Tsalwa Ierintswa – Fumani Maluleke

On show until 25/05/2024


In hindsight it was uncannily prophetic that Limpopo-born artist Fumani Maluleke entered this world on a grass mat. A fast labour meant that before his mother could get to the hospital, the now 33-year-old was born onto one of the quintessential grass mats that are everyday items in so many households across South Africa.

Maluleke was unaware of this part of his origin story until his late grandmother mentioned it at a point when he was already well into making a name for the artworks he creates on these same mats. It was a revelation that even the most sceptical would concede shouts of predestination. “In my tribe, we use these mats for many different reasons – including praying, sleeping and sitting, but I had no idea of their added meaning in my own life”, he explains.

Tsalwa lerintswa (the new scroll) is a beguiling display of the fine painter’s talent and his growing skill at manifesting arresting landscapes on these surprising and culturally significant canvasses.

As the title of the show suggests, these biblical scroll-like works unroll to reveal cloudy skies casting shadows over thorn trees and patches of veld. Elsewhere, a dirt road, shepherded by old electricity and telephone cables disappears into the distance. These frozen scenes of South African country life are so familiar that it’s easy to imagine what’s happening just around the bend and beyond the frame. “I like to think these roads represent the past and my lineage, the present and unknown future, off in the distance”.

Maluleke’s art is about innovating through exploring, revealing and celebrating an often-overlooked culture of South Africa’s rural population. Of Tsalwa lerintswa he says, “the use of straw mats today is as novel and almost forgotten as the biblical scrolls themselves. My work is a cultural script written in the language of art on a forgotten medium”.

For the artist, these works offer glimpses of the world he grew up in – and that continues to inspire – but they evolved by chance. While working, Maluleke dropped paint onto a mat that was lying in his Joburg CBD studio and in that instant a germ of an idea sparked.

Hundreds of hours later and he’s learnt to wrangle these serendipitous canvasses. On top of painting, the dedicated and ambitious young artist scratches and etches and turns the grass into three dimensional parts of the image. The result is dynamic and beautifully executed works that immediately engage the viewer.

For more information about the exhibition, contact Stephanie Le Roy at Stephanie@everard.co.za