Johannesburg, South Africa / New York, USA
Thabiso Phokompe's responses for EARTH MATTERS Publication
Answer to question 1# -Why does the earth matter to you as an artist?
I was born in Soweto, South Africa in the heart of gold mine dumps, every direction where your eye can see there are fields of encamped white sandhills dug from the belly of the earth. In my youth, we were called or called ourselves "children of the soil." It was the liberation movement's way to inspire and conscientize society to the struggle of the time. I knew then it was meant to connect me with the land. On the local level, its significance came with how we perceived each other, we could tell where one is from by the color of the dust on one's shoes. My neighborhood, Dobsonville is known to have reddish soil. Boarding it to the north is Meadowlands with brownish soil, and to my south side of the township demarcation, lies Zola and you can tell by it ochre shade. Today, as it always has been, your identity has much to do with the type of shade found in your neighborhood. You are connected and that connection goes deep into the soil.
In the early 1990s, I was a participant in Thapong International Artists' Workshop in a place called Mahalapye in Botswana. The place was a semi-desert landscape as it is in the rest of southern Africa. The place had its unique shade of earth that couldn't be found anywhere else. I was inspired to incorporate the soil in my work, as it was a valuable medium for texture, depth, and color. By so doing I felt the connection of art to the land.
In the backyard of Soweto, the encamped white sandhills are a representation of "Death,"- a dead landscape of white mine dumps that seem to represent bloodless corpse, cyanide bleached hills- reduced life to a mere skeletal feel. Earth narrates through its shades, and one can see in the hue representation the health, wealth, and death and that is an aspect through which I use in my artwork.
Earth matters to me as an artist, for it is the bearer of history and a vehicle through which we can attain the future.
Answer to Question #2 - How do you see the role of the earth as a source of power?
The Earth derives its power for it is a source of life itself. I use earth for its quality as a life-giving force.