Artists We Love: Atang Tshikare

WORDS Michaela Stehr

The first instalment of Atang Tshikare’s “Peo e Atang” was recently on show in Cape Town. We spoke to Atang about the inspiration behind the three-part project, and his journey as an artist, designer and creator.

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a designer and artist?

I’ve been sketching for as long as I can remember. During my primary-school years, my mother enrolled me for art classes at the Mmabana Cultural Centre in Thaba ’Nchu. My time at Mmabana was paramount, because it is where my passion and skill were initially nurtured.

In my first year of studying graphic design at Technikon Free State, I came across a graffiti artist named Rusty, from Johannesburg. I was impressed by his expressive style and skill. I realised I was intrigued by a rather skewed approach to art and design, so I coined Sqew as my graffiti name, and started tagging and bombing across the City of Roses.

I relocated to Cape Town in 2009 and, a year later, founded Zabalazaa Design, where I focused on corporate commissions – customising sneakers, painting murals, and doing surface design on skateboards and bicycles. In 2012, I had my first surface design collaboration with furniture designer Laurie Wiid, and in 2016 my first bronze sculpture trio – Maotwana Finyela, Le bone Lebone and Tuka ka Madolo – was sold at Design Miami/ with Southern Guild.

atang tshikare

How did you dream up the concept of “Peo e Atang”?

The birth of my son Peo, who is my firstborn, inspired the narrative that informed “Peo e Atang”. Created in collaboration with Peo’s mother, it’s a three-part coming-of-age adventure in which the main themes are hope, transcending adversity and self-realisation. The story is based on the fictional experiences and characters that 11-year-old Peo encounters on his odyssey, which traverses the physical and spiritual realms. It is meant to be a guide for Peo, to help him navigate the ups and downs of life so that he can carve his own course one day. The first instalment includes sculptures, photographs and drawings that were exhibited from 29 April to 19 May 2021 in Cape Town.

How do you see the exhibition evolving?

All three instalments of “Peo e Atang” will consist of a visual body of work, including drawings, sculptures and photographs, followed by a published narrative with illustrations. The second and third instalments (to be exhibited in 2022 and 2023) will expand to incorporate a soundscape element in collaboration with a few African musicians. We’re also looking at animation as an additional element. In 2024-2025, the entire trilogy will be presented as a comprehensive body of work, including the published narrative with illustrations, visual artworks, a soundscape and an animated film.

What is your artistic process?

Every project is unique. For instance, with the “Peo e Atang” show, it was important for me to be as informed as possible about certain cultural, spiritual and traditional practices of our foremothers and forefathers. To this end, my wife Tlalane Lekhanya-Tshikare – who is a sociolinguistics PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town – and I conducted research, mostly in Thaba ’Nchu, where I grew up, and Thaba-Tseka in the Maloti Mountains of Lesotho, where she grew up, as well as other parts of South Africa. We collected a corpus of folklore and legend, traditional prayers, songs and games in Setswana and Sesotho. One of the moments that stands out is when we visited ntatemoholo Credo Mutwa and his wife nkgono Kedisaletse Mutwa in Kuruman in October 2019.

It is worth pointing out that my drawings sometimes come before the narratives or research, because they can be based on something in my mind that I cannot articulate in words – a sketch that flows without much thought. The drawings are usually based on a single creature, an environment, or a mix of the two; they harmoniously influence each other, just as it happens in nature or in folklore. The sculptures are created in a similar way, but in their case I begin with a maquette, which can be twisted and reconfigured until it makes sense in my mind. As a creator, I give life to a form, and populate an environment in which it can thrive or to which it can adapt.

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