inspired by the legacy of Winnie Mandela. It's a completely fictional story, which I set in a church to sort of explore the role of human leadership in a church.

"The lead is breathtakingly played by Simphiwe Dana as a woman in the 1960s who wants to become a priest. She's brilliant. We set it in a time of forced removals and it explores the role of the church during political strive."

Montsho was last seen in front of the camera in the 2016 romantic film Happiness is a Four-Letter Word. Last month she broke her acting hiatus as criminal psychologist Phindi Mazibuko in Mzansi Magic drama Lockdown. She has served as head writer for three seasons of the show created by Mandla N.

"I was writing on the show and Mandla suggested that I play the role. I thought I would side-step him but before I knew it was too late and we were shooting."

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