|Mothabeng David Phoshoko was born in June 1945 in Wonderboom, Pretoria. Phoshoko is the fifth child from a family of nine and as a boy began to collect wood stumps producing elementary carvings from the material. With the forced removals in 1959, the Phoshokos resettle in the town of De Wildt, eventually settling in Ga-Rankua in 1962. He was schooled at Rooistad, going on to the Hebron Training Institution. However, he dropped out of the college mainly because with time, he noted that teaching was not exactly what he wanted to do.
Phoshoko’s first job was at a porcelain factory in Rosslyn outside Pretoria, where, even though the factory had nothing to do with art, Phoshoko often spent some of his time modeling in clay. As time went by, he met other experienced artists , including Ike Nkoana who introduced Phoshoko to woodcuts.
In the 1970s, Phoshoko and other artists began to exhibit their work in the homes of sympathetic diplomats, including staff from the American, Canadian, and Australian embassies. His first solo exhibition was held in 1976, at the Nedbank Centre in Pretoria, followed two years later by his second solo exhibition at the Kingsley Centre in Pretoria, where he exhibited his woodcuts and sculptings. In 1978 Phoshoko exhibited in West Germany.
Black artists like Phoshoko also used shopping complexes to exhibit their work, in his case at Brooklyn and Arcadia Centre, but could not, in those times, avoid harassment by the police and had to keep moving. Galleries as well presented problems to these impoverished artists as the commissions charged were so high. The foreign embassies were used to their advantage as they could not be harassed by the police and they were received very sympathetically.
Phoshoko and other black artists were committed to encouraging young artists and to exchanging ideas among themselves and saw the need to have art workshops in the townships. This fostered the struggle and protest art of the time.
In the 1970s, Phoshoko and other artists met the likes of Father Mkhatshwa and Beyers Naude, both of whom were apartheid activists, and who assisted in taking the art works out of South Africa to spread the message about the apartheid inequities.
When Poshoko’s own township came under the homeland government of Bophuthatswana, as a resident he started a campaign to secure art centres in the area. On April 1, 1983, Phoshoko wrote to S.S.L Rathebe, Housing Minister, on the subject: “I am writing as chairman of an association called Badisha, representing more than 50 Bophuthatswana members in all the branches of art and craft in our country’s eastern district. These include painting, sculpture, graphics, music, poetry, creative writing and other arts and craft. This active group is badly in need of a Home centre, and this is why we are turning to you with our sincere request for a suitable plot in Ga-Rankua. Since we hope to contribute to the prestige and economy of the Republic of Bophuthatswana with pride and commitment, we hope, that the Government will consider allowing us the free use of the plot. The group itself will put up the building, so that there will be no direct expense for the Government.”
Phoshoko’s work captures the emotions of black people in the townships, depicting their misery and suffering in a politically charged South Africa.
Phoshoko’s woodcuts are distinct in the sense that they are mostly black and white. His work includes: Despair,1976; Ndebele Dancers, Dance of Awakening, 1976; Mother and Child , 1976; Peace,1977; Dancer, 1977; Lovers, 1977 (sculpture), Sacrifice, 1979, New Life, 1979; Hands of Creation, Together, 1991; Start of new life, 1976, Sensation, 1978; Anticipation, Unity in Justice.
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