Complex rural art proves snobs wrong

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

Some academics and elitists still regard the work of self-taught artists, particularly those from the rural areas, as inferior.

But Limpopo artists Jackson Hlungwane, a sculptor, and Samson Mudzungu have proven time and again that these snobs are just prejudiced.

Their fine work is steeped in the realm of spiritual art in general and African spiritual sacredness in particular.

The legendary drum maker and African rituals performance artist Mudzungu is currently exhibiting at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

He is presenting his latest performance, Fish Drum from Lake Fundudzi. The two-hour performance incorporates the domba, malende and tshikona dances. During the performance, he re-enacts his arrest after an altercation with Venda chiefs. This shows that his art is just as politically and socially conscious as any other art form.

This particular presentation is in touch with issues affecting his community from rural Venda.

The drum that Mudzungu uses for this performance is large enough for him to fit inside. It is made from wood drawn from the spiritually-charged waters of Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo, meaning that he gets his creative inspiration from his deep spirituality.

Mudzungu was born near Lake Fundudzi in 1938. He has been exhibiting since 1988. Much of his work is based on the enormous drums which he uses during his performances.

The drums are also adaptations of the traditional drums that are used during various Venda ceremonies such as initiation rituals.

By transforming these drums, both in form and concept, to new and often non-sacral uses, Mudzungu straddles the divide between traditional and contemporary art. For instance, one of his performances involves him being buried in one of the drums only to be "resurrected" afterwards.

Through such performances, Mudzungu re-enacts birth and death - notions that are also often invoked in initiation rituals. By so doing, however, Mudzungu has challenged traditional authority and this has not endeared him to Venda chiefs.

With several dancers drumming, the performances are not only visually saturated, but also emotionally overwhelming.

Mudzungu has exhibited in various galleries and museums, locally and internationally. He has featured in numerous catalogues and was also one of the artists whose monologues have been published under the title of Taxi Art Series by David Krut Publishing.

So, who says that rural-based, self-taught artists are uneducated and cannot produce complex art?