African Politics and Policy

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An interview with Frans Thoka

We just had a chance to ask Frans Thoka a few questions and we are delighted to share his answers with our readers.

APP: If you go through the posts of African Politics and Policy, you can see that we displayed three series of your paintings—the ones featured in the Pretoria Art Museum such as ‘this is not a book’, the ones displayed in the Gaslamp Gallery ( and the ones that will be featured in the Polokwane Art Museum later this month. Looking at the way you artwork has evolved, materials and technique seem to have remained the same, but the themes and the colors have become much darker? The figures, the characters displayed in your paintings, seem to be in a great deal of pain. The serenity, that one could detect in ‘this is not a book’ seems to be gone. The subjects depicted in your art work seem to be lacerated (Ke Ikgethetxe) or pierced by thorns (Ke Sa Gopola). Are you suggesting that the world is becoming a darker, more sinister place, where people live in pain?

FRANS THOKA: I have decided to deal with with the concept of what makes humankind human? However, that does not mean I am moving away from other concepts I deal with such as racial discrimination, gender and other socio-political factors. The ideology of what makes humankind human is something I have been researching on. Hence, the work I produce seems to have a sense of sinister. I achieve that through expressive mark making. In essence, the marks represent what civilisation is doing to the world- making it an unpleasant place to live. There is growing ignorance in “human” society. For instance, people no longer look at the roots of socio-political factors.

I came across a homeless man eating rotten slices of bread in Johannesburg in 2017. People ignored his presence because of the devices they had in their hands. I was brought up in a family where helping the other person is a blessing. With the last cents I had, I bought the man a fresh loaf of bread and a drink. However, I am not saying that those that ignored the man are not-well brought up. Nonetheless, how can one say he is a human if he is not humane to others? That event has enlightened my perception regarding society.

In artworks such as the series Ke sa Gopola, the mark making represents the emotional struggle I went through throughout my childhood.

APP: Some of your work is, in many ways, biographical, but in other cases it is inspired by events that are either distant in time (Meno Mašweu Mabolaya a Sega) or in space (Hope). How do these distant events resonate with you and compel you to create some art work? I ask because you complained () about the fact that considerable attention is paid to the atrocities perpetrated by Nazi regime but much less attention is paid to genocides perpetrated by the colonial masters in the African continent, but then you paint about Casablanca (and the Nazi, the resistance and so on). Isn’t there some kind of contradiction between what you say and what you do?

FRANS THOKA: The inspiration to create Meno Mašweu Mabolaya a Sega comes from the film I watched, Casablanca. Regardless of that, back in high school, we were taught about World War Two. That historical event has become meaningless because of the conditions of society. Humanity is disintegrating because of society’s ignorance. With the artwork, I revisit and reinterpret the Nazi event. In essence, I practice the idea of what makes humankind human on social-political and historical events.

There is no contradiction at all. Not to forget that Meno Mašweu Mabolaya a Sega and Hope do not make a series- they are separate works.

Frans Thoka, Meno Mašweu Mabolaya a Sega, 1.8m x 2.5m
Medium: Paint on Prison Blanket
Year: 2018

Nonetheless, the concept of what makes a humankind human applies to both artwork also. However, in Meno Mašweu Mabolaya a Sega I raise an argument about information the third world system gives to its primary pupils. For instance, why the system never mentions the story of Leopold II of Belgium? The history of a Black man is full of torment and wretchedness. Why not put the word where it belongs by channelling the truth to the generation or the third world society as a whole?

APP: Keep running in many ways is a very interesting artwork. You explain that it has to do with what you call ‘a negative metamorphosis’. Are the needles that seem to be piercing the running figure a metaphor of the challenges one encounters in life? Of the environment that takes control of our life? Of the external pressures? The interesting aspect, though, is that in spite of the needles, the pain, the pressure, the environment, the running figure does not seem to be bothered and is able to keep running. This painting, in a way, is a song of hope. Isn’t it?

FRANS THOKA: Absolutely, the marks represent life challenges. In the series, “Ke sa Gopola”, the marks are not controlled. That creates a sense of instability caused by internal and socio-environmental factors. In some regions, those marks lose their geometric style and take an organic one. That allows the viewer to have different interpretations of the artworks.

In “Keep Running”, the relationship between the motion of the figure and its marks is something I did not take into consideration. However, I agree that the painting is a song of hope.

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