Leru Leso (Black Cloud)
Drypoint etching and monotype
Paper size: 68 x 53cm
Framed size: 83 x 61.5 x 4cm
Colbert Mashile was born in 1972 in Bushbuckridge, Northern Province. He studied at the Johannesburg Art Foundation before completing a BA(FA) at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2000 and is currently registered for a Master's degree in heritage studies at the same institution. A young artist who is fast establishing a solid reputation, he is an Absa Atelier merit recipient and his work is represented in public, corporate and numerous private collections.
Conceptually and formally sophisticated for a young artist, Mashile acknowledges the cathartic power of art in working through difficult experiences. He works from a position of personal experience, conveying the trauma and psychic pain of the intense experience of male ritual circumcision - a kind of 'psychological mutilation" to use critic Ashley Johnson's phrase. Male circumcision is a taboo topic that has begun to be addressed with particular sensitivity and courage by a group of young black male artists, including Mashile, Churchill Madikida and others. The initiation process itself is shrouded in secrecy, which has contributed to the failure to prevent injury or death as a result of botched operations. Mashile uses abstract, even surrealistic forms and anthropomorphic figures to give visual form to his experiences. As one may expect, phallic imagery abounds, yet the artist is quick to point out the essential ambiguity of these forms, which also allude to features in the landscape of the Northern Province. His technical dexterity is obvious in his controlled yet expressive draughtsmanship which is particularly evident in his work as a printmaker.
Like Madikida, while he is proud of his heritage and acknowledges the importance of history in understanding the present, Mashile has conflicting feelings about the initiation process itself. The notion of masculinity, particularly within the black community is a theme that has not been creatively explored in any significant depth until fairly recently. Mashile's use of traditional ritual as a prism through which to examine contemporary experience, specifically issues of private and public, is a powerful device, and his poetic, highly imaginative visual language makes for a compelling combination of aesthetic beauty and critical complexity.