Pebofatso Mokoena: Conjuring Cosmic Conundrums in Zimbabwe’s Art Renaissance

His latest exhibition, “Space Dot Conundrums,” presents a universe where infrared waves, gamma rays, radio waves, ultraviolet light, and radiowaves are as visible as we are to each other. The result is a mesmerizing array of spatial patterns manipulated to create a universe that only Mokoena can deliver.

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Pebofatso Mokoena Showcases 'Space Dot Conundrums' At First Floor Gallery Harare
Pebofatso Mokoena's paintings

As Zimbabwe’s cultural renaissance continues to flourish, the art scene is abuzz with exhibitions and fairs, becoming a vibrant fixture on the creative calendar. This artistic resurgence owes much to the emergence of private galleries like The First Floor Gallery, which are bridging the gap between grassroots artists and the international art market.

Established in 2009, The First Floor Gallery has been a nurturing ground for emerging talents like Tashinga Majiri, Grace Nyahangare, and Amanda Mushate. Now, with two locations in Harare and Victoria Falls, the gallery is bringing international talent to Zimbabwe’s art enthusiasts.

On September 3rd, 2023, the gallery hosted an exhibition featuring the work of Johannesburg-based visual artist Pebofatso Mokoena. This was not Mokoena’s first encounter with the gallery; he had a residency in 2019 and debuted his first full feature exhibition, “NeoClassical Taste Matrix,” in 2021.

Born in 1993, just months before South Africa’s first democratic elections, Mokoena’s name, meaning “to simplify,” reflects the complex times he was born into. His early fascination with imagined realities such as anime cartoons and wrestling has evolved into a unique artistic style that seeks to visualize realities beyond our physical realm.

His latest exhibition, “Space Dot Conundrums,” presents a universe where infrared waves, gamma rays, radio waves, ultraviolet light, and radiowaves are as visible as we are to each other. The result is a mesmerizing array of spatial patterns manipulated to create a universe that only Mokoena can deliver.

Titles for these striking artworks range from ‘Month End’, to ‘Under the Radar’, to ‘Governmentology’, to ‘Intergalactic Space Billiards’, with ‘A Purple Bender’ being a crowd favorite.

Mokoena’s creative process is as intricately intense as his artwork. He attacks the canvas all at once, barely taking any breaks between painting the vast fifteen-piece exhibition. “It bothers me to have unfinished work. It does a disservice to the viewer because it comes across as if I was lazy in creation,” he explained.

While Mokoena may not have had time for sightseeing during his visit to Zimbabwe, he assured us that this won’t be his last visit. As for interpreting his artwork, he leaves it up to the viewer: “There’s no linear story. There’s many stories… I’m leaving it up to the viewer to make connections for themselves.”

Co-founder and director of First Floor Gallery, Valerie Kabov, believes that the recent exhibition by South African artist Pebofatso Mokoena is a testament to their mission of connecting Zimbabweans with diverse forms of contemporary art. The gallery serves as a bridge, connecting artists, connoisseurs, and laymen alike. “For us, it’s always important to engage with the broadest possible audiences and share a variety of perspectives on contemporary art,” Kabov shared with a radiant smile.

The gallery prides itself on maintaining international standards in its work. Kabov believes this is a crucial step towards earning respect for Zimbabwean artists both domestically and on the global art scene. “We strive to present works at a level that would be familiar to Zimbabwean audiences in New York or London. We maintain the highest quality standards. This is important for both the audience and the artists, as it fosters respect,” she explained.

Kabov emphasized the importance of galleries, both public and private, in advancing Zimbabwe’s arts industry. Galleries enable artists to transform their passion into viable careers in ways that museums or collectors cannot. “Galleries worldwide serve as conduits for developing artists’ careers both locally and internationally. They generate income for artists and create opportunities for their works to be sold. They are a crucial part of the infrastructure of every art ecology around the world,” she elucidated.

As if Mokoena’s captivating paintings were not enough, art enthusiasts were treated to a mesmerizing mbira performance by Chinyakare musician Nyamasvisva to conclude the exhibition.

The exhibition will be on display until October 3rd, 2023, at Second Floor, Karigamombe Center, Corner Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere. If you find yourself marveling at Mosi-ua-Tunya in Victoria Falls, be sure to add a visit to First Floor Gallery Victoria Falls to your itinerary. To stay updated about events and workshops at First Floor Gallery, follow them on Instagram: firstfloorgalleryharare and on Twitter: Harare_Vicfalls.

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