This week Jambo Aftica Online’s Publisher, SAUL MOLOBI, profiles a fine artist, Ramotoana Richard Mokgomme, whose body of work is riveting and yet accessible, avantgarde and yet conforming to artistic disciplines, a social commentary and yet soul-soothing and romantic, and in short, the kind of work that deserves to don your walls to inspire you everyday to go out and conquer the world…

Ramotoana Richard Mokgomme was born and bred in Undermark, a village in Limpopo, South Africa’s northernmost province. Fate delivered him into the arts. After losing both his parents, it became clear to him that he had to create his own opportunities and provide for himself when no one could. Growing up without a father since the age of 5, Ramotoana’s intent was to connect with his deceased father through his photographs. He came to realize that the one and only photograph his father owned was a photo in his South African old green ID book. His father had no photos at all. 

The one ID photo inspired this urchin to create different images of his father in his mind, visualising his life. This introduced him to art at that early age. His interest developed further when he started primary school. His art career was nurtured under his former art teacher and mentor, Simon Moshapo.

Initially drawing inspiration from observing his father’s old green ID book, he then turned his attention to South African history at large. Many of his art works allow the viewers to immerse themselves in many different layers of meaning that are visible through colour, line work, collage and fitting sculpture.

Ramotoana’s work is created with an intention to submerge its meaning yet shock the viewers through many layered elements. His work is inspired by his collection of found objects, research, sculpture and the narrative he developed through a medium of collage, linocut, monotype, lithograph, painting and sculpture. His work focused on reconstructing and tracing different identities to find new meanings. This allows him to explore his concept further with non-figurative and figurative elements in his artworks.

This “Sculpture Merit Award” winner relocated to Johannesburg in 2009 where he attended part-time art classes at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

He later graduated in merging fine art and print making from Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg. Artist Proof Studio (APS) is described itself as “an innovative and engaged community printmaking centre of excellence. The organisation focuses on all aspects of professional printmaking: creation, sales, training, and community engagement.”

He is currently a visual artist based at Gen House New Center Studios in Selby, Johannesburg, specialising in painting and printmaking.

His art deals with the issues of identity. Art and identity are interconnected in various ways. Art has been used throughout history as a means of expressing and exploring individual and collective identities. It allows artists to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences, while also providing a platform for viewers to interpret and engage with those expressions.

Art can serve as a reflection of personal identity. It allows Ramotoana to convey his unique perspectives, beliefs, and experiences. Through his creative work, he explores his cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual, and social identities. He may depict personal narratives, experiences of discrimination or marginalization, or celebrate his heritage and community. He explains he does this by collecting references and information from different rural villages – such as Undermark, Tresteng and Ga-Maponto.  This allows him to explore paintings, collages and sculptures using bones from defecating cows in his rural village. “This process allows me an opportunity to discuss environmental and identity issues in detail – for instance, there’s this work that depicts five dead cows in the same area that succumbed to death after eating plastics and disposable nappies. The themes of land are also quite prominent in his body of work. Then there’s also the thorny issue of migration and how it impacts on identities,” he says matter-of-factly.

His body of work is a clear testimony that art plays a significant role in shaping and challenging societal identities. It has been used as a tool for activism for social change, as a weapon of struggle that allowed marginalised groups to assert their identities and demand recognition and equality. “Art has the power to challenge dominant narratives, provoke discussions, and redefine cultural norms,” he asserts. “The role of art in our anti-apartheid struggle bears testimony to this.”

His works provide a space for individuals to explore and construct their own identities. Viewing it engages one with ways that resonate with one’s personal experiences, beliefs, and emotions. It inspires self-reflection, raises questions about one’s identity, and provides a sense of belonging or empowerment.

Indeed his body of works clearly proves art and identity are deeply intertwined. Art serves as a means of self-expression, a tool for social critique, and a platform for exploring and shaping personal and collective identities. It provides a space for individuals and communities to celebrate their uniqueness, challenge societal norms, and engage in conversations about identity and representation.

COLLABORATIONS

2016: Eden College -Mono prints on linoleum plates (Artist Proof Studio)

2019: Moving into Dance Celebration of 40years anniversary at Agog gallery

2019: University of Johannesburg & Artist Proof Studio Third year-Co-creation held at FADA

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2016: Next Step (Art Afrique Gallery)

2017: On-Sloane (Global business Entrepreneurship)

2018: Our journey (Touch of Genius Gallery)

2019: Turban Art Fair (Interpretation of Master’s Work of Douglas Partways and Louis Khehla Maxhubela ) Artist Proof Studio Co-ordinated by Strauss & Co

2019: Cyril Ramaphosa Art Foundation held at Constructional Hill, Women’s Prison section (Artist Proof Studio)

2019: Folk It 62 Doors gallery Co-ordinated by Art Revolution (USA) 2019: Third Year Graduation Exhibition (Artist Proof Studio).

ART COMPETITIONS

2002: Position 1 in Visual art at Maleboho East competition with Kgobokanang Primary school 2017: Candeed Cue Spring Contest 17 (Finalist) Austria.

2017/18: Staedtler Bronze,Silver and Gold Ambassador

2022: Thami Mnyele Fine Art Award, Sculpture Merit Award 

ART AUCTIONS

2017: Café De Sol for Match Box Babies fundraising.

ART PROJECTS

2018: Wood Cut project (Artist Proof Studio)

2018: Library Installation at Jeppe Primary School (Artist Proof Studio) 2019: JP Morgan Permanent Library Installation with Chepape Makgato

2020: School Mural at Thuto Ke Maatla Combined School ,Tembisa Ekurhuleni Travel & Tourism and Mokgomme In The Arts Studio (Pty Ltd).