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Cassirer Welz Award Winner Levy Pooe explores black narratives within Johannesburg landscape Article Image

Cassirer Welz Award Winner Levy Pooe explores black narratives within Johannesburg landscape

Posted on 18 February 2021

The Bag Factory is pleased to present Mphe Mphe Ya Lapisa, a solo exhibition of new work by Levy Pooe, winner of the prestigious 2020 Cassirer Welz Award presented by the Bag Factory in partnership with Strauss Education.

This body of work is an extension of Pooe's ongoing themes that revolve around his relationship with the urban space, black narratives and the subtleties and enormities of black struggles in the city. Pooe is a seTswana speaking South African visual artist born in Rustenburg during the country's transition to democracy. Working in a range of mediums from painting, charcoal and collage to photography, Pooe is passionate about telling stories and creating narratives that speak to the urban black experience.

Mphe Mphe Ya Lapisa, motho o kgona ke sagagwe is a seTswana idiom, which can be translated as: "The constant act of asking is tiring. It is better to have your own." Mphe Mphe Ya Lapisa emerges from navigating the socio-economic condition and the deepening class disparity in our everyday experiences of being black in post-liberation South Africa.

Levy Pooe, E tseni R350, 2021
Levy Pooe, E tseni R350, 2021

From enduring the long wait for the R350 social grant to passionately playing the flute in the street for the nonchalant passerby who sometimes offers neither money nor appreciation, Mphe Mphe Ya Lapisa gives meaning to the universal experience of how we see ways of asking, and how we become victims to this state of being. This theme poses questions such as but not limited to: What do we ask for? When do we ask? Who do we ask? From which spaces do we ask? In addition, this theme further calls us to interrogate the oppressive nature of being in a continuous state of lack as well as how this state further compromises our dignity, our bodies, our voices, and our autonomy.

Taking the artist's relationship with the city of Johannesburg as a source of inspiration, the acrylic paintings and charcoal drawings presented interpret the theme in various ways. The subtle and mellow work Praying for Employment interrogates the different situations that the youth in South Africa find themselves in and the ways in which they navigate the pressures of not being upwardly mobile in a city that thrives on affluence and materiality. Kopa ungfake VIP (please get me into VIP) highlights the core message of this theme as it depicts the ways in which we navigate social mobility by constantly begging for a place in high-end spaces. Busking in the city takes the viewer on a walk through the city, which recognises the street musicians and how their melodies define their silences and struggles, as well as how they ask to be heard.

Viewers will also have the opportunity to meet the artist and discuss the exhibition further at an artist-led walkabout on 20 February 2021, at 11am, at the Bag Factory. The exhibition runs until 12 March 2021.

The exhibition was made possible with support from Strauss & Co.

Levy Pooe, Busking in the city I, 2021
Levy Pooe, Busking in the city I, 2021


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