Self-taught visual artist from Limpopo turns traumatic past into meaningful art

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Seeing his mother in agony suffering at the hand of his abusive father led Fumani Maluleke to create art out of his trauma.

Maluleke is among other artists who showcase artwork at the Morningside Shopping Centre in Sandton, north of Johannesburg.

Born in Giyani, in Mthomo Village, Limpopo, Maluleke uses the traditional grass mat, or Tshitebe as his canvas.

Painful memories

“I have seen my mother being abused by my father, she was beaten. I remember even now in early age so vividly. It’s a painful matter which remains engraved in your mind, even when you grow up,” he says.

The pain of witnessing the mother he loved, suffer at the hands of a man meant to love and protect both of them, the agony did not turn to rage, but instead transferred into the formation of beautiful design and art.

Owning and embracing African art

Maluleke explains, “Inspired by life, inspired by nature and by the environment in Limpopo Giyani, I buy the mat, Tshithebe, and give back to abo magogo. I put back my signature and sell it overseas. I want the mat to bring back financial freedom. European artists have to adopt it and flow with it. We have been teaching our children about European history, art. But now it is time whereby I need to launch the mats and sell them overseas so that whoever wants to work on tshitebe, they have to come back to Africa and buy from our gogos. I want them to embrace our culture.”

One of the art pieces is titled ‘Wisdom’ and represents all child-headed families. Maluleke initially used his grandmother’s grass mat and Acrylic paint to portray a little girl in a summer dress carrying a toddler.

“This art piece acknowledges the role of young women, who became mothers before their time. I grew up in a marginalized community village, grew up not having proper art material around,” says Maluleke.

GBV an unrelenting pandemic

Beyond fatherless households and single mothers, he is fixated by the pandemic that does not seem to go away, Gender-Based Violence. He adds that in hindsight being raised by a single parent this to him is like giving back to the community and that everyone who was raised by a single mother and everyone whose mother was playing a major role.

He elaborates, “Women are here to be embraced, women are fragile, and women are the queens. My art pieces are depicted on the mat, thsitebe. I’m sending a message to embrace our women, to embrace the girl child, a mother who feels that the world is not suitable for them, who feel corners. Guys let’s stop GBV so that the world can be conducive as well.”

Johannesburg-based visual artist, Dewan Craven on the other hand says his work is highly influenced by an eclectic religious background.

“This represents the awakening. I had a Jewish grandmother and I acknowledge my ancestors,” says Craven.

Using grey paint as a background to a vibrant portrait, he says these colours on the face, with yellow and red dominating, reflect a hard time in his life when he was battling depression.

“Enamel paint was used, the grey is calmness and as you can see the other half is the opposite.  I went through a dark time in my life. I went to visit friends just before the hard lockdown so I can be locked in till 5am and we would freestyle, play with pain and create what you see here. These footprints belong to a friend who has just passed on a few months ago.”

These artists found that art is a form of their healing process that brings hope to those that buy or add the pieces to their art collection.