Image courtesy of @moekolive
Front Row with Moeko Selebalo
Our next FRM interviewee is one of the most intelligent-yet-unassuming characters I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Moeko Selebalo is an artist and designer from Johannesburg whose works mainly fall within an Abstract Minimalism bracket–laying at the intersection of indigenous knowledge systems & modern contemporary art.
Bringing it Home installation, shot by by Ithabeleng Selebalo
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece about the underground art scene in 1970s SoHo (New York) and how it draws parallels to present-day Johannesburg, and artists like Moeko remind me why. As research-heavy & emotionally-dense Moeko's work is; it's finely balanced by a playful emotion inherently generated by his choice of genre and technique. I still firmly believe that this incoming crop of "New Wave" African artists, such as Moeko, are apt examples of the bedrock & future progression of our local art industry. These are Gen z artists which prioritise value-based approaches towards their practice, and in Moeko's instance: "inspired by essence", specifically. This is such a uniquely rich area to draw inspiration from as it accurately portrays our nuanced histories as African human beings first–and this is one of my favourite reasons for enjoying Moeko's artworks.
Decorex 2023 Show Notes
Thinking back to our first ever "chance meet-up" when Moeko pulled out his iPhone to show me his work, I felt strong underlyings of two iconic artists specifically: Henri Matisse & Pablo Picasso. So it is no surpise to me that Moeko's creative palette gravitates mostly toward Art genres such as avant-garde Fauvism, Cubism, German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism. And during our virtual back-and-forth, Moeko mentioned something very poignant about why this is the case:
"Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, to name a few, were indirectly inspired by African artefacts that were in the ethnographic museums in those periods."
So enjoy this ensuing interview with Moeko as we discuss all things Art & Design inclined; from Abstract Minimalism, their experience showcasing at Decorex Africa 2023, decolonizing the local art industry, advice to emerging artists trying to make a name for themselves, and more.
Photography by Khotso Mohapi
Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?
MS: My name is Moeko Selebalo–based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I'm an artist and designer.
How would you describe the style of your art? What inspires it?
MS: I’d describe my art as Abstract Minimalism. The artworks lay at the intersection of indigenous knowledge systems and modern contemporary art. It's inspired by essence. Prehistoric Africa. Marks. Spirituality. Electromagnetic frequencies. Sacred geometry. Nature. Indigenous architecture. Ancient Kemetic spiritual belief systems. In addition, it's inspired by anthropology, systematic studies of geography, people and cultures.
Breaking the rainbow building a Nation
Do you have a specific process when creating your artworks?
MS: Two words–organised chaos and flow. So, while my computer is rendering I paint, while I'm waiting for the paint to dry, I read articles or a book that's unrelated to the work. Once I finish a chapter, I listen to podcasts and interviews while I'm cleaning the brushes. I call my friends, family, muse or collaborators for motivation and inspiration. I do breathing exercises. Listen to the wind, go bird watching and take lengthy jogs. My process works succinctly with the circadian rhythm. It's rhythmic.
Rest is essential too. I love to come back with a fresh mind and to synthesise, reduce and analyse the work.
I noticed how your artistic style is particularly influenced by Fauvism. Artists like Henri Matisse & his works such as Blue Nudes (1952); I can notice those silhouettes within some of your artworks. What is the significance of this genre, and other prominent art genres, within your practice?
MS: Yes–the gravitation to the avant-garde Fauvist painters, German Expressionism, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism was natural. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, to name a few. These artists were indirectly inspired by African artefacts that were in the ethnographic museums in those periods. Their movement rippled greatly through time. I learned about Postwar Abstract painting through MoMA and how the New York School was inspired by them too.
Sensory Experience, by Moeko Selebalo
You're a 2022 Design Indaba Creative? I'd love to hear more about this experience and whether it influenced your career as an artist.
MS: Yes, funny! When I was in university studying graphic design, the Design Indaba Conference 2019 was happening and our lectures offered to take us. I didn't have the funds to go and I had a crazy deadline the next day, so I put school first. I was sitting in the computer lab crying tears working. They came back and told me how I missed out. A few years later I was announced as one of the Design Indaba emerging creatives.
Even funnier, Lukhanyo (Mdingi) was one of the judges for that year–we'd never met but I revered their work. A few months later, I worked on the design elements of his 'The Provenance part I' show through Norval Foundation conjunctly. After that, he became someone I could ask for advice and talk to on end about design with. Pure synchronicity. So staying on your path yields peak experiences.
I'd like to know more about your Decorex Africa 2023 experience. I understand that not only were you exhibiting works but you were also part of the Decorex Africa Future Talks Panel with the likes of Thabo Kopele, Luke Radloff and Wanda Lephoto. How was the entire experience?
MS: Many sleepless nights. Making 'Bringing it Home' was truly insightful; I really challenged myself from a curatorial perspective. I had just come from Cape Town after a year and a half, and I really enjoyed the theoretical approach to executing work that rests on academic research. The exposition was rooted in using the pedagogical method of creating a circular design economy.
I consulted with a North-West University, Urban and Regional Planning professor and honours students to incorporate the Regional Development Framework, which is a key legislative mechanism that seeks to address the numerous development challenges of a district. We worked with the Merafong local government. By the way–this is what the Land Areas Act is basically. I'm just Decolonizing it.
We hosted workshops with friends to come up with the concept. The provocation of the workshops was: "What Makes A Home: Culture Identity and Society as Decolonization".
From an aesthetic perspective, I thought of pre-Berlin Conference Africa as the main source of inspiration. African Mythological motifs from all four cardinal points of Africa were prominent too. This is what inspires my work–to answer the former question haha.
Bringing it Home Shownotes
It took three months of constructive workshops. The synergy was very inspiring, everybody was grinding.
For the exhibition I showed new and current artworks:
Inhabitat, 2023. Mixed media, 340mm x 321mm.
This is inspired by the geological landscapes of Leribe district in Lesotho.
Baby Zebra, 2022. Oil paint and marker on canvas panel, 148mm x 210mm x 5mm.
Here the inspiration came from an Ancient Masai Proverb: A man without culture is like a zebra with no stripes. It’s also the national animal of Botswana.
Sonic Sense, 2021. Mixed Media, 580mm x 420mm.
Abstract Minimalism, 2020, 297mm x 420mm.
The womanly figure's water just broke, giving birth to her son during sun pisces. Heavily referenced from late Henri Matisse works.
It was my first time being a panellist, not to mention with such inspiring figures. You can imagine how nervous I was. It was calm though because everybody felt comfortable and present. It felt like as design practitioners we had to convene on shared experiences. It takes having a conversation to highlight them and build a stronger community for young Black kids to thrive and change the world.
We spoke about the quality of the work, precision, garments, cohesion, message, telling the African story, intention, archiving our cultures and subcultures.
I was glad and honoured to be part of the conversation. Shout out to T!
The best of the best work hard too. It's not glamorous at all. But it's extremely fun. Wanda and his team were there super late at night and we were chatting that this is what it takes to execute high-level work.
Decorex 2023 Future Talks Panel
Is there any advice you've picked up within your short career which you could impart to any young emerging fine artists attempting to make a name for themselves within the industry?
MS: 10c advice I’ve picked up–apply to open calls, research the gallery’s exhibition history, network at gallery openings, hone your craft, take risks, ask to get involved/assist, use your friends (alot), it's harder to give up than to try–keep trying. Put your best foot forward, dress like you might bump into your ex.
Your processes and systems are quite profound, you’re almost operating as an agency of one, from academic research to known art influences and even going steps further to expand your work theoretically and artistically–what does 'Bringing it Home' completely entail for you on a larger scale?
MS: Another funny story; I got scouted when I was very young, however, I wanted to work for the agency as a Designer or Art Director to learn about the business side, rather than be the talent or model (imagine the audacity). I asked my friends, elders and mentors a lot of questions at the time. I'm super grateful to the booker and manager though. We are still friends till today.
I’m a big-picture thinker. I knew I wanted to be involved in the thought processes. I wanted to be the person who brings great minds together to achieve a collective objective.
On a larger scale I want to create functional ecosystems for creatives.
Bringing it Home is like a template for designing a circular economy. Where it can be reused and improved for decades to come hopefully. It's really for my community that's why I had to get the local government involved. I'm grateful that they believed in me and what I had to say. I'm also grateful to the team; every single person who was involved, those who got to see the installation at Decorex Joburg and those who were there in spirit.
Photography by Grant John Brett Payne
Following a process of organised chaos that is expressed as abstract minimalism is admirable in so many ways. At which point in your art journey did you adopt the creative systems you currently have in place?
MS: When I had my first real show in 2017. A friend and mentor of mine put me on, and I had to deliver. I'm extremely grateful again haha.
Most people are introduced to art quite young, whether in school or various art workshops. Did you find art or did art find you?
MS: Thank God it found me. At a very early age. I wanted to study art but my parents wanted me to have a chance at finding stability. They threw me at a boarding school for boys. Though it taught me a lot about character, discipline and responsibility.
Photography by Paula Rutherford