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In the eye of the beholder

Although we live in a world where everyone has the right to freedom of speech, people still find it hard to express their opinions or beliefs publicly. But fine art is one suitable medium in which an artist could hide a message and let their true feelings be known. Mmegi Staffer, MOMPATI TLHANKANE visited the National Museum Art Gallery to interpret some of the seemingly indecipherable messages in the artworks.

The President’s Day competitions’ Arts and Crafts are back again and this time visual artists were not just out to win, but they wanted to present creative works which can shock, awe and leave an indelible mark in the minds of the viewers.

Many of these messages can often be political, moral, or based on religious fables. Some of these artworks currently displayed at the gallery show that artists have a way of having some fun while leaving their personal mark on the canvas.

One of the artworks titled ‘The cancer in our society’ by Sylvester Koweno won the painting category and it has the most intriguing hidden message. Koweno is not new to this style of conveying messages through his art. He once participated in Nna le Seabe HIV and Art awareness exhibition where he painted a naked man straddling a big black scorpion and titled it ‘lethal coitus’.

His then artwork was influenced by the topic of HIV, but this time around his painting shows the picture of a naked woman with a hand covering her genitals. Next to the woman is the picture of a male goat or buck watching the woman while chickens are running away.

“Men in our society behave like male goats and they chase after little girls no wonder you see chickens running away,” he explained.

Koweno said the hands on the genitals indicate that no matter how many times women say no, men always persist with their behaviour. He said he wanted to put across gender-based violence message in the artwork.

There’s often more to a picture than meets the eye and Koweno’s artworks are different from that of many artists and he takes time to come up with a painting.  His art features somewhat mysterious clues placed by the artist. All his art contains curious resemblances and for someone who likes or follows the artist’s style, it is easy to identify Koweno’s paintings.  Another work of art in the gallery which is vivid and shows detailed representations is Ntesang Kgojane’s ‘hard knock life’. The artwork falls under the category of printmaking and portrays

two hands handcuffed on drums. Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing, normally on paper or canvas.

Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting.

In a category that is dominated by Basarwa tribe from D’Kar, Kgojane managed to separate himself from the rest to be declared the winner.

His printed image is the precise geometry of its composition and the shape fuels many theories about its hidden symbolism from the way the hands are cuffed to something as rhythmic as the drums.

The artist explained that the artwork relates to him because he put his feelings in it.  “Artists receive a lot of criticism and at times they feel trapped in some kind of a prison. No wonder the handcuffs,” he said. Kgojane said he used music because it is something that people like.

“No matter how much you incorporate your technique in one to experiment, people will always criticise,” he said.  Kgojane said the printmaking category is not the mainstay of Basarwa tribe like some would think, but it depends on the skills and how one perceive art.  “I do full images and my approach is different, I have won this category before in 2015, last year I finished on position 2,” he highlighted.

In the category of photography, Kabelo Mosimanewakgosi’s ‘African Sunrise’ picture may not be as enigmatic as other artworks, but feelings are inscribed in the work.  “I decided to wake one morning and take a picture of a township,” he told Arts & Culture. He said as a photographer he likes to capture the special moments of the day.

“The view from the sky, the dust around the people on the streets, that picture tells a story about a township in Botswana.” The self-taught photographer said he was participating the President’s Competitions for the first time because he never knew that photography was amongst categories allowed to participate.  He said now he wants to build a portfolio in order to get gigs and be recognised internationally.




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