A conversation on colour, line and form with Io Makandal & Troy Makaza

The ninth FNB JoburgArtFair opens this Thursday, 8 September 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre for four days of cutting edge contemporary art exhibitions and events from leading galleries, curators, artists and enthusiasts from Africa and the diaspora. Over the past few years the fair has grown from a primarily South African focus to a continent-wide affair, and this year turns the spotlight on the artistic landscape of East Africa. You can see some of the highlights we’re looking forward to from the programme here.

Another interesting cross-border project that will be presented at the fair this year is a joint Gallery Solo Project between Kalashnikovv Gallery in Johannesburg and First Floor Gallery in Harare. The artists they represent in this project respectively are Io Makandal and Troy Makaza. While the impetus and concept behind each of their work varies considerably, both artists employ colour, line and form as an abstract language to explore ideas and create dialogue between materials and concepts. Makandal’s intricate drawings are a kind of mind map, charting a response to the intersection of urban and natural spaces, and Troy’s silicon sculpture paintings reimagine traditional Zimbabwean narratives. In both artists’ work, hybrid spaces are negotiated through hybrid media. Ahead of the fair, we spoke with Makandal and Troy to find out more.

LEFT: Io Makandal, Verge Of Collapse I. 2016. Mixed media on paper / RIGHT: Troy Makaza, Bound Together. 2016. Silicone infused paint
Left: Io Makandal, Verge Of Collapse I. 2016. Mixed media on paper // Right: Troy Makaza, Bound Together. 2016. Silicone infused paint

What mediums do you currently work in?

Troy: I am currently focusing on my work in silicone infused paint, which is a medium that I developed myself after experimenting with a number of different materials.

Makandal: I mainly work with, but not limited to, drawing in various forms, sculpture and installation. I also work with video, text and images. What you will see at the FNB JoburgArtFair this year are a few of my drawings on paper.

How does the medium you work in relate to the subject matter of your work?

Troy: The medium is very intimately connected to my work on a number of levels. First of all, it combines a traditional art medium with a novel one. This is something that I am really conscious of doing as a contemporary Zimbabwean artist – bridging tradition with contemporary practice. Secondly, this medium allows me to move between sculpture and painting and to disrupt categories set up by people who are not us, so in a way it is me asserting my right as an artist to determine how I am seen and not allow myself or my content to be categorised. My subject matter is equally fluid moving between abstraction and figuration because neither category is in fact pure and the formality of these definitions don’t make sense to me.

Makandal: My work explores urban ecology, the effects of urbanism on the environment and the human psyche during an increasingly evident Anthropocene. I am intrigued by how humanised activity on earth creates a binary between nature and society and how this dynamic is continually evolving. I see my work as a fiction of space and place that illustrates the fluctuation between the environment we create and the natural realm and nature’s ability to heal spaces that have been disrupted. So in that sense I deliberately work with debris, discarded objects, mass-produced goods, found industrial objects of which I combine with organic material. As with the drawings, similarly, some of the tools I use have been discontinued such as transfer letraset and non-traditional drawing tools in conjunction with cheaply produced, sometimes toxic material.

Please tell us about your work process?

Troy: For the past year or so I have been developing and extending a body of work, which takes up traditional Zimbabwean storytelling and religious practices and develops them into tangible yet abstracted narratives. The foundational shape in this project is the animal hide. I usually begin with a basic shape and then allow myself to be guided by the materials and colours to develop it further. Once I begin, I might do some additional sketches to further elaborate the possibilities of the work to completion.

Makandal: My work process is often disguised to some as routine or mundane activities; taking walks, driving through the countryside, strolling through the city center. But to me, these are opportunities to gather data, inspiration, and a lexicon of mental and physical responses to the spaces around me. Taking note of the multitude of ways in which the nature and human infrastructure intersect – a space one could call a third landscape. I write thoughts and sketch observations of my mental or physical responses to spaces and places, taking notes of sensations or traces of what is triggered. From there I start playing with my objects and materials in the studio to create the work.

Io Makandal, Verge Of Collapse II. 2016. Mixed media on paper
Io Makandal, Verge Of Collapse II. 2016. Mixed media on paper
Troy Makaza, Shades of Grey Part 1. 2016. Silicone infusde paint
Troy Makaza, Shades of Grey Part 1. 2016. Silicone infusde paint

Is there a relationship between abstraction and narrative in your work?

Troy: This is an interesting question to discuss. As I mentioned before, I don’t really accept the formal distinctions. The Zimbabwean culture of storytelling has evolved into a broad range of highly abstracted narratives and proverbs instructing the young about ethics and ways of conducting yourself. There is a dynamic connection between narrative and abstraction. Similarly the tactility of my material and tangibility of the colours are very immediate and engage in very narratively real ways, there are also shapes which can be read in very direct ways or not, it is a choice I leave with the viewer.

Makandal: The narrative in my work is not a linear story but an experience of a space and the body’s response to its surroundings. The abstraction illustrates a network of mindscapes and sensations by creating a sense of exploded chaos, and within that one needs to navigate some kind of order. One has to work a little, by looking deeply, for the narrative to reveal itself.

You both seem to work quite fluidly between or on the margins of disciplines, and explore hybrid media in your practice. Can you tell us a little about this?

Troy: As an artist I never wanted to be pigeonholed or to be following any particular artist. This particular medium allows me to continue discovering new things both in its technical possibilities and creative expression. It enables me to comment on both painting and sculpture as well as syncretisms of contemporary culture in urban Zimbabwe.

Makandal: I work in a kind of performative way when I start a work, whether it is going to be sculptural or drawing based. I enter into a type of pataphysical meditation over the materials. The paper drawings, for me, are only at the beginning of their potential of claiming more physical space. In a sense, without erasing the history of a material, I try to amalgamate different elements to create new forms, new relationships between elements and so on.

Io Makandal, Soon, But Not Yet II. 2016. Mixed media on paper
Io Makandal, Soon, But Not Yet II. 2016. Mixed media on paper
Troy Makaza, Pink invasion 1. 2016. Silicone infused paint
Troy Makaza, Pink invasion 1. 2016. Silicone infused paint

What roles do colour, form and texture have in your work?

Troy: Well, they are everything. The work is all about the communication capacity of colour, form and texture. My work is largely flexible so every time it goes on show is can be in a new configuration. There is an openness to interactivity, which is a touchstone of the contemporary interconnected world we live in – one is never quite in control of the message or interpretation, and that is part of the message. Colour is a very very seductive thing, I think of my colours as tasty – I want people to feel like they are tasting the colours in the work. Texture is intrinsic to the work. Silicon delivers a slick glossy surface, which together with the colours is precisely the aesthetic that we are bombarded with through the media. We are conditioned to respond to this through films, advertising etc. I exploit that conditioning to engage and seduce the audience.

Makandal: Quite simply, colour, form, texture are the vocabulary of the language I am communicating with. Their role is to create sensations, to emote an experience, trigger thoughts and lead a journey into another imaginary world.

How do you think your work will read within the dialogue of this joint exhibition?

Troy: I have to confess that this will be more of a conversation than a dialogue, because I also invited my studio mate, Julio Rizhi to contribute some works to the project. Julio’s practice is in some ways complementary to mine. He has also developed his own medium, which sits between painting and sculpture, but he works in a very socially conscious and in some sense activist way. He melts brightly coloured recycled soap containers together and assembles them in surreal landscape sculptures, interjected sometimes with discarded cough medicine bottles. It is a really immediate commentary on living conditions and traumas of young people growing up in high-density areas of Harare today, while trying to shift perceptions of what is possible through his manipulation of materials. I think in this way the three of us are creating a commentary on the complicated realities of contemporary life in South Africa and Zimbabwe, which can be beautiful, seductive and painfully difficult at the same time.

Makandal: I think by comparison and in relation to each other my drawings will look austere and minimal against Makaza’s works, however interestingly complimenting the individual dialogues we’re both having by, in this case, positioning something quite fine and delicate as in the drawings with the boldness of Makaza’s forms.

Io Makandal, Soon, But Not Yet I. 2016. Mixed media on paper
Io Makandal, Soon, But Not Yet I. 2016. Mixed media on paper
Troy Makaza, Tender Traps Part 1. 2016. Silicone infused paint
Troy Makaza, Tender Traps Part 1. 2016. Silicone infused paint

For more info on the FNB JoburgArtFair, tickets, programme, and other events, head over to their website.

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