Updated: Jun 24, 2021
The title of Mitchell Gatsi's first solo exhibition is simple. It defines the majority of the 32 sculptures and vessels, meticulously wrought and charcoal black contrasting with the stark white of The Project Room. A space filled for the moment with various iterations of the single mother.
A task, a hope, a prayer and a theme that has followed the 26-year-old College of the Arts alumnus through numerous group exhibitions, two consecutive PAN Biennale wins and which comes to fruition on 32 Jenner Street in a series of sculptures depicting the striving, the pregnant, the industrious, the making ends meets and so often unsung. Honouring the mighty, nurturing and assiduous single mothers who find themselves raising their children alone in the absence of men they have lost to war, another woman, the threat of gender-based violence, unexpected death as well as those who have simply left, 'Nurture' is both autobiographical and universal. Raised by single parents, female figures, family friends and aunts as a result of his parents' constant travel, Gatsi draws his inspiration from his own life but also from diverse women he interacts with. “I am particularly inspired by street vendors,” he says. “Every time you go to them and buy something, you engage with them. You see these people so often that you begin to ask them how they're doing and often they'll tell you their life story at home. Somehow when they're telling me their story, I visualise, in a surrealistic manner, what's actually happening.” Gatsi's visualisations are later moulded in clay. A woman imagined as a lifeboat in an ocean of obstacles based on a vendor's tale of an alcoholic husband and a family she needs to keep afloat. A mother with the lower body of a traditional broom clearing the path to the future and a figure of 'Infinite Gentle Care' holding an egg with a keyhole laid carefully in orange sand. “The keyhole is a symbol of the brain,” says Gatsi. “As a mother, when you raise a child, you are getting closer to unlocking the potential of the child. If you fail to do so, the child may end up on the street or as a thief. But at the end of the journey – adulthood – when the child has a job, a normal life and has made a success of him or herself, a mother knows her job is complete because she has unlocked their full potential.” An exploration of the pinching technique in his vessels, some adorned with precarious forms and figures charming on corners, 'Nurture' is the traditional woman touting gourds and adjacent to huts made modern through Gatsi's sleek, modern and largely monochromatic forms. “My brain doesn't have colour. I just prefer black and white. I don't see myself as a professional colour person. Even with drawing and painting, I mix charcoal with water. I don't normally use colour. This just feels right to me.” Describing himself as addicted to clay and his exhibition as “something to feed the eyes”, Gatsi welcomes feedback on his highly anticipated first solo. “One of the best parts of having a solo exhibition is hearing people's crit and feedback,” says the young artist whose only complaint so far is that he should make his work bigger. “It's good to hear people's honest opinions and feedback. That's how you improve as a person.” 'Nurture' will be on display at The Project Room until 29 March. Opening hours are Tuesdays to Fridays from 09h00 to 13h00 and Saturdays from 10h00 to 13h00. Follow Mitchell Gatsi as Tafy Tang Arts on Facebook. – email@example.com; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com