"Passing The Hour: Mhlekazi Samson Mnisi, A Contemporary Of No Peer" at Keyes Art Mile in Johannesburg

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"Passing The Hour: Mhlekazi Samson Mnisi, A Contemporary Of No Peer" at Keyes Art Mile in Johannesburg
Installation View. "PASSING OF THE HOUR: Mhlekazi Samson Mnisi, A Contemporary Of No Peer". Images courtesy of Asisebenze Art Atelier.

JOHANNESBURG.- Mhlekazi is an African honorary badge bestowed to distinguished personalities of meritorious capability, abbreviated as Mhl.

“I am here with a little child in me, everyone seem to be older, wiser and more knowledgeable, through the years I have not past three, still all towers and fascinate in all degrees, when will I be the man in the mirror, to me he is always a mirage, every time I reach him I find an Illusion, so I am back at three with all my confusion, how I pray for growth and understanding, that all possess but fools and three year old, I believe only a foolish old man feels like three year old child, I do mind the fact that I cant seem to develop my mind. I pray to the spirit of Old to move me to the man I see in my reflection, all my emotions and thoughts have not matured past the child I feel, I am a man defeated by a child within, I am resigned to ignorance and wonder no by choice or design, but by a flaw in default. To the wise and intelligent, please be patient to fools and mad ones, it’s the only way to describe a child with a white beard” _ Samson Mnisi, Facebook post, 6 April 2022, @samsonmnisi

Mhl. Samson Mnisi was born 1971 in Lesotho, studied Fine Art and Photography at FUBA Academy. By the time of his passing, he was based in Johannesburg, his work has been exhibited locally and internationally, from Johannesburg to Brooklyn, and everywhere in between.

Categorically he was a post war Abstract Expressionist, practicing both in painting and poetry but mostly recognized for his Fine Art endeavors. Growing up as a child he was exposed to indigenous meditative and healing rituals which later influenced his lifestyle, Art themes and technique. Spiritual perception is usually seen as crude to the secular world. Artistically this type of perspective can be recognized as abstract, Mhl. Mnisi also attested to this with a statement describing his creative process, “My Art is a symbolic language of an abstract thought. I use patterns, lines, symbols and colour to find a contemporary South African expression, I see myself as part of the timeless tradition of celebrating the human Godliness, from the first rock painting to the present time and beyond. I am interested in using Art as another element of alchemy, where through it, you can evoke and even heal certain emotions.”

Natively, before industrialization, healers were self-taught and there was a clear understanding of inherited memory, just like one can inherit height, built, or even verbal ability such as the voice.

Mhl. Mnisi in the opening poem of this article bluntly and honestly admires the reality of the spirit, where he admits that, even though his physical being is considered matured but his spirit is young, as that of a three-year-old. He even goes further to pray to the Spirit of the Old for growth, showcasing aesthetically his knowledge and understanding of an existence beyond what is reflected by the mirror. As an actor in a play or movie can stage a role so believable, that the audience cannot separate the Artist from the person, Mhl. Mnisi was gifted impeccably the same way as a poet, he interpreted the soul of an environment with words that seem figurative but at deeper inspection are as abstract as his visual displays. Bestowed with such high intelligence and spiritual awareness, his passing was a peaceful transition of conscious decision, where he titled his solo exhibition, Man Of The Hour, the day after the opening, he left our earthly realm to exist in a space of a timeless hour.

“I try to follow the old traditions, even though the ritual is different and for different reasons. I use them to communicate my own personal history, at the beginning it was about the ritual, later it was about Art, now it is a fresh language for me and those who understand it” _ Samson Mnisi

A Contemporary Of No Peer

Mhl. Mnisi is a pioneer of an African Art language intensely influenced by metaphysical experimentation and exploration. He is a reminder of the Korean Abstract Expressionist movement, Dansaekhwa, which commenced in the 1960’s and developed into the 1970’s, it progressed from figuration and subject matter, the primary purpose was not to make sense or relate to industrial logic, it was about expression through undiscovered technique. Just like the Korean Artists, they initially subscribed to identifying their work with their nativity, as was, Mhl. Mnisi with his African heritage. Later he swayed from familiarity, emphasized by his unlabeled titles or titles that described the abstract Artwork, like, Blue and Red with White Circle,2016. He profusely detached from accepted logic and holistically embraced the concept of abstraction, as a professional he never ceased to create, conceptually and vocationally. There is a neglected enquiry as to why advanced Artists of his nature are not truly appreciated for their intelligence and merit, locally.

African Art has no history of development as one would find with the west, from the Renaissance period to Pop Art. Contrarily, Africans have participated in all Art movements all over the world because Africans are everywhere just like the rest of humankind. Secondly, African Art is authenticated by the regurgitation of primitive culture. Artists like Mhl. Mnisi, Mhl. Fikile Magadlela, Mhl. Ernest Mancoba were practicing on a developed level, like that which is considered to be of the first world and therefore cannot be categorized into third worldism.

Man Of The Hour, was a Visual Art exhibition mounted at Keyes Art Mile, Johannesburg. It comprised of two-dimensional abstract work, applied in mixed media on a variety of scales. His mark making technique is signatory, conspicuous of well-studied implement, conversely implying precarious gestures of paint drips, mark making, and smudges. The application method is diverse, separating each piece on its individual stand and expression, mastering the skill of abstract composition. Lines are portrayed as drips, colours translated as magnetic opposites in lines, dots, shapes and marks. He worked in mixed media, different textures on multiple objects including canvas, paper and doors, ranging in scale from 91 x 61cm to 255 x 150cm.

Asisebenze Art Atelier curated the exhibition with Ashraf Jamal, Nolan Steven, and the Artist’s son Refiloe Mnisi, who has been accompanying his father while creating the work. The Artist collective started representing him in January 2022 with a studio in Plein Street, Johannesburg, CBD.

Nolan Steven of the collective emphasized that, “…collecting a Samson Mnisi is owning an African experience, contoured by spiritual enlightenment, from his apolitical narrative to his circle symbols, reminiscing the cycle of life, the triangle of family structure, mother, father and child, his work is truly an archival artefact of our time and continent”. He also revealed the Artist’s plan with the collective, to mentor young Artists and recruit buyers. “The proceeds from his exhibition will be managed and given to the family, such as his studio is now inherited by his son Refiloe, also he had aspirations of a museum exhibition in Cape Town and Pretoria, we hope to fulfil his wishes”. He affirmed

Also was a concern about his personal projects, where,” … he took people off the streets and gave them accommodation and food by employing them as his assistance, they stayed in his studio, three African women, between 20 and 27 in particular. After his passing we tried a couple of shelters but they were not accepted, now we don’t know where they are”, grieved Steven.

Mhlekazi Samson Mnisi was an individual of true revolutionary ethic, as a humanist, Artist and a man of integrity. Leaving behind a family of great potential and a baton cloaked with compassion, courage and wisdom. Rest In Peace.

Currently on view at Keyes Art Mile, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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