Impressive new exhibition at the Javett Art Centre

Yakhal’ Inkomo is the first curatorial iteration from the Bongi Dhlomo collection selected by artist and curator Dhlomo on behalf of the Javett Foundation between 2017 and 2019. It is a unique collection of more than 100 classical  20th century artworks and features pieces by some of the most important black artists working in South Africa between 1960 and 1990.

These diverse pieces provide glimpses into the personal and collective experiences of South Africans during the tumultuous 20th century. Guest-curated by Tumelo Mosaka along with Sipho Mndanda and Phumzile Nombuso Twala, the exhibition is accompanied by an extensive educational and public engagement programme at Javett-UP, online and at various locations around Gauteng. It features film screenings, conversations, workshops and performances. It aims to facilitate meaningful dialogue between contemporary audiences and our country’s recent history, aiming to articulate a truthful experience of apartheid.

Meshack Raphalalani, B.1950 (Venda, SA), Spirit of the Revolution, Teak wood, (N.D.)

Inspired by Dhlomo’s passion and activism in the arts and for black artists, Mosaka sought to understand what this specific period meant for Dhlomo and black artists in general, across all genres. Both the exhibition concept and title arose out of these conversations

“I started asking what was at risk and who the art was for,” Mosaka says. “What were the conversations happening among them as creative beings? There are shifts and changes depending on the decade, and when one looks at the work, even though there are familiar tropes, such as ‘township art’, there are nuances that open doors, and questions that exist and have not been dealt with.”

Yakhal’ Inkomo translates as “bellowing bull” and is borrowed from saxophonist and composer Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s 1968 jazz masterpiece of the same name. In the song, the “bull” is crying to be rescued from slaughter and represents black people’s victimhood under apartheid. The bellowing bull cannot be silenced.

For the exhibition, Mosaka drew on the metaphor of a bull to characterise this time and thematic content. The bull is steeped in symbolism in Africa – it embodies strength, hope, material wealth, resilience and spiritual connection. The works are arranged around the concepts of alienation, nostalgia, mobility and spirituality, taking a thematic rather than a chronological approach. Notable touch points, however, such as the 1960 Sharpeville massacre and 1976 Soweto uprising are highlighted to demonstrate the creative experiences that were produced in response to these traumatic events. Yakhal’ Inkomo offers viewers an in depth exploration of artistic expression during the apartheid years. It can be viewed at the Javett Art Centre at University Pretoria till 15 January 2023.