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FNB JoburgArtFair: Mohau Modisakeng | The Personal is Political

Mohau Modisakeng_Ditaola XII, 2014

Ditaola XII, 2014. 


Biography is central in the work of Mohau Modisakeng. Casting himself as subject matter in his dramatic portraits, Mohau enacts the notion of “the personal is political”. Using his own body as site, his work explores the effects of violence on the black body and the ramifications of those histories on our collective unconscious.


Please tell us about the show you have planned for the FNB JoburgArtFair and how it relates to or differs from what work you’ve done in the past.


For the 2015 FNB JoburgArtFair I will be launching a video project. The presentation will include a work in progress in the form of a film, as part of a more elaborate film project I am starting. This video will be shown with a selection of a few images from a recent photo series featuring 12 photo portraits.


How has your work changed since you first started out? How have you grown as an artist?


My work has changed in many different ways. Since starting out the work has evolved to take different forms including photography, film, sculptural objects and more recently performance. I’m often excited when opportunities to make and present new work come up. I try to step out of my comfort zone at every chance in order to challenge myself to experiment with various visual forms.


What has driven these developments?


Some of the developments happen according to a logical progression of my young career, but I attribute these developments in my work to my inquisitive nature and impulse to engage relevant questions relating to our ever-changing socio-historical landscape as South Africans.


Mohau Modisakeng_Ditaola IV, 2014

Ditaola IV, 2014

Ditaola XI, 2014 copy

Ditaola XI, 2014


Please tell us more about your multi-disciplinary approach and what appeals to you about work in this way.


The multidisciplinary approach to my work appeals to me because of the freedom that it allows me with each creative project. This opens up a critical space where there are no stringent rules but ample opportunity to discover new associations between objects, images and experiences within my own creative practice. Not being bound to one way of working also means that I am able to shift between disciplines in order to best accommodate the narrative carried through the artwork.


What do you believe your work’s purpose is?


I don’t think of the relevance of my work in that archaic sense, but I know that the role of art has always been to reflect certain truths about our natural and social experiences in a given context. I believe that my work follows in a long line of work by artists and writers that have contributed to how we can imagine ourselves and our place in the world in terms of identity, culture, and history.


Identity, ritual and tradition seem to be recurring themes in your work. Can you tell us more about how you interrogate and explore these ideas in your work?


Identity, ritual and tradition in the context of my work function less as self-containing ideas in themselves and rather as vehicles that express, embody, or fulfil the ideas and experiences I am trying to convey to the audience. In some sense identity, ritual and tradition appear in my work not as themes but as idioms that contextualise my experiences and the multitude of narratives contained in the work.


Mohau Modisakeng_TBC, 2014 (2)

Untitled, 2014

Mohau Modisakeng_TBC, 2014 (1)

Untitled, 2014


In what ways does your own personal history and experience influence your art?


The question of biography is central to my practice. Personal history has always been an important narrative device in various critical disciplines including visual art to relate the sentiment that “the personal is political”. In my own work I am fundamentally concerned with the effects of violent histories on the black body and the effects of those histories on our collective consciousness.


What is the significance of casting yourself in your works?


When using my own body in my work I do not have to deal with cynical questions around the provincial politics of representing so-called “Other” people. I am only accountable for my own image.


What do you hope viewers take away from your art?


I hope that viewers will see this project as a more elaborate work that will continue to unfold and reveal its other parts.


What’s next for you?


It seems I have always been in the process of resolving and furthering my studies. In the coming year I will dedicate some time to all of that, but I will also be working towards several solo exhibitions in Europe and America, as well as a travelling solo exhibition in South Africa. I will also be doing a few residency programmes to facilitate the creation of new work. I am also keen to start collaborating with cinematographers here and abroad on an on-going film project that might also branch out into a series of art/music video projects.


inzilo, 2013 (1) copyInzilo, 2013 (2) copy

Inzilo, 2013

Mohau Modisakeng_Untitled (Metamorphosis 3) . 2015 Inkjet print on Epson UltraSmooth 120 x 120 cmMohau Modisakeng_Untitled (Metamorphosis 1) . 2015 Inkjet print on Epson UltraSmooth 120 x 120 cmMohau Modisakeng_Untitled (Metamorphosis 2) . 2015 Inkjet print on Epson UltraSmooth 120 x 120 cm

Untitled (Metamorphosis) Triptych I, II, III (top to bottom), 2015  


All images courtesy of Mohau Modisakeng, Tyburn Gallery, WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery



See Mohau Modisakeng’s new work at the FNB JoburgArtFair from 11 – 13 September 2015 at the Sandton Convention Centre.


Opening Times:

Friday 11 September from 11am – 8pm

Saturday 12 September from 10am – 6pm

Sunday 13 September from 10am – 5pm



R500 for Thursday night’s Opening Preview Party

R100 on Friday

R130 on Saturday / Sunday

R260 for a Weekend Pass

Buy tickets online or at the door.


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