Moses Tladi’s exhibition showcases a world of struggle, integrity and creativity in 20th century South Africa.

MOSES TLADI (1903-1959) was the first black South African artist to have his work formally exhibited in the 1930s at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

The self-taught artist’s oil paintings, on exhibition until July 16 at the Wits Art Museum, foretell the story of a young man who embraced his love for creative imagery and the outdoors during a time of political constraints and hardship. Tladi’s landscapes are small yet cherished by the use of hues and brush strokes that capture what the naked eye cannot always see. The detail is immaculate yet raw as it captures what seemed to be beautiful and interesting in a time of darkness.

He was born in 1903 in Sekhukhuneland, in what is today the Limpopo Province. Growing up in a time of colonialism and black oppression which later led to Apartheid, he was faced with various obstacles.

Challenges such as the denial of land ownership for black South Africans and the rise of a cheap labour force as a result, paved the way for the creative niche that lied within Tladi. It was when he became a gardener for Herbert Read in Loshoek, Parktown that he started painting what is thought to be his surroundings as he relocated within the country from the 1920s.

Julia Charlton, senior curator at the Wits Arts Museum, told Wits Vuvuzela that he had developed a real career painting in the 1920s. Tladi’s landscapes portray a certain array of the outdoors from the vast landscape of Crown Mines in Johannesburg to a simplistic cherry blossom tree from the house in Loshoek, yet it embodies the difficulties of living in an oppressive society. “This historical narrative of all of those huge historical swathes that so dramatically shaped South African history, is told in these paintings,” said Charlton.

There is also much importance placed on the influence of the history of Tladi’s work on contemporary art and younger artists. Gonste Mathabathe, marketing co-ordinator at WAM and master’s student in Historical Art, told Wits Vuvuzela that the history behind Tladi’s work is very important for younger artists. “It is hugely important for younger artists, particularly black artists, to see the work of Moses Tladi, not only for the way it tackles and reminds us of the historical challenges of land dispossession but also a viable and visible reaffirmation of the work and presence of black artists in a predominantly white art market and art world,” said Mathabathe.


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