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1962, born in Cape Town, South Africa

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Vuyisani Mgijima's artwork is infused with memories of a rural childhood. The challege of living in a democratising, dynamic country in transition is met by successfully and skilfully striking a balance between a traditional past and a democratic present. Depicting the interaction between these two realities led the artist to do particularly good work in the late 1990s.
To him, good work is something he really falls in love with, something different, something that takes on a life of it’s own.
"It is not based on realism. It is about colour and the way I painted this work, the sharp-sharp", he said.
In as much as his definition of colourism would not be a Western one, says Gail Dörje, who runs the Cape Gallery and has known Mgijima for many years, so Mgijima uses his figures to enact the social drama and expectations of life on the rural and urban stages.

Mgijima lives in Lost City in Tafelsig, part of Mitchell's Plain in the Cape Flats.

The daily struggles of township life contrast strongly with Mgijima’s memories of his early years in Herschel, where he would spend his time roaming the mountains, herding cattle, swimming in rivers and making craftwork, especially with clay. Then he only visited the city once a month.

Mgijima's uncle, a preacher with whom the artist lived in the Eastern Cape, made enquiries about summer and winter school art programmes offered at the University of Fort Hare in Alice. That is where Mgijima says he fell "more in love with art".

When Mgijima saw a pamphlet of CAP, sensing that this was a progressive institution, he pleaded with his uncle to allow him to apply there. He says, "My uncle called CAP and they asked about my standard of education. 'No education but lots of creativity!' is what my uncle told them".

Mgijima came back to his city of birth in 1988 and joined CAP. At the end of his second year, his work was part of the final year exhibition and caught the attention of Barbara Pitt from the Foundation School of Fine Art in Observatory. Pitt subsequently sponsoring Mgijima's studies at Foundation School of Fine Art, as well as assisting him with accommodation.

Moving to Cape Town meant having to adapt to a radically different lifestyle. "Where I grew up, we had no bioscopes or TV. We'd swim in the river. [Now I have to] pay for the pool in Observatory."

Mgijima states "I work from imagination, I don't own a camera. I work from what's inside of me". One of the personal and artistic turning points in his life was when Mgijima was stabbed in Guguletu. "I was in hospital for two years, I am left-handed and my left arm did not work. When I fell, I prayed 'I still have a lot to do'. Going out of this body is very easy. I have done it many times. The soul is eternal.... I was still very young and this made me understand the world differently".

Although he has been living in Cape Town for many years, Mgijima keeps childhood memories and family traditions alive. "At home we'd have sangoma ceremonies and we'd copy the steps. 'Let's do it one style', I would sometimes tell my friends", he said.

"Sometimes with my daughter, we dance, do tribal things. In a civilised way it would be called theatre and drama. For us it is just games and playful.”

Among his most powerful and insightful pieces are "Iskenk Jive" and "Umboniso Ntsomi Nolwazi Efatwaneni".

VUYISANI MGIJIMA, Skenk Jive, 138 x 59cm, Oil VUYISANI MGIJIMA, "Vukani Mawethu"( wake up) VUYISANI MGIJIMA, "Umboniso Ntsomi Nolwazi Efatwaneni"
(means teaching children through story telling)

"Iskenk Jive" is divided into two section, the upper part of the painting being filled with four girls, wearing blue school uniforms and performing a vibrant dance, their bodies bending to the rhythm, their knees and arms rising up. From their heads to their feet, the rhythm captures their bodies and curves their limbs.

Below this scene is a much more mysterious section. A figure, holding a stick with an African mask concealing the face is surrounded by people in a traditional ceremony.

"Umboniso Ntsomi Nolwazi Efatwaneni" (meaning “Teaching children through storytelling”) similarly depicts two scenes, the upper part of the painting again filled with children (this time a group of cheering boys, mouths open, hands and arms waving excitedly), while set beneath this vibrancy is a crouched figure, leaning on a stick, wearing tassels around the calves, bells or beads around the ankles and arms.

Both paintings could be interpreted as depicting the conscious and subconscious worlds; the veneer of modern township life over the traditions of his culture, or their mutual reciprosity in forming and informing life.

Many of Mgijima’s recent paintings have two suns in the sky. "These are two yin and yang-type of opposites, it creates a balance", he explained.

In "The Sun is Chasing the Moon", a group of boys play soccer in front of a row of dwellings and the sun pierces through a white sky. Set below is a faint white circle, a rising moon.

Dörje believes that the work of German photographer Manfred Ziller, who used to teach at the Cape Town Art Project (CAP) has been assimilated in Mgijima’s work. "If you look at his brand of social realism and imaging, you will notice that he has had a profound influence on Mgijima", she said.

In his work "The People's Tap", which is a close-up of a tap with a cut hose-pipe, bucket and cracked wall, Mgijima could be making a statement about the basic, almost biblical, necessities of life. The mixture of letters on the bucket suggests the word 'bread', while the source of water provides a focal point around which a community could develop.

Along with work by Tyrone Apollis, Willie Bester and many Western Cape artists, Mgijima’s ‘Unification’ was part of the ceremonial opening of the British Council offices in Athlone in 1993. “I spent extra hours at the school and took it in with other works. I didn't turn up at the opening. I am very shy and can't mix with too many people, just with my selection of friends", he admits. The piece was subsequently purchased by the British Council.

Mgijima chooses his words carefully and underlines his utterances with vivid hand gestures. He learnt English when he came to Cape Town, but prefers to let his art talk. "I don't conquer my work, I let it be my master. I don't break my head, I let it conquer me".
Mgijima’s philosophy on life is that you should feel proud whatever your circumstances: “Isazela, as we say in Xhosa. It has got a lot to do with self-understanding, that is how one should be".

compiled by: Nathalie Rosa Bucher


Impressions, group exhibition at The Cape Gallery
The Rain Maker, group exhibition at The Cape Gallery

Cities in motion, group exhibition at The Cape Gallery

Telling our story; group exhibition at The Cape Gallery
Talking about Cape Town, group exhibition at The Cape Gallery

Siyakubona, group exhibition at The Cape Gallery
Social Synergy, group exhibition at The Cape Gallery

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Title: The Barber
Size: 75 X 48 cm
Media: Acrylic
Price: R 20 000 Framed

VUYISANI is an artist with a strong and individual vision. The son of a Sangoma, he has inherited the wisdom of his people and practices the traditional purification and healing rituals. His work conveys his own spiritual and physical journey as he observes the rural African and urban communities of people. In his work the constraints imposed by wire fences, the harsh reality of poverty, and impersonality of township life are balanced by his observation of ritual celebrations in the Transkei.
Often lifting his eyes to the horizon, he searches for the promise of youth, a rainbow and a water tap. Vuyisani has participated in group exhibitions since 1988. His black and white linocut ‘Unification’ featured at the ceremonial opening of the British Council offices in Athlone in 1993. In the same year he taught art classes in Langa Community Centre and the Summer School at U.C.T. (University of Cape Town). His work is represented in the South African National Gallery and also in private and corporate collections here and abroad.

Compiled by Gail Dörje

The following account is in the artist's own words :

"I was born in Cape Town on 14th November, 1962.

In my early years I moved quite frequently growing up in Guguletu, Cape Town, Herschel in the Transkei, Port Elizabeth and Alice in the Eastern Cape.

Inspired by art from a young age, I studied at The Community Art Project when I returned to Cape Town in 1988 for three years.

In 1991 I enrolled as a full-time student at the Foundation School of Art in Observatory. Unfortunately, midway through my second year I was forced to leave the school due to unforeseen circumstances. "

Jonathan Commerford of Hardground Printmakers was also Vuyisani's mentor as Vuyisani has been Ricky Dyaloyi's mentor for many years.

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