The portrait of an artist

He uses art to express his inner thoughts and to a novice his semi-abstract works make no sense. The artist's paintings take art-lovers through a journey that can only be appreciated and interpreted by those who are curious about art. He is 29-year-old Serowe-born Gigi Malebang.

Every stroke of light, line and colour has a meaning and needs to be interpreted. One of Malebang's most amazing works is called 'Striking Light'. The work comprises two parts although the artist calls it one painting. The first piece is mellow yellow and the other piece is pitch black. Both pieces show horse-riders embarking on the same journey though the riders are captured in two different shades.
"In this painting I am talking about education which is represented by light. The painting is also talking about my love for art. It shows that day and night it is the same with art, I can just dream about it any given time. The horses represent the strength of my trade, " explained Malebang.
His other painting is called 'O Etsang Bosigo' loosely translated 'What are you doing at night?'. This painting has its own story to tell. In 'O Etsang Bosigo' the Serowean expresses his thoughts on gossipmongers. The protagonist is a man, who has his back to the viewer and looking through a window, which represents the all-seeing eye. Behind the main character is the gossip-monger who is back-biting the main character by saying, "O tsamaya bosigo," 'He is a night-crawler' and "Ba re ke lekau," "They say he is a charmer." Although the protagonist is captured in a dark scene, just behind him there is a lot of colour that is meant to symbolise femininity and to illustrate the antagonist's malicious gossip, "O rata basadi', 'He loves women.'
Kenalemang, from Mannatlhoko ward in Serowe, says he comes from a family of artists. Actually, his mother is the one who inspired him to be a painter as the young artist used to watch her decorating homes with various types of soil.
"I cannot talk about any foreign artist and say the inspired me. In any case I do not relate to art from other countries because we live in different societies and environments. My mother is the one who inspired me. She used to decorate homes with giraffes and other animals. She probably did not realise that she was an artist," said Malebang.
He also quotes veteran sculptor Moitshephi Madibela as an inspiration. "When I think of creativity and powerful works, I think of Madibela."
Malebang went on to tell Mmegi that his father was also a craftsman who used to make spoons and bowls. It would seem that the artist's parents instilled the love of art into almost all their children because two of Malebang's siblings are also artists except the eldest one, his one and only sister.
Malebang says he started art at a tender age when as a boy he used to mould cows and other articles out of clay. "I sold my first artworks for 50 thebe a piece at Khama III Memorial Museum while I was still a primary school kid and I have never looked back," reminisced Malebang.
The artist, who did his primary education at Riverside and Phikwe Primary school, says he first did art as a subject at Makhubu CJSS where he excelled. After completing secondary education, he worked at African Leather Products in Selebi-Phikwe for three years, as both painter and curator.
"While working at African Leather Products, I realised that I earned more money from selling paintings and portraits done privately than from my job, so I decided to become a full-time independent artist, " he said.
In late 1998, Malebang moved to Gaborone and set up a studio in his uncle's place near the Bull and Bush. Since he did not have a studio, he used to sell from home and outside the popular entertainment centre.
Soon after, the award-wining artist opened studios at Tlokweng, Waterfront and Tlokweng village where he mentored some of the well-known artists around.
He also introduced the concept of working in a studio to some of his peers who previously operated in not-so-conducive environments.
Malebang describes himself as a painter and that he is into semi-abstract semi-realistic work given the fact that most Batswana are no conversant with some aspects of art.
"Abstract works can be difficult to interpret, therefore I have to cater for all my clients," he explained.
The artist has another untitled painting that is also in two parts. After intently studying it he said to Mmegi, "Ditau tsa gompieno di laletse bana ba tswa sekoleng," meaning ' the lions of today are lying-in-wait for children from school.' The painting has a long story to tell. Part one depicts male figures chasing after a small chick. The males are men and the chick a schoolgirl. In part two, using his magical strokes, the artist transformed the males into a lion thus the saying, "Ditau tsa gompieno di laletse bana ba tswa sekolong."
Malebang says as a professional artist, he is totally dependent on the money he earns from selling his artworks.
"Although I sell my pieces, I like people who respect my works," Malebang says. The artist emphasised that he would not hesitate to take back any of his works if the buyer did not accord it utmost care and respect. "I will gladly refund the buyer," the artist said.
Malebang loves his work so much that he declined an offer to  study art at a university overseas.
"It's not like I despise education but I did not want to be derailed by foreign concepts and settings so I turned down the offer," he said.
To demonstrate that he is not against learning, the winner of the 2003 and 2008 Artist of the Year Award says that his studio is always open to young art enthusiasts who need mentoring.

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