Noble Existence a solo exhibition of 32 life-size oil-on-canvas paintings on the life and times of Sol T Plaatje by local artist Giorgie Bhunu opens at Stadt 1 Methodist Church on 9 October 2014. Plaatje was undoubtedly the most acclaimed African of his time as writer, journalist and fervent campaigner against the ills of colonialism.
He was influenced in his political career amongst others, which saw him later being elected first Secretary General of what came to be eventually known as the African National Congress and delegated twice to petition the British government in England on the disastrous consequences of the 1913 Land Act, by his experiences as interpreter in interactions between colonial authorities and Batswana Kingdoms and chronicler of the effects of the Anglo-Boer War on Africans especially during the Mafeking Siege years. Plaatje lived in Mahikeng, misspelled Mafeking by colonial authorities, between 1898 and 1910, years that saw the whole country evolve into a Union and the foundation of the Apartheid years firmly laid. His first articles as a journalist were published in the Mafeking Mail and he went on to become editor in one of the first black newspapers, Koranta ea Becuana owned by Silas Molema. He also wrote his first book Mafeking Diary at that time. Sol Plaatje went on to write more books, tour the world and meet some of the most influential leaders in black history including Marcus Garvey and W E B Dubois.
Noble Existence is a memorialisation of the story of Sol T Plaatje in images, celebrating the concept of leadership exemplified by his life, captured in Modiri Molema’s definition of him – morata wabo, lover of his people. The images are largely taken from old photographs, a process which at times called for creative interpretation and improvisation on the part of the artists. Stadt 1 Methodist Church was opened by Kgosi Montshiwa in 1885 and located in the original capital of Barolong boorra Tshidi is in Bhunu’s view the perfect setting for reincarnating the spirit of the time.
Sol Plaatje stayed for some time in the house of the Molema’s known as Maratiwa, but finally moved to live with his family at Seweding. Bhunu believes in community-centred art that sees his work as part of the history of Barolong, dictating it be located and contextualized within their midst. He is a graduate of the former University of Bophuthatswana where he specialized in visual art influenced by the works of the pioneers of black art like George Pemba and Gerald Sekoto. The exhibition, the first of its kind, is part of a greater three-themed project involving Walls that Teach – a series of murals – and Veneration of Images, a celebration in sculptures of the history of local Magosi. Bhunu is advocating for the adoption of Stadt as a Cultural Precinct envisioned as a special creative economic zone.