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Mohau Modisakeng, Standard Bank Young Artist award winner for visual art

Published on 28 October 2015

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][PROFILE] Mohau Modisakeng is a multidisciplinary artist working primarily as a sculptor who moves into performance, film, installation and large-scape photographic prints as the concept requires. He was born in 1986, and grew up in Soweto.

In 2009, he graduated from the Michealis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, and went on to complete his Masters in 2012. ‘My work has always presented a channel for me to engage my mind and my spirit in something reflective and introspective,’ he told the Mail & Guardian when he was named as one of their Young South Africans to Watch in 2013.

Modisakeng uses his body to explore the influence of South Africa’s violent history on how we understand our cultural, political and social roles as human beings. ‘The work responds to the history of the black body within the (South) African context, which is intertwined with the violence of the apartheid era and the early 1990s,’ reads his artistic statement on WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery’s website. ‘His images are not direct representations of violence, but powerful yet poetic invocations where the body is transformed into a poignant marker of collective memory.’

In just a few years, Modisakeng has notched up a large number of exhibitions in South Africa and internationally, including the Joburg Art Fair and Chavonnes Battery Museum in partnership with Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town; the VOLTA NY invitational fair in New York and the LOOP Fair in Barcelona; the Museum of Fine Art, Boston; the Saatchi Gallery, London; the Dak’Art Biennale, Dakar; and Focus 11, Basel in 2011 – the same year he won the Sasol New Signatures Award. In 2015, he had his first solo exhibition in Europe – at Kunstraum Innsbruck in Austria and at Big Pond Artworks in Munich, Germany.

In a review of Modisakeng’s solo exhibition Ditaolo at Brundyn+ Gallery in Cape Town in 2014, the Mail & Guardian’s Athi Mongezeleli Joja writes: ‘As Modisakeng has repeatedly remarked, his work reflects on narratives of trauma, violence and race – but not in any direct autobiographical sense. That isn’t to say he suspends his personal experience: rather, he locates it within a larger frame of black existentiality.’ This double meaning runs through his work, where he substitutes, displaces and conflates historical experiences between the personal and the collective.

His ambitious video work, Inzilo (isiZulu for ‘mourning’ or ‘fasting’), is a perfect example of this affecting doubleness. Produced in association with Samsung as a special project for the 2013 FNB Joburg Art Fair, it was also selected as part of the South African Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. In Inzilo, as in many of his films and images, Modisakeng’s body occupies centre stage. He enacts a mourning ritual, all the while throwing a burnt, ashy substance into the air. ‘The initiate seems to draw the material for his transition from within his own body… In the absolute purity and focus of the moment, Modisakeng is turned inwards but gesturing outward, undergoing a mysterious transformation that is at once a private ceremony and a public declaration,’ reads the SA Pavilion catalogue.

Meanwhile, Modisakeng says his work is evolving towards the theatrical. Other recent work involves a series of events that are organised as public interventions or performances at various locations locally and abroad.

Modisakeng lives and works between Johannesburg and Cape Town. His work is in public collections including the Johannesburg Art Gallery; the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town; Unisa in Pretoria; the Saatchi Gallery in London; as well as in significant collections such as Zeitz MOCAA and the New Church Collection in Cape Town.



The National Arts Festival, now in its 42nd year, has grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in Southern Africa. Its objectives are to deliver excellence; encourage innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists; create opportunities for collaboration with international artists; and build new audiences.


The National Arts Festival established the Young Artist Awards in 1981 to acknowledge emerging young South African artists who demonstrate an outstanding artistic talent. These prestigious awards are presented annually to deserving artists in different disciplines – dance, jazz, music, theatre, visual art, performance art and film – affording them national exposure and acclaim. Standard Bank took over the sponsorship of the awards in 1984 and has presented Young Artist Awards in all the major arts disciplines over their 31-year sponsorship, as well as posthumous and special recognition awards. The winners feature on the Main Programme of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize.

ISSUED BY: The Famous Idea
CONTACT: Gilly Hemphill
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