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ANA Highlights Thebe Phetogo’s Work

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Thebe Phetogo is an artist from Botswana who works in painting, sculpture and installation. He holds a BA in Media Studies from the University of Botswana, Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art, and a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town. Phetogo works from a position of dislocation being an artist from Botswana working in South Africa. He uses art to locate and build a space for himself in history, both as a subject and a participant of the contemporary moment. His work challenges how people’s conceptions of gender, sexuality, politics, and history are formed by examining how personal identity and narratives are constructed.

Thebe Phetogo
Image courtesy of Artspace

Phetogo’s exhibition titled blackbody Composites, is adopted from the concept of the same name in physics, whereby a blackbody is an idealised, hypothetical perfect physical body, absorber, and radiator of all electromagnetic energy, with no reflecting power. These paintings are monochromatic and are inspired by visual features of green screens used on movie sets. The series investigates the connection between the person and the community thereby questioning what it means to be the perfect body and what it means to be visible. The result is other-worldly, yet also strangely familiar, often isolating particular individuals within a larger social group. His work is detailed, and the monochromatic color choice gives it a striking presence. 

Thebe Phetogo
Image courtesy of KO Artspace 2020 Oil, acrylic, shoe polish and collage on canvas 61 x 50.8 cm

In 2020 he was an artist in residence at the Arthouse Foundation in Lagos and this is where he created another chapter in his blackbody series. Futher, his work weaves between abstract and figurative landscape painting. Overall he is in conversation with race and Setswana geography, mythology and knowledge systems.

Phetogo was a part of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in 2022 and he showcased work from his blackboy and Lowe series. According to Setswana mythologies, Lowe is both the name of a mountainous cave from which the first humans are said to have emerged, and the deity associated with the cave. The initial idea regarding the Lowe paintings was that they would serve as a stage for the figurative elements of his work, with time this developed into a sustained interest in landscape painting.

Thebe Phetogo, ‘Untitled (Lowe)’, 2021, Painting, Acrylic and oil on canvas, Sakhile&Me
2021, Acrylic and oil on canvas 79.4 x 599.4 cm
Image courtesy of Artsy

He has done a solo exhibition titled A Confluence, Unintended at 99 Loop Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa in 2020. His group shows include Fresh Voices at Guns & Rain in Johannesburg  (2020) as well The Botswana Pavilion – No Return at Gallery Momo in Cape Town. Phetogo is a 2019 Cassirer Welz Award finalist and a 2020 Emerging Painting Invitational Prize finalist. 

Author

Lelethu Sobekwa was born in Gqeberha, South Africa in 2001. She holds a BA Honours in English from Rhodes University and has recently finished her MA in Creative Writing. She lives in Cape Town.

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