Limpopo-born artist Fumani Maluleke has carried with him the spirit of art for as long as he can remember. From being the unruly child who drew in schoolbooks and on the walls of his family home, to now being an artist who has won several art prizes and further becoming a teacher, sharing his skill set with the next generation.
Maluleke’s creativity pays homage to his journey rather than focusing on the uncertainty of an unknown destination. This is evident in his choices regarding subject matter and medium. Traditional grass mats, depictions of sprawling rural landscapes and three-legged pots all speak to symbolic moments in Maluleke’s journey. It would be expected for Maluleke to have put behind any reminders of his humble beginnings once he reached the big city of Johannesburg. However, it is this rural upbringing, along with the sacrifice and support of his mother and siblings, that become ever-present features in his work.
The three-legged pots (commonly known as poitjies), are used as personifications of his mother who served as a nurturer, sage, and guide. In much the same way that a pot holds substance in it, Maluleke doubles down on these attributes, expanding on these qualities to touch on the wisdom and guiding influence his mother, a single parent, played throughout his life. By flipping the poitjie pot upside down and presenting it on top of his mother’s head, he transforms this simple utilitarian object into one that mimics the grandeur of a royal crown. And so, placed on her head, the pot becomes a vessel holding knowledge, alluding to the value of a mother’s guidance, much like that of any wise monarch. Maluleke pays respect to the matriarchal presence and influence of his mother.
His home of Limpopo is referenced frequently, most recognizably in the landscapes of rolling hills and vast rural scenes he presents, but also far more subtly through his use of the grass mat as a sub-straight for his works. Here, Maluleke uses the grass mat as a resting place for his creations. Mirroring the intended purpose of the mats as a traditional resting place and ushering them into an artistic context, they become replacements for the expected canvas and paper.
Maluleke’s practice unapologetically reminds us that these are narratives of African realities and that maybe the best means of presenting these narratives is by utilising elements that speak directly to authentic African experiences.
Sunny Side Up, Group exhibition, Graham Contemporary, Johannesburg, South Africa