Peter Mthombeni's Visual Creole

By Swanepoel, Nicolene | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Peter Mthombeni's Visual Creole


Swanepoel, Nicolene, Ceramics Art & Perception


REPRESENTATIONS OF CATTLE CAN ACT AS MARKERS of contemporary South African identities. The ceramics of Peter Mthombeni fuse various traditions (Western and African, colonial and ethnic). Mthombeni utilises cattle as cultural markers, not only to affirm his individual history but also to reflect a new cultural space in a democratic South Africa.

Mthombeni's ceramic vessels and utilitarian ware are categorised as craft, not art (1); they are positioned in the grey area between 'fine art' and utilitarian objects or craft. While he names his vessels 'vases,' (2) (indeed they are clearly recognisable as this Western form, for instance the Hedgehog Vases, as well as the Fang Vase), the surface treatments act like metaphoric cattle skins wrapping spaces thus reminding of utilitarian ethnic vessels that have a purpose in spiritual ritual. (3) Such a reading permits a symbolic significance to the vase form.

Mthombeni received an academic education in fine art, and has exhibited work in designated 'art' spaces such as galleries, and must, in part, be shaped by these experiences. The art institution or art world, (4) its cornerstones being the museum, the gallery, the critic and the academy, ratifies whether an object is art or not. It valorises, categorises and even excludes objects; some objects are elevated to 'high art' while others are demoted to be 'mere' craft, or simple objects of utility. In South Africa, the boundaries of these traditionally separate disciplines are slower to disappear than in the Western world. However, since the first democratic elections in 1994, the boundaries of art have expanded to include previous political exclusions and a multiplicity of cultures. These boundaries continue to shift away from former rigidities in order to celebrate an African specificity. This allows artists from different traditions to exhibit a porosity, assimilating and re-interpreting images, sources and styles originating in different cultural groups. In this way historical ('traditional') difference becomes less prominent, less separating, more 'creolised'.

Mthombeni prioritises an African identity. My interview with him reveals that this is due to more than mere geographical situation. He refutes a deliberately provocative use of 'other' imagery.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

Mthombeni suggests that his inclusion of European styles was a logical outflow of his studies in ceramic history at the Technikon of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), not a deliberate effort to comment on his relation to colonialism (Swanepoel, 2005). His use of Western references in conjunction with the narrative elements in his work provide for complex readings which nevertheless reflect Western art traditions favoured by colonialism. However, such references are reshaped by his indigenous origins.

History (personal as well as cultural history) is still identifiable in the new post-apartheid society, but in the creole (5) art language it is often reshaped. Traces of former inherited traditions are present in this new art language. Mthombeni bases his ceramic forms on a rural narrative oral tradition (legends). Mthombeni, though, fuses the traditions he emanates from with aspects of 'other' culture. The particular way in which elements are manipulated can be regarded as utilising a new creolised art language.

A 'creole' language consists of new words, but also retains remnants of the original two sources, namely indigenous language, and that of the coloniser. A new art language is developing, one that parallels the 'Creole' (6) patois. Mthombeni exhibits a need to express the rapid social and historical changes in South Africa's move towards inclusiveness under democracy with an art language which can be considered as 'creole'.

With slavery (7) at its historical roots and apartheid at its heels, the term creolisation is backdropped against struggle, conflict and violence. It not only identifies difference, racism and violence, but also creates connections and cross-racial networking (Nuttall and Michael, in Strauss, 2004:28). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Peter Mthombeni's Visual Creole
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.