Muziwandile Gigabau is a well-travelled South African printmaker and sculptor from KwaMashu Township in KZN. Fresh from a 6 month stint at the internationally acclaimed Guanlan Origional Printmaking Base in China, we caught up with Muzi to learn more about his work, his process and his passion for music.
Hi Muzi, please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a Fine Artist.
I think being an artist is a natural gift I inherited. I was born at KwaMashu Township, which is at the north of Durban and I had never gotten formal Art education until I went to university. However, I always did some artful things as a child. I used to get encouragement from my mother and some school teachers. The turning point for my artistic journey was to quit a civil engineering course for the Bat Centre Art Residency, after I had won a first prize award at an art competition that took place at the Durban Institute of Technology.
I side-stepped classes and apprenticed myself under a prolific South African ceramist, Clive Sithole, who had a studio at the Bat Center at the time. I initiated a private mentorship project whereby I was to explore clay in his presence and assist him in return when he was preparing for exhibitions. Since then, I got inspired and encouraged to pursue a career in Art even though my family and friends still advise me to seek a job with a stable income. After three and a half years of Clive’s mentorship, I became a facilitator at a community project at Cato Ridge whereby I transmitted the ceramics skills that I had acquired to a group of unemployed women.
I then participated in a number of exhibitions both in Durban Art galleries and in Johannesburg. I later got involved in film documentation and participated on the ceramics travelling show entitled “Ukucwebezela: To Shine”, that later resulted in a book and a DVD titled ‘Zulu Pottery’ by Dr Elizabeth Perrill from USA. During the Ukucwebezela opening I was encouraged to study Art at university level by the late Prof Juliet Armstrong and thus I had to fundraise and rely on my parents for financial support.
How did you become interested in Printmaking and Ceramics? Why these two specific mediums?
I am fortunate to be able to express myself with any medium but printmaking and ceramics have been my preference because of their rarity to the black community that I was raised in. Curiosity has transfixed me to explore these premises since my first encounter. I got intrigued and captivated by the processes within these disciplines and I decided to explore them – especially when I was at an institution with sufficient resources and guidance. If it were not for this, I would be exploring any available material. However, my work has grown to interrogate the fixed appropriations within these disciplines.
My elusive approach to the medium resonates with the delicacy within the process of becoming. During the formation of any organisms there are both the rapid and subtle phases of becoming the end product, and working with these mediums allows me to explore this as artwork.
What is the main driver behind your compulsion to make art?
The anticipation of the end product during the process is fulfilling and this inspires me to create deconstructed open-ended forms. My work is a metaphor of delicacy within social change that roots from humans’ capability of improvising their ways of life. With this regard, I explore improvisations and the mystery within the human acts of establishing connectedness with that that is non-human, especially animals and inanimate objects, as derivatives of culture.
You spent some time at Illinois State University (USA) as recipient of the Rita Strong Fellowship in 2012. How have things changed for you since that moment?
Being in a residency in the USA was a long waited for opportunity and it came when I needed motivation with my Art practice. Since then, life is no longer the same. I take my work more seriously than before. I was fortunate to engage in critical discussions with international Visual Arts post-graduate students and Professors about differences and contemporaries within the global visual cultures.
Such discussions were stimulated by practical course work and the public lecture I delivered on my works in reflection to Zulu pottery while I was at the Illinois State University. Since then, I have grown more to question the objective and the content of work and how to be accommodative to both the local and the international audience in a sense that they could engage with my work. Cultural exchange programs are always fruitful; they bare friends and contacts for a lifetime. I managed to make a few sales and visited New York and this lead to visits at MOMA, The Metropolitan Museum, and I also witnessed the Whitney Biennale.
You’ve been involved in many other exhibitions and collaborations locally and internationally. From your experience, how do you think the current culture of collaborations is influencing art today?
Collaboration is the future. Art has a better-defined meaning and purpose if it is a collaborative project. It grows the artist individually and brings out the best of the collaborators. Collaborative projects empower equally both the collaborators and the public. But artists need funding in order to engage more in these activities because they are a bit demanding financially.
China is seen as one of the pioneers of the New Woodcut Movement. As an artist who explores on the woodcut medium with a very African aesthetic to your work, how was your recent 6 month experience making work at the respected Guanlan Original International Printmaking Base?
The GOIPB is one of the most prestigious printmaking residencies in the world. It always hosts different artists from all over the globe. It is a project that aims to educate and expose China to world cultures, but most of all, it is investment. The strict selective processes ensure that the hosted artists are either experts in their fields or are unique promising artists, for they would have to donate a certain portion of work for the New Guanlan Print museum that will be open later this year.
South Africa should learn from China and invest in international but mostly, local talent before the best works are scooped away by other countries. Most South Africans do not consider art as investment like in some other countries. Most international artists I met already knew each other, if not each other’s works and this is due to constant cross-cultural exchange exhibitions and projects between their countries.
It was a fulfilling experience working with experts from various parts of the world and I am honored to be selected as the first young black South African artist to work at that residency – but Diane Victor and Kristin Ng –Yang are other South African based artists that also took part at the Guanlan Printmaking residency. The University of KwaZulu-Natal staff and post graduate students also showcased their works at the residency while I was there.
Does your work “Things Fall Apart” reflect any of your overseas experience or is it fundamentally your homage to deceased African author Chinua Achebe?
My work addresses the sameness between that which is retained, the rejected and the adopted in current global culture. People always have preconceived ideas and certain expectations on foreign cultures. The work testifies that pure culture is an illusion hence; it is imbued with ambiguous codes that portray uncertainty. The title of work may be considered literal and referential to Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”. So as the therianthropic figure that may be fragmented or becoming inextricable from its surrounding appears to be falling apart. The work was just an expression of how I witnessed the clash of cultures while I was in China.
On a lighter note, you’ve been seen DJ’ing at art galleries in KZN for some time now. How does music fit into your life as an artist?
Music is central to my creations, especially my latest artworks. Music has rich energy that can sweep one to a state of trance and that has shaped the abstractive nature of my late work. I used to be a club DJ but the music was a bit restrictive and the market became saturated. I now do private and corporate functions. I always had a huge appetite for world music and places such as art organizations host people that are open to all kinds of genres. I am working on a proposal for a DJ performance at the KZNSA Art Gallery (Durban) in September.
When will we be seeing the work you made in China exhibited in South Africa?
The Chinese residency required the artists to create only one print but I exceeded the requirement and I now have to pay the price for it. The shipment of the body of work I created that side is still pending. However, I have a few prints that I am planning to squeeze in at any upcoming show I would participate in before the end of the year. Otherwise, one of my prints has been selected to be showcased at the Serbia Printmaking Triennial that should take place in Belgrade in September.