Upper Elementary Talks with Artist Mohau Modisakeng

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This year, the Upper Elementary class has had many art-related learning opportunities right at their fingertips. Recently, they had the honor of viewing South African artist Mohau Modisakeng’s exhibit before it was open to the public, and sat down (quite literally) to talk with him about his moving, personal photography and videography. 

Modisakeng was born in Soweto and hails from Cape Town and Johannesburg. In his art, he uses his own image to become a “mediator of the pain” (Art historian Dr. Ruth Simbao) of the difficult, often brutal history of the post-apartheid world of South Africa. In this exhibit, Modisakeng explains to the children what each element in the photographs represents: the axes and machetes linked to the physically demanding plantation work of South Africa, the black hat represents Modisakeng’s view of manhood in his culture as well as a nod to self, the horse blinders a representation for looking forward out of oppression, the feet painted white to represent the settlement of white Europeans as they first set foot onto the land of South Africa to colonize.

The Upper Elementary students began with a talk in their classroom about the gravity of Modisakeng’s work, as well as a review on South Africa’s history of apartheid, then headed over to view the work. The students were reflective and respectful during the viewing and talk. When they sat with Modisakeng to ask questions about his work, they presented him with some wonderful questions and observations.

While some children focused on the feelings they observed in themselves while viewing the work, others asked about the technique and place the photographs were taken, about the objects used in the work, and about Modisakeng’s experiences (both physical and emotional) creating the work. Modisakeng did a wonderful job giving voice to his experiences, despite those experiences being challenging and difficult at times.

Modisakeng also took his time allowing each child to ask more questions than he had time allotted! He clearly valued their curiosity and level of engagement. And they also seemed to appreciate the experience. What an honor!