In two separate works, Keneilwe Mokoena tells us what art is. In her digital collage #7860, she recalls the moment that she realised that “everything is art”. In her 2020 analogue collage Untitled 74, hovering over an abstract blaze of reds and yellows are the words “art is the form created from energy.” One definition seems more ideological and the other more literal.
When asked which of these explanations resonates with her more, Mokoena leans to the former, “everything is art”, and quickly follows up by pointing out that “everything is made of energy.” Mokoena’s work shows a passionate fascination with the natural world, from the fundamental laws of physics that affect and connect all things, to the complexities of the tiniest molecules.
Mokoena’s 2018 drawings are detailed works filled with, repeated patterns, intricately aggregated to create a complete, defined image. Countless tiny fragments connected and expanding, exist as part of a whole, a structure that mimics the design of the universe. Some drawings are strikingly and authoritatively geometric while some are made of numerous organic shapes creating forms that resemble living organisms.
In her 2019 digital prints, Mokoena is vulnerable and explicit. She introduces her self-portrait and re-presents earlier drawings. She deconstructs them, combines them with found images and pieces of writing, and re-assembles. She intimately reveals her desire to create a new sense of awareness. She admits to being overwhelmed (#4544). She wants to make sense of her own place in the universe (#0736). She explores her connection to the natural world, regally wearing a fern as a crown (#8017). She is courageous and direct when she writes, “I want you to fall madly in love with me” (#5154), confidently asserting her love for herself, articulating her desire to be loved completely. She believes that to be vulnerable, you have “to be brave and completely honest about [your] sensitivities and insecurities.”
Noticeable in her more recent works is an absence of the figure. In this 2020 collection of analogue collages, Mokoena’s self-portrait appears only once. One might wonder if she has retreated. When she describes her process for these works, she says that she is more “in control.” Now, she makes drawings to use in her collages and prefers being involved from the very beginning. Mokoena “creates the paper”, focusing on the shapes that she cuts, and colours made with ink-stains. These collages are more concerned with form.
Although the newer works may be less explicit, Mokoena is still very present. By using more of her drawings, she includes more of herself. She says that these are “a continuation of [her] earlier work” referring to her drawing practice. In some, images of blues skies and outer space are assembled into bold geometric designs, and, without any writing, there is more space for the mind to wander. In others, colours, curves, shapes and words intertwine and become living things. There is arguably more of her energy here, more objectively, her physical energy. But there is also more of everything, the intense curiosity of the everything, the earth, the galaxies, and the overwhelming sensation of being part of and connected to everything.