Adilson De Oliveira and Mzoxolo X Mayongo (X- formerly Christopher), the pioneering duo from the Magolide Collective, are working with digital technology like virtual reality and augmented reality in ways that will your blow your mind. Immerse yourself and critically engage with their truly cutting-edge exhibition titled The Counter-Space of Pop Culture in Zaire at TMRW in Johannesburg. Pay a visit and become part of the art.
Could you tell us about your background and what led you to working together?
Adilson: I was born in Bez Valley, and have been based in Joburg my whole life. Before this collaboration, I was a solo artist heavily focused on the notions of over-turning the master narrative that existed, and still does exist, in Western art history. I am a conceptual satirist who functions only to make art with a punchline.
Mzoxolo: I’m a Cape Town-born, Joburg-based conceptual artist and scholar. My practice as an individual artist works with the conceptual ideas of the human condition, interrogating nuanced complexities and the dispositions herein. More so, exploring and articulating the African identity, representations, histories and landscapes in the broader sense, which are part of a larger public discourse. I do so through the means of performativity as I use my body as a tool through which my concepts speak. Essentially, I would say I am a cultural and visual activist.
How did the Magolide Collective come about?
Mzoxolo: I was selected through my solo body of work (a series titled: Ubukho Be Ndoda – demystifying the phallus of man) as one of the artists for the Design Indaba: Emerging Creatives 2019. I wanted to transpose my photographic performance residue onto silkscreens. By virtue of the universe, Adilson and I had a chance encounter in the printing studio at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Adilson: At the time I was working as a technician on an edition of 12 colour silk-screens for Giggs Kgole. Mzo happened to walk in when I was pulling the final layers of the edition and asked if I would be able to work with his images from Ubukho Be Ndoda. We then spent the next week working together on three different images – and through the course of the week, decided to pull the prints onto sheets of gold-leaf.
Mzoxolo: That’s how the name Magolide (a Xhosa term for one who possesses or personifies gold) came about. That week of collaboration had so much artistic chemistry and work involved that we kind of organically kept on working together.
Adilson: [Laughing] We realised that what he had as a duo collective was special, and we haven’t looked back.
For audiences who’ve never engaged with a multisensory digital artwork like this, how would you describe the experience?
Mzoxolo: It’s difficult to articulate as this exhibition exists in a form and function that is new, even to us. Not to sound redundant, it is one that is ‘experiential’; that requires a person to physically put themselves into the work in order to grasp what it is.
Adilson: Because it is such a new medium people need to understand that they aren’t coming to look at a traditional oil-on-canvas, in which the intent of the image is delivered within a glance. This experience takes you out of the gallery/white cube and transports you into a new world.
Mzoxolo: The exhibition recontextualises the function of the gallery, or the said ‘white-cube’, into the recreated space of an African imagination. We’d say it is an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ translated into ‘Alizwa in Gondwana Land’ effect.
Adilson: From interventions (in collaboration with Vincent Baloyi) and mixed-media silkscreens to wheat-paste interactive digital murals, and VR/augmented reality and video performance, it truly is a multi-sensory experience.
Do you hang out at the TMRW gallery during a performance to gauge the reactions and interact with audiences?
Mzoxolo: We find ourselves in the space nearly on a daily basis. Zaire, our shorthand for the exhibition, has become like our baby.
Adilson: [Laughing] We tend to our baby nearly every day, because certain elements are continuously developing and changing. As the show progresses, we add new sculptures, video performances and elements. Therefore, staying around to get people’s reactions to our work helps us to understand where we are heading next. A new body of work can be conceived and sparked through a short conversation with somebody just coming in and engaging with our work.
Mzoxolo: And being in this space gives us the opportunity to engage with the audience as they experience the exhibition. It is so humbling to have direct line of communication with people as they exist in the work and because this is such a new medium, we are open to everybody’s feedback. This is essential with regards to pushing the notions of our conceptual and artistic practice – blurring the conventions of the artwork existing separately to the artist.
Could you elaborate on some of the ‘universal symbols’ employed in this piece?
Mzoxolo: We employ a number of universal symbols in our pieces which aim to speak to a broader socio-political African context and the histories and cultural events embedded therein. More so, we have key symbols which we have employed throughout the show: the reference to Andy Warhol, Brenda Fassie, natural mineral resources alluding to the South African mining history, and the implication the West has stolen African art/artefacts.
So too this thematic concept of universal symbols extends to the chosen textile material of the costumes utilised in the performances of the different video performance artworks, VR/Augmented reality and 360 degree films. The characters such as ‘Pink Panther’, ‘Mr. T’, the ‘Apartheid Policeman’, ‘Colonial Bart’, and the ‘Black Body’ (dress up of a latex body suit) all function as metaphors which seek explore, interrogate and confront the multiplicity of these institutionalised knowledge systems and histories which exist in Zaire. They are in actual fact a direct commentary and reflection of our current existing realities, past to present, locally, continentally and globally. What is most important in our conception of this work is how all of these characters and the larger body are underpinned by a playfulness of humour akin to the joker in a royal house.
Adilson: The notion of including Brenda Fassie, speaks to the broader concept of what the exhibition is centered around: a series of investigations that critique the erasure and counterfactual depictions of a true African history.
Mzoxolo: The Brenda Fassie silkscreens are reminiscent of the technical aesthetic language around Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn Monroe’. We strive to ask the question: what would Western Art History look like if it was written (or painted/silkscreened/performed) by a South African/African creative at large?
Brenda Fassie is a predominant artistic figure in our cultural and broader socio-political history in South Africa who represents and signifies marginalised black bodies, particularly of the female and/or queer black body.
We as male artists are very much aware of our positionality and we use her iconography as a means of overturning the oppression and exploitation of Brenda, and to herald her as a figure of celebrating African women in society, in art history, as a LGBTQI+ protagonist, and so too in our lives.
Adilson: The Egyptian statue is that of Queen Nefertiti which was stolen by the Germans in 1913 through the use of fraudulent documents. The semiotics surrounding the sculpture’s history were fascinating to us as a collective, as the sculpture was allegedly considered to be returned in 1935, but Hitler decided against it. Egypt has been campaigning for decades for Germany to return the statue. Germany continues to profit greatly from Nefertiti as the figure draws millions of museum visitors annually. This statue alludes to a general theme of colonial dictatorship and exploitation. And this, too, is found to be true with regards to the other artefacts used throughout the show, such as that of the Benin Ivory Masks and Bangwa Queen sculpture from Cameroon, and many others.
Mzoxolo: In essence this speaks to a larger issue of art/artefacts and the mineral resources of the African continent which were pillaged and stolen, justified by the notion of ‘anthropological and cultural preservation’, whilst enriching and benefitting only the Western institutions (galleries, museums and others) and their socio-political and economical standing in the global system.
How have people responded to the exhibition?
Mzoxolo: The response has been great. A lot of people have been bewildered and also overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the whole exhibition and the experience that they’ve gained. It usually takes them some time to unpack what it is they are experiencing.
Adilson: People have been blown away and wowed by the scale and attention to detail of the work, but more so by the concept at large.
It must be an incredibly complex and long process to create a performance art piece of this nature. Could you run us through what the process is in terms of what your roles are and how you usually kick off the creative process and work together to produce the final piece?
Mzoxolo: As a duo Adilson and I understand the different elements we hold in our individual practices. Adilson has a vast knowledge of Western art history and the key figures that hold positions of acclaim within it. Adilson’s practice is then located in the notions of overturning the master narrative which exists in Western art history through the tool of burlesque parody.
Adilson: Mzo’s practice is located in exploring and interrogating the construct of the black body and its identity in relation to the experiences of African histories, culture, traumas, fragmented memories and representation whilst attending to the complexities of being ‘African’ – in the past, present and future. This is all within the context of confronting the Western supposed global histories that exist whilst inserting and rewriting a new African perspective.
His work is located in the utilisation of performance as the body is his primary tool to invocate conversation around different concepts of human identity. This then is mediated through our use of different mediums: print-making, sculpture, painting, performance, video art, etc. This therefore brings about a sense of an ever growing ‘multi-chotomy’ of perspective.
Mzoxolo: All of our concepts are conceived, nurtured and executed by us right through from start to end. We bounce ideas back and forth between us up until the last video is edited or final layer of silkscreen is pulled and framed.
Adilson: So too is our work located in the field of anthropological research. Every aspect and detail that exists in this exhibition echoes hours of engagement with reading materials, visual, and audio media information as well as critically engaging in conversation with diverse astute persons who are masters in their specific fields.
In terms of Magolide as a collective, could you tell us a little more about your collaborators and how you work together? Are they your regular collaborators, or do people come in and out of this collective as needed?
Mzoxolo: Hafiza Asmal, Vincent Baloyi and Gabriel Baard are the primary collaborators of this exhibition as they enacted and performed different roles and characters as a reimagining of Africa’s omitted histories and representations. Moreover, Hafiza brought in a unique voice with elements of her individual artistic practice in relation to our overarching concept as the Magolide duo.
Adilson: With regards to ubaba Vincent Baloyi and our collaboratively working with him, Mzo and I create, curate, and direct works and shows which aim to herald a call for inclusion, as well as the overturning of convention evident throughout art history of forgotten and omitted modernists. We are working with Vincent to ensure he is inserted and re-established into the South African history of art…
Mzoxolo: …and hopefully this partnership with Vincent will serve as a vehicle through which his artistic practice can have a well-deserved and hard-earned light shining upon it in the art world.
Adilson: Vincent Baloyi is a name that rarely comes up in conversation when one discusses Eduardo Villa, Sam Nhlengethwa, Rorkes Drift and many more crucial aspects of South Africa’s art history. Based on his timeline and geographical locations he was producing the same level of work as the artists mentioned above, and part of a collective of black modernists performing avant-garde gambits crucial to the formation of South African art history.
Mzoxolo: With regards to Zaire we collaborated on a series of metal sculptures in which his conceptual and technical mastery of the sculptural medium are in conversation with our performance video/3D-printed sculptures. Overall, there is a merging of his sculptural ideas into our broader concept of Zaire which talks to the erasure and forgotten histories and representation in the art world. Particularly, in the literal sense of a forgotten legendary artist such as himself.
Adilson: Going forward with future projects we’re looking forward to working with more practicing artists with regards to collaboration.
What are some of the biggest challenges in terms of converging the world of cutting-edge tech with the world of art?
Adilson: The biggest challenge is the lack of understanding around the medium of Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality, as it is still in its infancy with regards to how far it can be pushed in the artistic realm. In the South African art world, the medium is still perceived as a gimmick and thus most artists who have engaged with the medium do so with minimum understanding about how creatively expansive this medium actually is.
Many South African art collectors and art institutions are anxious about the medium as a collectable artistic object. So making money from this medium is still something many people are trying to navigate. As such, Ann Roberts (Director of TMRW) is one of the people at the helm of creating a market and a framework around this medium, and provides educational information around how this work can be used side by side with traditional mediums, informing the future with the past.
Mzoxolo: Adilson and I work to overcome any challenges that we encounter, and working as an artist working in this new medium of VR whilst establishing ourselves in the art world has been a big lesson. A point of reference is how we took something as ephemeral as a VR illusion, existing as a technological file, and then transcribed parts of it into something tactile and tangible by making the oculus (3D goggles in which you view the VR work) into sculptural objects. We did this by making the oculus part of a sculpture with which the audience must engage. This speaks directly to the alchemy of what Magolide is about and tries to do –transmuting materials from one form into another, a new gold standard of visual and virtual objects.
How do you go about creating your characters, such as ‘Colonial Bart’ (Silkscreen on Canvas), a gun-slinging Bart Simpson?
Adilson: Bart stands as a representation of a visual aesthetic language I grew up engaging with. Animators from the late 80s and 90s – specifically those which produced shows for MTV – nurtured my need to work with these popular culture icons as a tool of critique. The Bart character was inspired by Brett Murrays’ Africa, and thus became a parody of his work. The conception of the ‘Colonial Bart’ – or just the use of the Bart Simpson mask – comes from an inherent resentment I harbour towards the majority of white, post-apartheid South African artists, who used the language and guise of resistance art to position and assert their ‘value’ conceptually, technically and, as a byproduct, monetarily in the cannon of South African art history.
In many ways the ‘Colonial Bart’ speaks to the voyeuristic and consumerist implication of white homogeny in the creation of knowledge systems and cultural mechanisms which dictate the consumption of the value in art and other cultural spheres and histories. Locally and abroad, voyeurism is used as a tool that privileges the white artist and the white body in all respects and ‘Colonial Bart’ strives to expose those prejudices and biases through the use of humour and parody.
From the viewer’s perspective, you’ve said that there’s an element of voyeurism and an element of self-awareness. Do you think that this discomfort presents new challenges to audiences who are, generally speaking, comfortable with tech and the anonymity of social media?
Mzoxolo: We’d like to think and hope so. From our perspective, there definitely is an intention of exploring a state of voyeurism. As the audience enters the space, they are engaged through the use of technological devices which serve to heighten the elements of awareness within the work and form. In fact, the art consumer becomes the art – all in the process of consuming this body of work. The spectator is encouraged to move around the space, taking in the landscape and portraits before them thus adding a nuanced layer on the performativity of the work.
How can readers keep up to date with what the Magolide Collective’s working on next?
The Counter-Space of Pop Culture in Zaire is on at TMRW (The Mixed Reality Workshop) in Johannesburg until 28 September.