Banele Khoza’s art will soon be seen weaving through Joburg traffic. As the winner of the SA Taxi Art Award, his decal designs, inspired by an artwork, will be placed on the exterior of taxis. It is fitting he should win this award for a number of reasons, many of which are tied to the Lizamore & Associates gallery where the finalists for this award are on display. It is here that Khoza showed his recent exhibition, Lonely Nights, the final conclusion of a year long mentorship under the watchful gaze of Colbert Mashile, who coincidentally held one of his first solo exhibitions here.

Apart from the year long Johannes Stegmann mentorship award Khoza enjoyed - pioneered by Teresa Lizamore to honour her colleague at Sasol where she built an art collection - there is a shorter scheme dubbed the Thami Mnyele Mentorship award and last year the gallery set up a curating mentorship initiative. Lizamore is dedicated to developing and nurturing art talent. Khoza’s bold exhibition and winning entry for SA Taxi Art Award is surely a testament to the value of mentorship schemes for young artists, who are often expected to deliver on solo exhibitions without any guidance.

Khoza has arrived at an interesting language; he renders faces and bodies in expressive gestural ways that deny details or fixed definitions. Words too, play an important role. Handwritten scrawls, like notes passed in the back of a classroom revealing private communications, pepper his paintings and the design for the taxis, in which he textually addresses the ambiguity of what it means to “be African”.

In Lonely Nights he dealt with more personal quandaries, such as the anxieties of dating in the digital era where the line between sharing and oversharing has become blurred – “I think I scared him away” reads a line. In this exhibition Khoza plugged into all the base emotions driving human beings; envy, jealousy and desire, though he frames their manifestation in a virtual space.

Acrylic and ink on canvas, 200 x 300 cm Khoza's winning design for SA Taxi Art Award
I think I scared him away. 2016. - Acrylic and ink on canvas, 200 x 300 cm Khoza's winning design for SA Taxi Art Award

The Crying in Public series best encapsulates his fascination for sharing personal expression in the public realm  - and its function in art.  In some works it appears as if the artist’s tears have coalesced with the paint, causing the image to distort. In other works single colours, swirls or blobs of colour represent weeping, implying that the artist can only really expose the final product of pain rather than the emotion. How do you depict an emotion?

This line between the public and the private will be given new meaning when it is paraded on taxis. One of the benefits of this annual competition, now into its third year, is that it allows for art to truly enter the public domain. It is interesting to observe that Khoza addresses notions of a collective identity in his winning work for the SA Taxi Award, when in a gallery show he delves into hyper-private space, where he makes clear his sexuality. Is this a reflection of his perception of the taxi-using public, whom he differentiates from the gallery-goer? This is what makes the SA Taxi Award an interesting initiative; it forces viewers, artists to consider a collective consciousness.  Khoza’s obsession with identity politics in the virtual realm perhaps makes him the ideal artist to meditate on this in reality.

Sponsored text. SA Taxi Art Award exhibition is showing at the Lizamore Gallery. Corrigall is an art consultant www.corrigall.org

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