THE SCENES AND SITUATIONS in Neo Matloga‘s collage paintings are familiar. He captures small groups gathered in living rooms and around dining tables, couples engaged in intimate conversations, and individuals in the midst of introspective moments.

Combining images cut from books and magazines with ink and charcoal line drawings, Matloga creates compelling characters and scenarios. The artist has said he wants the viewer to look at his works and wonder what happened before and what’s going to occur next.

New paintings by the South African artist are featured at Stevenson Gallery. “Neo Matloga: Back of the Moon” opened online May 15 with plans to install the exhibition in the gallery’s Johannesburg space. The works are now displayed at the gallery, where they will remain on view through Aug. 22.

“Growing up there was a time when the television broke and we had no choice but to listen to what our parents listened to, by immersing ourselves in the world of radio,” Matloga says in the video below.

“We listened to music. We listened to news, as well as captivating local dramas that highlighted family conflicts, relationships, love affairs, and daily trials. There was room for dreaming and also in a way radio made us storytellers.”

These foundational experiences show up in Matloga’s paintings. Inspired by images in family albums and moments from South African soap operas and plays, the artist explores the layered humanity of his subjects. We witness love, loss, and joy. They debate and imbibe, and express concern, jealousy, and vulnerability.

“We listened to music. We listened to news, as well as captivating local dramas that highlighted family conflicts, relationships, love affairs, and daily trials. There was room for dreaming and also in a way radio made us storytellers.” — Neo Matloga


NEO MATLOGA, “Modjadji o stout,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 200 x 250 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Matloga’s paintings speak to apartheid-era South Africa and the contemporary moment. His monochromatic approach results in images unbound to a particular time or place. Both real and scripted, the scenarios have a universal familiarity, reflecting South African culture and the wider Black Diaspora.

Using collage, he composes his figures with seemingly random and disparate physical attributes. Traditionally male and female facial features are liberally interchanged. “I’m simultaneously distorting and recreating the integrity of the face,” the artist has said.

Some of his subjects are wearing mismatched shoes. One painting depicts a gathering of four people who present as male. One of them has a beard and a delicate earring dangles from his ear. He has on a shirt and tie and from the waist down is wearing a dress. One of his shoes is a traditionally masculine boot, the other is a more feminine heel with a strap. The eclectic combinations tug at assumptions about gender and identity, but may simply be about creating fascinating fictions that dispatch with expectations.

The eclectic combinations tug at assumptions about gender and identity, but may simply be about creating fascinating fictions that dispatch with expectations.

MATLOGA’S COLLAGE TECHNIQUE calls to mind American artists Romare Bearden and Deborah Roberts—his domestic scenes and fragmented facial structures and, two generations later, her approach to figures, addressing the limitations of social constructs and the flexibility and changing nature of identity.

Indeed, from a U.S. perspective, Matloga’s images resonate on multiple fronts. The scenes read Chicago, Harlem, or the American South. Some of the subjects, in terms of their dress and demeanor, call to mind civil rights-era activists plotting the next demonstration. The more spare interiors also evoke theater sets. It’s easy to imagine scenes and characters from August Wilson’s cycle of plays spanning the 20th century.

One of Matloga’s solo subjects, sitting in a chair, cigarette in hand, channels Zora Neale Hurston. There is a photograph of the writer sitting in a similar style of chair, posed the same, her hand held aloft, sans cigarette. The image appears on the cover of an annotated bibliography of her work. Similar to the painting, Hurston’s legs are crossed at the ankles and the rug in the room is positioned in the same manner. In his version, titled “Mmadira” (meaning “Absolutely”), Matloga replaced the bookshelf and radiator behind her with a four-pane window.

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Mokgadi,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 190 x 145 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

And yet, the South African context predominates. The titles are in the artist’s native Southern Sotho language. In the photographs on this page, Maloga’s large paintings are shown outdoors leaning against the exterior walls of his studio. They look to be slab concrete and are the same kind of walls present in his paintings.

It’s also apparent in the interior details—background elements that amount to still lifes, Dutch colonial-style furnishings, and the “Joburg Beer” that recurs in the artist’s work, referencing South Africa’s history of segregation.

During apartheid, it was illegal for black people to buy beer or enter licensed bars to consume beer. To skirt the prohibitions, shebeens sprouted up and women began brewing beer in their homes, filling milk cartons with beer to shield the true contents.

A carton of Joburg Beer is featured in “Mokibelo” (which translates to “Saturday”). The painting captures a group of seven gathered around a table consuming liquor and good company. There’s a familiarity among them suggesting a weekly ritual.

“No matter the political landscape, people don’t stop living their lives,” Matloga has said. “I’ve always wanted to show people my universe and this is a universe that expresses the fact that life continues in the midst of all the social politics of the world.”

“I’ve always wanted to show people my universe and this is a universe that expresses the fact that life continues in the midst of all the social politics of the world.” — Neo Matloga


Installation view of “Neo Matloga: Back of the Moon” at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg (July 3-Aug. 22, 2020). | Stevenson Gallery

 

MATLOGA WAS BORN IN 1993 in Mamaila, Limpopo, South Africa, and is currently based between Mamaila and Amsterdam. He studied visual art at the University of Johannesburg, earning a diploma in 2015, and completed a residency at De Ateliers, Amsterdam, with a focus on painting in 2018.

In 2017, Matloga showed in the United States with Christopher Moller Gallery. The Cape Town gallery dedicated its SCOPE New York art fair booth to his work. Last year, the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, mounted his first solo museum exhibition, “Neo Matloga: Neo to Love.” The artist described the paintings he made for that show as an “archive of black love.”

“Back of the Moon” is the artist’s first solo exhibition in a South African gallery. It’s an important milestone, both professionally and personally.

“I feel incredibly excited to be showing my work on home ground as this has been by far my greatest longing,” Matloga says. “I am hoping the audience will see their emotions, their experiences, their spirits, living on my canvases.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: NEO MATLOGA, “Mahlakung,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 250 x 450 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

“Neo Matloga: Back of the Moon” was featured online at Stevenson Gallery (May 15-June 30, 2020). Now the show is installed in the gallery’s Johannesburg space (July 3-Aug. 22, 2020). Stevenson is currently open by appointment.

 


In his studio, South African artist Neo Matloga talks about the works he made for his Stevenson Gallery exhibition. | Video by Stevenson Gallery

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Mmadira,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 190 x 145 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Mantšeboa,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 170 x 200 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Motho waka,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 180 x 160 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Mamazala ka di potsotso,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 170 x 200 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Mpharanyana,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 250 x 202 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 


NEO MATLOGA, “Mokibelo,” 2020 (collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal and ink on canvas, 180 x 320 cm). | © Neo Matloga, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

SUPPORT CULTURE TYPE
Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is a solo editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.