‘When they step away from my paintings, the message follows them into their daily lives’. – Muofhe Manavhela
If you were to accompany Muofhe Manavhela when she goes shopping for art supplies, within a minute of entering the store, she would run to the colours with you. Colour calls Manavhela by name and she heeds to its call every time. A few minutes later you would stand in silence while she conceptualizes an artwork in the canvas aisle. The thoughts that scatter in her mind during this time will exist as a singular expression of her navigation as a black woman in the world on a canvas when she shares them with us. Manavhela’s artworks are statements; the personal is political and art is both. Her biography on Instagram reads: ‘I am aware of my inherent multiplicity and anyone wishing to meaningfully engage with me, or my work must be too’. And being aware of this means understanding that she does not just hold a paintbrush to paint and share her work for the sake of sharing. The name Muofhe means reverence, a deep respect for something or someone, in Tshivenda. And we must give Manavhela the reverence she deserves because her work is an ode to us.
Do not touch the work, please is an instruction seen in many art spaces and galleries. Sometimes it is not because it is an unwritten rule, literally. Manavhela’s work touches us although we cannot touch it. The ensemble of brush strokes and lines touch black women and those who have relationships with black women to a great extent. And then we wept: Madonna and child, but without the child because she probably got killed by a South African man somewhere (2019) is a portrait of a weeping Madonna who is grieving the loss of her girl child. The red background is the colour of blood which communicates that our country is a home with walls painted with buckets of the blood that thousands of women shed yearly. It also communicates that we cannot separate that from who are we; it is a part of our daily navigation. The tears are a familiar sight. Our country is a country that mourns daily. Manavhela does not just paint; she touches within us parts of herself. Her work reaches within us and when we walk away from it, we take something home. She wants to do more for us than just exhibit a work of art; she wants to touch us.
What she wants the artwork to communicate to you is that the beauty of the black woman is worth protecting. She wants you to feel that her beauty, even in the world’s chaos and cruelty, is vigorous. In her self-portraits, the sitter, is a woman who gives us access to enter a place where the documentation of her being retells the stories of the spaces she felt suffocated in but also discovered herself in. Night Riders is an artwork that shows her discovery of herself in her twenties. If she had the opportunity to gift a younger version of herself one of her artworks, it would be Night Riders. Manavhela thinks that this artwork is something her younger self ‘really needed to know that life is not so serious all the time’.
Manavhela has reverence too. She feels that Howardena Pindell deserves her respect and gratitude for her exhibition that put so many things into perspective for her. ‘I had never felt so moved by looking at someone explore their thoughts. I appreciate her’. Thoughts and what those who came before her did are significant to her work. Manavhela believes that the process is also the artwork and that the key to understanding and sitting down with the artist in her is through art history. Without the contribution of the past and the presence of music when she thinks while creating, the story behind her work is different.
When we spoke on that Wednesday evening, Manavhela manifested working with contemporary galleries and the white candle is burning brightly for her because she is the Bubblegum Residency March 2021 Recipient. Her odes to you during this time will be installed for exhibition at Bubblegum Gallery (Braamfontein). Go sit down with her work on a Wednesday evening.