Fragments of incredible happiness

It has been a great success story for Neo Image Matloga since he pursued his Fine Arts studies at the University of Johannesburg and graduated in 2015, the same year he completed a residency at the Bag Factory.

Neo Matloga is a young South African artist whose talent and hard work has already earned him a great reputation. His work has been showing at Turbine Art Fair since 2014 and since at FNB Joburg Art Fair since 2015. His list of selected group exhibitions is long and impressive and he now adds two solo exhibitions to his resume. In 2016, Moo re tswang gona with Christopher Moller Gallery at FNB Joburg Art Fair, and most recently, Molatelo with Christopher Moller Gallery at SCOPE New York in 2017. Creative Feel first became aware of Matloga’s work when Dawid Ras Gallery showed him as a new artist in their New To The Gallery – Dawid’s Choice exhibition in 2015. We have since followed his work, recognising him as an example of a young artist who is likely to be successful.

son, if you study medicine you’ll be helping people with their physical health but if you become an artist, you’ll be helping people psychologically

Neo Matloga
Neo Matloga

Matloga was born in Mamaila, Limpopo in 1993, just a year before South Africa’s democratic elections, and is considered a true representative of South Africa’s young generation of post-1994 artists. His decision to study art was supported by his father, who said, ‘son, if you study medicine you’ll be helping people with their physical health but if you become an artist, you’ll be helping people psychologically.’ Matloga rejects the notion of limiting himself to specific artistic mediums and his paintings, drawings and collages explore the mythic power of Sophiatown in a post-Mandela era. He brings into existence fragments of incredible happiness from his own upbringing, classical moments of existence and, poetic moments he remembers of growing up in South Africa.

He uses colour, patterns, collage and obscure hyperrealism to communicate memories he describes as ‘fragments of incredible happiness’

Neo Matloga
Left | Ka nako mang? | Centre | Ntsware ka letsogo I | Right | Lerato la go hloka Tshepo | Oil on collage, 145cm x 160cm

Matloga’s works have a lot of movement and fluidity and in an interview with Annicia Manyaapelo, he explained why that is important to him. ‘I am traumatised that the ghosts of the past haven’t rested. These ghosts are racism, sexism, patriarchal and inequality. With their presence, there’s a lot of unresolved anger. However, I choose to not be angry but to focus on themes that reflect on incredible happiness. For some reason, I have had a nostalgic feeling of the past. This affection for the past has increased over the years. My age group are constantly accused of not knowing where we come from, but on a real note, the spirit and ghosts of the past still live in us. In a way, the historical and political context has become an everyday psychological experience for me. On my way to the studio, I once saw an old man folding a handkerchief, I wanted to know why he was paying so much attention and detail into folding a handkerchief in a particular meticulous way. And this reminded me of the days of chivalry and taking pride in who you are. The days of Sophiatown.’

So, we all have a Molatelo in our lives, and sometimes it is not a person but a place

Neo Matloga
Left | Ntsware ka letsogo II | Centre | Molatelo | Right | Bo mma sebotsana | Oil on collage, 145cm x 160cm

His 2017 solo exhibition Molatelo with Christopher Moller Gallery at SCOPE New York earned him great reviews ‘…set in post-apartheid South Africa, the work nostalgically revisits Matloga’s childhood home in Mamaila, Limpopo. He uses colour, patterns, collage and obscure hyperrealism to communicate memories he describes as “fragments of incredible happiness”. ‘… The show is named after his mother, who is the main character in most of the paintings. Her multiple facets are highlighted in Matloga’s depiction of her as educator, dancer, lover, friend and of course mother. Even in the paintings where her physical self is not present, there are cues of her omnipresence in the home. This is seen in objects like the enamel tableware, porcelain hen and crocheted tablecloth which were key pieces in most black households. These objects are rendered in such a way that their soft, feminine form becomes a distinct feature in the otherwise rigid interior. They add a sense of calm, similar to how a mother exudes strength yet is still vulnerable around her loved ones.

The show is named after his mother, who is the main character in most of the paintings. Her multiple facets are highlighted in Matloga’s depiction of her as educator, dancer, lover, friend and of course mother

Neo Matloga
Left | Papa le morwedi | Right | Oseke watswa tseleng, ke ya bowa, Oil on collage, 145cm x 160cm

‘… South Africa is in a sense a woman. Her womb carries in it seeds brimming with hope and anxious to be planted in the fertile soil. This is not to say the issues of apartheid have been completely eradicated, but merely to offer a different perspective on the lived experience of a young millennial. Molatelo is so layered both figuratively and literally that one can’t steer away from the notion of a village raising a child. So, we all have a Molatelo in our lives, and sometimes it is not a person but a place.’ At present, Matloga is completing a two-year residency in Amsterdam at De Ateliers. He sees the residency as a platform to broaden his artistic ambitions, appreciating the meaning of ateliers as a working space for artists. For him, it is a springboard to a successful, international career, something he also wishes for every other young artist.

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