The artist we will be discussing today is one of my personal favorites amongst the Ekoka group and is also described as one of the most talented artists in the reports written up following the workshops.
Filipus Shikomba, from the Kwakwa community, is in his mid thirties and has attended all of the workshops. He was born in Ekoka, where his mother still lives, and he is married with four children, two boys and two girls. He’s from the Quagga Xwanga tribe and his father was brought to Ekoka by the Finnish missionaries from Mangetti.
In addition to being described as one of the most talented artists of the group, he is also noted for his self containment and focus, always working at his own pace. His own words on the workshops are that they are, “A very nice project because you give something and you get something back”.
The two works below deal with a fairly common theme – animals amongst foliage – but what is interesting about fillipus’s work is his characteristic drawing skill – notice the observation apparent in the form of the rabbit, particularly around his mouth, and the exquisite shape of the cat-like animal in the second image. He also depicts an unusual variety of animals as if the natural world holds a great deal of fascination for him. The lion with his delightful mane, the ostrich, the guinea fowl-like bird and the peculiar lizard with a darting tongue are all individually realized.
The beautiful foliage in the second image dominates the page in an intricate and beautiful sprawl that seems to indicate that the artist was temporarily suspended in that sublime timeless moment of creation, an unequivocal reveling in beauty, which is the joy of art-making. This foliage design has been lifted and used to create a highly successful textile design for which Filipus receives royalties for every meter printed.
In the next image he has taken the observation of plant life to the next level by making an entire linocut out of it. His beautiful depictions of seedpods, leaves twigs and trees make for a peaceful and truly beautiful image. This work has also been converted into a textile design for sale at the Kalk Bay Modern and to be features at the upcoming design indaba.
The last image of Filipus’s I will be discussing is in the ‘display’ format in which several objects are laid out almost as if on a cloth for a buyer’s perusal.
One element that is particularly interesting about this image is its symmetry. Another is that it contains an instantly alarming shape – that of a gun. In my readings about traditional Khoisan artwork I found that while the element of ‘good’ was mostly represented in rock art by an eland, the element of ‘bad’ was initially represented by a predator, but upon the arrival of the western man the latter slowly changed to the image of a gun.
[for more information on traditional Khoisan rock art click on the links below]
What Filipus’s feelings behind the image of the gun are I cannot say – but it seems unlikely that a gun is something he owns whether in order to use for hunting or self-protection. Therefore a gun to him has always most likely been in the hands of others and quite possibly amongst them, those whom he would rather did not have one. On the other hand it may be something he would very much like to own.
It interests me that it is placed on top of a symmetrical (and therefore visually hierarchical) collection of goods that comprise of craft items (cups and what I imagine is a mat or simply another picture) and calabashes or watermelons (with his characteristic vine beautifully offsetting the symmetry).
I can’t say for sure what the relevance of this placement is but what certainly springs out at me is a progression from natural material, to useful objects crafted out of natural material, to a distinctly unnatural and fearful man-made creation – a gun, a singular item that sits alone, in the most commanding position, at top of the image.