An exhibition of paintings by Mandla Mabila will be on show downstairs at the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, from 7 August to 15 September 2001.
This collection of works has been painted over a two-year period. Mabila says : "I have been working with self-portraits for as long as I can remember. Self-portraits have given me the opportunity to take a closer look at myself and I like what I see in them often enough." This is particularly important to Mabila as a disabled artist, given the images of disability that we see if we see them at all in the multimedia today. Painting then becomes something of a 'political' tool to challenge this stereotypical representation of disability. There is also the actual process of producing work, which is a means to an end but also an end in itself. The therapy of the process begins when one has a safe place to start with the process of healing. Mabila regards the studio in which he works as that safe place in which he can engage with the canvas.
There are no answers in his work but he feels that it raises some important questions, if only for himself. For example, is the way that he represents himself the way he truly is or does he distort the picture? In the self-portraits, he can see his own biases against himself - in other words, how much has he internalised the stereotypes and merely produced them in his paintings? There are also physical challenges that relate to the scale of the works since he works from a wheelchair. Trying to reach the top or bottom of the painting is one of the many challenges he faces in producing the work. These challenges help him to destroy any notions of what he is able and unable to do as a wheelchair user. In the past, he has done works that measure up to 2 metres by 2 metres and he has managed to finish them to a satisfactory degree.
Mabila's aim is to show, through his work, that his life is
richer with his disability than it may have been otherwise. His disability
gives him a unique worldview from where he sits. It is an enriching experience
and not at all a subtraction. The artist says: "Through my work I celebrate
and share my life with other people. Raising issues around disability is another
value I attach to my work. Painting is wonderful.
It may be considered a dying medium but not to me because I infuse it with my own life."