Mokwena’s artistic offering is made up of haunting portraits of jazz legends and a multimedia installation. It maps the story of the forced removals under the Land Areas Act of 1923.
The walls of the African Freedom Station gallery in Westdene, Johannesburg, are adorned with the faces of Dolly Rathebe, Nina Simone, John Coltrane and Herbie Tshoaedi.
“When I invite you to this space it’s almost like I’m inviting you to come hang out with the ancestors that created black urban culture in the city way back then,” Mokwena says.
Steven Bantu Biko and Malcolm X are also painted on the walls of the gallery.
Mokwena has infused jazz into the ambience of the artwork, firstly because of its historical significance and secondly because of the role it played in his family.
His grandfather, Jacob Madumo, was an alto-saxophonist with the Jazz Maniacs.
Mokwena has also written a book titled Thula Ndivile.
“It’s a ghetto fairy tale. I took history, memories and anecdotes of my father and composed a feel-good story,” he says.
The cover of the book is a melancholy impression of jazz artist Kippie Moeketsi.
“I call it Morolong. In a sense he’s the quintessential father of music,” he says.
The book is as much a part of the exhibition as are the paintings and the video of his elderly father Pat Mokwena. In the video Mokwena senior tells the story of how they were forced out of Western Native Township.
It is no coincidence that Mokwena’s art gallery, the African Freedom Station, is situated in Westdene, formally known as the Western Native Township.
“The proximity of this place, from which my parents were forcibly removed in 1962, is extremely important to me. It’s almost like a spiritual gateway to imagining ourselves,” he says.
Occupying shop number 41 on Thornton Road is about reclaiming the urban landscape which was stolen from his ancestors, Mokwena says.
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