Mphe Mphe ya Lapisa vouches for the dignity of doing things for oneself

Visual artist Levy Pooe depicts the begging syndrome in SA

Visual artist Levy Pooe
Visual artist Levy Pooe

Visual artist Levy Pooe explores the socio-economic conditions and the deepening class disparities in SA in his first solo exhibition Mphe Mphe Ya Lapisa-Motho o Kgona ke Sagagwe.

The exhibition that is one at the Bag Factory Studios in Johannesburg is inspired by a Tswana idiom which means the constant act of asking for help is tiresome and one is better off giving oneself a better life.

Mphe Mphe ya Lapisa is part of Pooe’s ongoing interrogation of subjects that deals with urban space, black narratives, and black people’s struggles in the big cities.

The exhibition gives meaning to the universal experience of how we see ways of asking, and how we become victims to this state of being.

In addition, the young artist seems to argue that depending on aid, grants, donations and handouts compromises the dignity and the voice of the people.

The 27-year-old from Rustenburg, North West, sums up a painful story of many South Africans in a striking colourful painting of acrylic on canvass.

In the painting titled E Tsene R350?, you can spot people queuing while others sitting down due to fatigue. E Tsene R350?, meaning "is the R350 through", refers to the R350 unemployment grant which the government introduced for a short term at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. It's recipients, mainly the youth, queue all day, even for days, to receive it.

The tired-looking people sitting down epitomise the hopelessness brought by job losses as a results of the pandemic.

Pooe uses beggar mentality to also capture the country’s social scene, via a piece called Ke Kopa ungfake ko VIP (please get me into VIP). The piece shows a huge crowd of people who are waiting at the entrance of a place of fun, with their eyes mainly searching for someone familiar they can implore to let them in... for free food and booze, and to be seen hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

The young artist captures such unfortunate scenes and other current issues through his art which further interrogates the elevation of social status in our communities.

Levy Pooe's art work Phanda ko Jozi that is part of his solo exhibition Mphe Mphe Yalapisa that is on at bag Factory Studio.
SOartPhanda1203TO Levy Pooe's art work Phanda ko Jozi that is part of his solo exhibition Mphe Mphe Yalapisa that is on at bag Factory Studio.

Other highlights of the exhibition, like a piece titled Basking in the Sun, which shows  people playing music instruments, appear light-hearted but the bitter truth is that the street musicians are not necessarily playing for joy but for pennies to survive.

Another interesting piece, Phanda ko Jozi, shows Johannesburg's tall buildings standing as an allure pulling the desperate masses from afar, hoping for the fabled better life in the "CityofGold".

Working in a range of mediums from painting, charcoal and collage to photography, Pooe is passionate about telling stories and creating narratives that speak to the urban black experience.

He presents colourful abstract acrylic paintings and charcoal drawings.

A deep look at his works shows that he is a big fan of abstraction and figuration which brings out that energetic brush stroke, suggestive shapes and youthful colour palette.

Pooe, the winner of the prestigious 2020 Cassirer Welz Award, presented by the Bag Factory in partnership with Strauss Education, also draws heavily from cubism and depicts all his subjects from one side, perhaps the vulnerable one.

As part of the prize, Pooe is part of the residency programme at the Bag Factory Studios in Fordsburg, Johanneburg.

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