American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth believes that images and any traces of artistic skill and craft should be eliminated from art so that ideas could be conveyed as directly, immediately and purely as possible.
He says there should be no obstacles to conveying ideas, so images should be eliminated “since he considers them obstacles” in conceptual art.
Treading on these unconventional waters for the first time is local artist, Masa Lemu. What he started as mere Facebook posts in 2014 have evolved into something big and now he has finished his conceptual artwork.
What is striking with his images is that they are themed, depicting a story more represented, deeper from the surface than just the caption.
The work was inspired by dub poet and reggae artist Linton Kwesi Johnson’s song Black Petty Bourgeois as well as Caribbean writer and psychiatrist Franz Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth.
They criticise black/African elite or “the bourgeois” who have wholly embraced western values for being an impediment to black people’s freedom and progress.
Says Lemu: “The different pieces comment through satire on the different middle class values and habits such as overconsumption and love of material goods, particularly as this overconsumption and materialism is seen against the backdrop of abject poverty that surrounds us. My work is critical of the elite by poking fun at them.
“The work evolved from a series of my written Facebook status updates on the ‘patois bourgeois’ which started in 2014 and that is why the work has ended up on Facebook. The works turned from text to the images in 2016.”
He says this is partly because he wanted to take a break from writing to reconnect with the visual aspect of his art practice, adding for the past three years he has been researching and writing for his doctoral thesis on contemporary African art collectives.
Some of the captions on his artistic works are Incognito: patois bourgeois state philosopher, remix, Dessert: patois bourgeois monarch, Askari: patois bourgeois technocrat and Disidentification: selfie as a cobble.
He says all of these tell a story.
“Each title generally describes what the piece is about, but they are also catchphrases to draw the viewer’s attention to certain aspects of the work,” says Lemu.
But why conceptual art?
“This is a form of art that emerged in the 1960s and focuses on concepts and ideas rather than the beauty of an object such as a painting or sculpture. The work can also be categorised as performance or body art which incorporates the body of the artist or his audience to express artistic ideas,” adds the artist.
The poses in the images are compelling and sourcing the complete sets of props from the shots must have not been easy.
The outfits are also peculiar and require careful thought and consideration to decipher the exact meaning. But the project is not costly at all.
“It was all about being imaginative and creative with what was there, of course, with a dash of humour. At first, most people thought I was going crazy, but a mad person does not remember to put a title on a picture and post it on Facebook.
“I should take this opportunity to thank Mai Sindo who provided me with most of the objects that I used in these pieces. I also made some of the pieces in markets in Machinjiri and Makhetha in Blantyre,” adds Lemu.
One of the pieces, Santa, is one of his favourites and borrows from the famous Christmas figure “to comment on the perpetual blackouts.” It features a politician who comes in through the chimney with candles and a bouquet.
Now that the project has ended, Lemu is looking forward to his next art.
“Patois bourgeoisie is complete. I do not intend to make any more patois bourgeois series, so the project will exist as it is in the form of a series of images. I am now looking to the next thing,” he said without shedding more light.
His artistic journey has been long and patient though he declined to cite any challenges he has faced along the way.
Currently in Richmond, Virginia where he just relocated and is teaching art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Lemu is happy with what he has achieved this far.
“I have my artwork in a Museum in Houston, Texas which I think is one of my major achievements,” he says.n