Lives of Courage
Buyisile Patient (Billy) Mandindi was born on 24 February 1967 in Guguletu, Cape Town. He completed a full-time diploma course in Fine Art at the Community Arts Project in Cape Town in 1986, and also studied as a non-degree student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in 1987. He has exhibited both in South Africa and abroad, and his works can be found in many collections, most notably of which, in the University of South Africa's (UNISA) Art Collection.
He was one of the most exciting artists to have emerged through the community arts sector in the 1980s. Viewed by some contemporaries as a teen prodigy, Mandindi’s precocious talent is clearly visible in early works such as Man amongst men where he skilfully juxtaposed divergent modes of drawing (naturalistic, expressionistic, comic, and iconic) with vivid allusions to imperialism, oppression and resistance. Similarly, African Madonna (1986) seamlessly blends conventions derived from the Italian Renaissance with symbols of indigenous power as well as economic exploitation.
African Madonna is a direct reference to Nonqawuse, the young girl whose prophecies led directly to the subjugation of the Xhosa by the British settlers. Seen in this context the painting is an eloquent testament of the link between Nonqawuse’s prophecies and the beginning of labour contracts and migrant labour, making the work a sophisticated narrative. With his earlier print triptych Prophecy (1985), Mandindi dealt with the theme of Nonqawuse by contextualising her within the contemporary struggle against apartheid, suggesting that the liberation prophesised by her was still to come. Other early works such as The death of township art (1989) address the loss of innocence that came with political resistance, in particular the practice of ‘necklacing’ suspected informers, a theme dealt with elsewhere by Mandindi as early as 1986.
This loss of innocence applies both to politics: the ‘comrades’ here are deadly angels; as well as to art: picturesque images of Africa are no longer valid. The death of township art poses a critical question about the nature of the art required within a period of intense political conflict. Mandindi addresses a related issue in his print What about the artist and the sculpture?, which is very much a product of the early 1980s. Following Albie Sachs’ influential paper, Preparing for Freedom, artists who had positioned themselves as part of the resistance movement began questioning the constraints of an explicitly political art. An interesting feature of Mandindi’s works from the late 1980s and early 1990s is the sense of eclecticism and hybridity that is evident in much of his imagery. It is possible to view these developments in his work as being in tune with international trends at the time, yet Mandindi’s art is driven more by his own concerns to express conflicts that are both political and personal, and this gives his works an authority that defies the shallow display of eclecticism for its own sake, which is a hallmark of much Post-Modernist art of the period. Indeed Mandindi’s symbolism is frequently unsettling, and in most instances derives much of its strength from being exceptionally lucid on a visual level whilst simultaneously defying easy interpretation.
1985: NSA, Durban (Paperworks ”” group).
1986: SAAA, Cape Town (Young Blood ”” group).
1988: Community House, Salt River, Cape (three-person exhibition with FuadAdam and Roger Meintjies).