Anna Kućma

Multi-layered, intricate stories, crackling with energy

Two exhibitions, one in Cape Town and the other 8000 kilometres away in Amsterdam, showcase the works of South African artist Neo Matloga, winner of the 2021 ABN AMRO Art Award.

Déjà Vu, Neo Matloga’s first solo exhibition in Cape Town, opened earlier this month at Stevenson Gallery. In this exhibition, Matloga moves away from the cinematic, interconnected narratives that characterised his previ-ous bodies of work. Instead, the artist’s new works are individual scenes that herald a new chapter of formal experimentation. Interviewed about the new show, he described how his process is evolving.

"There’s nothing that brings these paintings together aside from the fact that they’re all living. I started mixing my ink with glue and different types of col-ours – some of them have tints of purple and even blue. […] I wanted to create more texture and more three-dimensionality on the surface of each painting despite the flatness. Painting used to be the scaffolding for the col-lage but now the collage is the scaffolding for the painting.”

Matloga, who was born in Mamaila, in the north-eastern region of South Af-rica in 1993, a year before the end of apartheid, has spent the past few years dividing his time between his home studio in Mamaila and Amster-dam, where he studied at De Ateliers. He describes his work as “primarily inspired by experiences that [he] had growing up in South Africa, especially social happenings. There was a point when a lot of families found solace in their households.” He describes sensing that people were trying to stay out of the political turmoil that gripped the nation during his childhood.

He also realised that he wanted to see himself represented more in popular culture, and this has also been a driving force behind his creation of works that reflect on the experiences of people of colour in all areas of humanity. People’s lives continue no matter the socio-political and socio-economic cir-cumstances they find themselves in. Matloga touches on this most graceful-ly in his work; the universal social forms of expression, love and intimacy, family and everyday moments that form our existence and experience of the world.

Neo Matloga, Tepen, 2022, Collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal, ink and oil stick on canvas. © Copyright 2022, STEVENSON.

Calling his works collage-paintings, Matloga explains his practice as a con-stant negotiation and experimentation between different art forms. He tears out photographs of people from magazines, family albums and newspapers, and rephotographs them. Then he manipulates these new images on a computer and prints the results on a totally different scale. He juggles me-dia, working digitally with cut-outs and drawing while also painting with char-coal, ink, paint and liquid chalk on canvas. “It’s almost like putting a musical together”, describes Matloga. The outcomes are multi-layered, intricate sto-ries, crackling with energy, new connections, offering a vibrant and powerful representation of people of colour enjoying their lives.

Matloga was awarded the ABN AMRO Art Award in 2021. The citation lauds “an artist who, within an appealing and idiosyncratic signature style, subtly links the household scenes from his home country with the difficult socio-political background against which they take place”. along came your eyes, an exhibition of seven new paintings presented specially to celebrate his award, is currently on show at the Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam.

Click here to watch the full interview with Neo Matloga about along came your eyes.

More about the Cape Town exhibition here.

More about the Amsterdam exhibition here.