Modisa Tim Motsomi is a KwaZulu-Natal based Fine Artist who relocated to South Africa from his homeland of Botswana. Creating work that emphasizes his strong passion for materiality and the liminal space within a range of human truths and polarities, he has featured in numerous exhibitions in South Africa and has already had his work exhibited in Kenya, China and The United Kingdom.
As he has just completed his newest series of works titled Alter-Native due for display in Johannesburg later this year, we caught up with him to find out more about his background, influences and his latest work.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do:
I’m an artist from Botswana, currently working and studying (MAFA) in South Africa. I like to think of myself as a bit of a jack of all trades…or at least 5 trades…because my work oscillates between, makings prints, photographs, sculptures, ceramics, and performances (live and video).
When did you start getting interested in Art, and in particular Sculpture and Photography?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly when I became interested in art specifically, because ever since I can remember I was interested in drawing and making stuff. When I was younger I was very interested in the design industry, and at high school I had decided to study architecture because it was an avenue that would allow me to be creative and please my parents, who hoped that I would get a ‘stable’ qualification. Unfortunately I hated maths and science, or rather those subjects hated me, so I opted to study fine art which was a pretty happy compromise for me. Although my undergrad major was print-making, in my last year I felt more compelled to turn my drawings into their 3 dimensional form, and it was possibly the best choice I could have made. The photography element in my work started off as studies for the drawings and later the sculptures, but I only started to really see it as a viable medium much later when I started comparing the images I’d taken with the sculptures I was making.
Could you please explain you work process when it comes to creating sculptures?
The ceramic components of the sculptures are formed through casting parts of my body, most specifically my face, and later when the clay has firmed up a little I manipulate the features and forms to give the figures character. When they’re completely dried out I bisque fire them and apply cold treatments, such as oil paints and polishes, and later those are black-fired in a pit to make sure that the treatments stick. The other materials (blankets, thread and found objects) are manipulated similarly in the final assembly process.
As an artist from Botswana based in South Africa, what has motivated your decision to stay and create work in this country. What is your opinion on the shared culture and knowledge you have gained?
Being in South Africa is great because in many ways the contemporary art scene is so much more progressive than some places in Africa. I think my decision to stay here has primarily been because of this kind of climate, where one is almost compelled to create through really experimenting and trying to push materials and manipulate materials as far as one conceivably can. I think that South Africans, and those of us who live here, are really privileged in that regard. There’s already a rich discursive knowledge of the many cultures and most people from here are really willing to share their information.
How would you describe the Art scene in Kwazulu-Natal in terms of the work that comes from there?
The KZN art scene is really small in comparison to Joburg or Cape Town’s art scenes. But I think the great thing is that people working in the creative sectors here haven’t been put down by that fact. There’s a lot of boundary pushing here and as a result there’s a great number of unrecognized but incredibly talented artists. Things are growing though, especially with Durban becoming a more influential creative hub in South Africa.
Last year saw your work being exhibited in China. Your work has also been exhibited in Kenya and the United Kingdom. How has that experience been for your growth as an artist?
I think every young artist trying to establish a career in fine art pretty much jumps at any opportunities to exhibit their work. Thankfully I’ve been pretty fortunate in that regard and inclusions in exhibitions abroad have helped me better establish a bigger audience and reception. It’s been very humbling at times, but I welcome those opportunities the most.
You’re completing work for your exhibition titled Alter-Native which you’ll be showing around Johannesburg later this year. What is the inspiration behind this work?
I think culturally South Africa is very rich and has a lot to offer and for this exhibition I thought of how as migrants we try, as one might, to assimilate. Thinking about these two things lead me to think of how many people migrating through South Africa become cultural tourists who appropriate certain cultural aspects and integrate them into their own identities. So the idea of ‘looking’ and ‘being looked at as ‘other’ ‘ and negotiating a sense of self in a foreign context is pretty much the main conceptual basis of the new work.
Who have been your main inspirations in your life as an artist so far and why?
Over the last few years I’ve really admired the way that artists such as Nicholas Hlobo, Nandipha Mntambo and Mary Sibande’s work has contributed to how we relate to sculpture and how unconventional materials can be used in sculpture. Other major influences have been artists such as Vulindlela Nyoni, Clive Sithole and Colbert Mashile who are close affiliates of the Centre of Visual Arts in UKZN, and have taught me a lot since I’ve been here.
How do you spend your time away from the art studio?
Time away from the studio?!? There’s always something to do in the studio… and especially since the studio environment is pretty communal here I tend to hardly get away. If anything, time not spent working is usually time spent talking about series like ‘Game of Thrones’ (whilst consuming copious amounts of wine and food) with the other people who work here.
What else do you have prepared for the future?
This year has been the least planned so far, and most of the projects I’m working on are for the distant future. One of the projects is for a ceramics exhibition in Kimberley but I unfortunately cant verify the others just yet because the logistics haven’t been completely figured out yet. Next year, however, I’ve been provisionally invited to participate in a large group exhibition in France which I’m really excited about so I’ll be working on that for the next few months.
How can we keep up with what you do?
I have a blog which I regularly update which is modisatimmotsomi.wordpress.com and I’m happy to answer questions and queries about my work through my email firstname.lastname@example.org
Previous photographic works: