Barongwa: I am that I am


 
 

Artist exhibiting:

  1. Tsoku Maela
 

99 Loop is delighted to be presenting photographer Tsoku Maela's second solo show at the gallery.

 

Growing up in the Sepedi culture where ancestral worship is still prominent, photographer Tsoku Maela initially shunned the practice as irrational. “Talking to the dead,” he explains, “seemed like ill logic.”

 

But through an experience which landed him in hospital with an undiagnosable condition in 2014, Maela began to recognise the creative and healing power of intuition.

 

“My guardian angels made their presence felt,” he comments. “In my dreams they came alive, first in voice, then in form.” During this time he was compelled, as a man who had never really photographed anything before, to pick up a camera and begin translating his thoughts and experiences into images, as a means of finding himself. The pain disappeared.

 

“To know yourself,” explains Maela, “is to know the very fabric of the universe. That knowledge is passed down by those who came before and watch over us. They are neither man, nor are they God. They are neither here, nor there. They are the guardians or, as we know them, Barongwa.”

 

It is these ancestors as guardians that Maela acknowledges in his latest solo exhibition at 99 Loop. The figures with their painted skin and richly-coloured drapes serve as figurative guides alongside which Maela asks his audience to journey to self-actualisation, from ‘The creation of Man’ to ‘The Three’, where mind, body and spirit meet.

 

Maela also references both ancient religious writings and sacred imagery in a contemporary exploration of the mechanism of image creation and the function of meaning, whereby metaphorical depictions can serve, like Moses’ burning bush, as messages for audiences to decipher.

 

This is not a work of religious dogma, but rather a work of self-study and observation. By sharing his history, Maela aims to give others the tools the Barongwa gave him: “This is a story of us, people, living for others but barely ever getting to know ourselves. Learning about the power of ‘I am…’ and how we define who we really are.”