Balekane Legoabe is an artist and curator based in Gauteng. Working in both digital and traditional media, she creates digital collages focusing on animals and/or human figures as her primary subject matter, and expressive and colourful mixed media traditional artworks using materials such as paint, ink, masking tape and sand paper. She completed a BA in Visual Communication with a specialisation in Illustration, as well as a BA in Film Arts specialising in Motion Design and Stop Motion and puppetry at The Open Window Institute in 2018. Legoabe was the recipient of the 2019 StateoftheART Gallery Award and presented her solo exhibition with StateoftheART Gallery in 2020.
We were thrilled to visit Balekane at her home studio in Johannesburg and catch up on the last few years; her work and life now; and the new series of digital artworks she's busy with.
Watch our short film and see her artworks for sale online.
Tell us a bit about what you are doing now: what does a normal week and work day look like for you?
In terms of what a normal week looks like - my weeks are fun!
I work at the Gallery at 44 Stanley, co-managing and co-curating with Fiona Pole. I'm there three days a week. We put together exhibitions and I also help with a lot of the admin stuff at the framing shop. So that's kind of my little taste of a 9-5.
Then when I'm not there, I'm working in my studio. I do have quite a set morning routine that I do: I do some journaling; meditating; and I also try to at least do 5 to 15 minutes of some form of movement, whether it be yoga or a quick little workout. It's like a nice little reset to get me ready. I put on some comfy clothes and then I'll make some breakfast and coffee, then I'll map out my day. Each home practise day looks a little bit different.
If I'm working on digital stuff, then that's what takes up the most part of the day. If I'm working on traditional stuff, that'll be the thing. I spend the greater part of the morning responding to emails and doing admin. I frequently take breaks, that's really important to me. Around 4:30 in the afternoon, I'll get up and go for a walk, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. The walking time is built in me. There are days where I'm just like, ‘I have way too much to do, I'm not walking’ and around 4.30, my bum will just move itself off the chair and leave. So, it's so ingrained in me, that outside time is very important. I also make sure to wrap up work around 5:30/6.
I feel like there's this culture of glamorising being a workaholic or just working 24/7. I understand that there are some people who really just have to work a lot of the time, but it's just so important to me to take breaks and take time for myself too.
Tell us about what you are working on now?
Well it's been really nice having the work from my 2020 solo online and for sale at StateoftheART and I like the fact that it has been moving steadily. Then the idea came up of creating a mini series of new buck artworks. So I thought it would be nice to bring in a fresh new set of bucks, inclusive of everything that I've learned up to this point, seeing it as an opportunity to showcase the evolution of my style in the last two years.
How are you feeling about doing bucks again since your 2020 solo? Have you been working on similar digital artworks throughout the last few years or are you just revisiting them now?
I’ve been creating artworks featuring the bucks, but they haven't been a focus. I have been focusing on original mixed media works a lot more and really trying to grow and develop that style. I have the photos and textures for the buck works, so now and then, just to breathe a little and take a break from the original works, I revisit them.
I like working at the computer because there’s no mess, you know? You're just in front of the screen with a drawing tablet. I like that I can migrate easily if I feel like I'm tired of being in my studio and want to work at a coffee shop. The digital is like my home space in a sense, having started as a digital artist and then moving into traditional media. At this point it's so it's been really interesting to see how both practises inform each other. Seeing the organic changes that have happened over the last two years has been super fun.
'One', Digital Collage by Balekane Legoabe. Archival pigment print on 200gsm True Fibre Matt, 21 x 21cm. Edition 1/5.
Looking back, what do you think about your solo show in 2020?
A part of me doesn't remember a lot of it, I was in such a bad space when I created it. It took me a long time to appreciate that body of work. After winning the Award I had such great expectations for what I was going to make and was excited to have a physical exhibition and sadly, COVID meant we couldn't do that. After being in a space of recovery from the mental misdiagnosis and the medicine, I really began to appreciate that work because it's an anchor of a certain time and a certain thing that I was going through. A thing that a lot of people were going through.
The interesting thing about it, is that I only physically see the work after it sells and I print it. Going and collecting the work and seeing it as it is, is very special to me.
Even with these new pieces I’m trying to draw inspiration from the work that I created in that show, it's the same process with a lot of layering. I'm just going to put it out there, that if Photoshop didn't have blending modes, my work would be ugly!
What has the process been like, moving from digital art to mixed-media physical artworks?
It was very challenging with traditional media because I was stacking and layering things, trying to make things see-through, trying to blend things together. I hadn't really figured it out. I know on the computer I can just scroll through the blending modes on Photoshop and choose one, but there's no scrolling through blending modes when it comes to traditional media!
Right now, I’m experimenting with this polyester film and embedding it over another work to get this multi-layered effect. That's a blending mode in and of itself. Working with a variety of media and trying to apply the effect of blending modes and layering. It's been a process of experimenting and tinkering and figuring things out.
What is inspiring your new series of digital works?
I haven't quite figured out the concept behind these new works. They don't have titles yet, I'm just working intuitively through the process. I'm just taking stock of all that is happening within me, and in the world around me and pouring it out into this body of work. Once I see them all together something will come up. It's been fun working intuitively in that way, letting things unfold, letting beauty unfold out of the chaos, without being forceful. I'm excited to see what it's going to be.
We've talked a lot about how to describe your work and in both the digital and mixed media works, I often see a similarity with rock paintings – the abstracted figures, scratches, textures – is this something you have intended?
It's so amazing to me that you pick up on that! I've been looking a lot at the work of Bill Traylor. He was an African American self-taught artist and he created these simple figures but there's a lot of depth and history. I don't know how to explain it, but when I look at his work I see history, I see narrative, I see ritual. Then there's another artist, Chioma Ebinama. She's also got a similar thing with figures and a sense of story and ritual.
Recently I’ve been very interested in story, ritual and history and how these three things inform identity. I mean, if we extrapolate the whole art thing and we centre it on one core: it would be identity. As artists, we're exploring identity and we're trying to figure it out. We're trying to describe our own stories or trying to understand the stories of others. I really like rock paintings - the mark making, emblems and figures. I am fascinated by the symbolism and the rich storytelling. These notions are very much at the forefront of my conceptual thinking at the moment.
What appeals to you most about storytelling?
Recently, something that I've been thinking a lot about is trauma and trauma processing, especially post COVID. When it was announced that we don't need to wear masks anymore, I was like, ‘OK, cool, whatever’. And then I went to the shop and saw people’s faces for the first time without masks and I actually got emotional. I wasn't expecting that. It just dawned upon me that we've been through a big collective trauma and it affected everyone regardless of race, class, age - everybody had been through this trauma together.
And then two Sundays ago, I went to the Holocaust and Genocide Museum in Westcliff and read about the traumas that people have gone through and still do. And I think it’s such a human thing, because we live in a broken world - everybody experiences some bit of trauma, some more than others. That's what a big part of this life journey is. Learning to deal with these traumas, learning to go through it and make sense of it.
These notions of working through difficulty together makes me think of ancient cultures and certain rituals or meditations or movement modalities being employed in order to work through the traumas. So, when I think of story and ritual, that's where I see the value. These healing processes and trying to place that in our context. With my art making, I often connect that to the carving and scratching, revealing of layers and the digging up of information.
What trends, artists, Galleries or events in the art scene in Johannesburg excite you at the moment?
Definitely the Turbine Art Fair, I'm just so grateful and privileged to be so involved in the whole process of putting the selection together for the Gallery at 44 Stanley .
In terms of exhibitions and things that I've been enjoying, right now I would say, David Krut in Rosebank. They have a little blue house which is their bookstore, and they've transformed the interim space into an exhibition space that they work on prints with artists and they put up exhibitions. They recently had Maaike Bakker’s exhibition and it was excellent, I was massively inspired, her work was mind-blowing. They currently have Heidi Fourie and before that they had Adele van Heerden . The activation of that space at David Krut is something really awesome and I'm really enjoying the shows. They stand out for me right now.
I've also been to Kalashnikovv a few times, and I loved Kylie Wenzels solo. They've also started their project space, Project 72 recently. I don't know when those guys sleep because they’re always doing stuff! Considering the rate at which they’re putting out shows, I'm just like, "how are you still alive?" But I love the project space because they're giving some good space and exposure to emerging artists, which is totally essential and they're obviously very well connected.
Then there’s also Banele Khoza’s space BKhz, which I haven't been into in a while but I think that's also a good one to look out for.
As a professional creative working as an artist and curator and exhibiting your work around the country, can you reflect on your journey so far, to achieve what you have? And what are your aspirations for the future?
Oh, that's a fun question! My journey so far has been full of turbulence, I would say - the whole mental health stint was very difficult for me. I'm really grateful to have risen above and am in a much better place. I've learnt so much from that experience. In terms of achievements, when I finished uni I took a gap year deciding ‘let's see how this art thing goes’. That's the year that I entered the StateoftheART Gallery Award and won. I also did a lot of things with No End contemporary art space and they took my work to Turbine and to FNB Art Joburg in 2019. That was really huge for me. We sold everything.
2019 was a hectic, supercharged year for me. Things haven't slowed down, but it's been different. My career is steadily growing, which is really nice. Figuring out the dance of managing being at the gallery and being in my studio space.
As for the future, I have big dreams. First of all, I would really love to travel overseas and to do a residency. Right now, I’m specifically looking at Europe as I've never been there before. With things opening up now after the pandemic, I'm really gunning for that.
And then I'd also really like to work towards a solo project. I don't have a space or anything yet, but I want to put together animation, art, digital art and sound art. I'm hoping to find a suitable space and work towards a solo project. The nice thing about it is that I can literally start making work now, without necessarily having all the details figured out.
Those are my two big dreams at the moment.
'Honey', Digital Collage by Balekane Legoabe. Archival pigment print on 200gsm True Fibre Matt, 42 x 30cm. Edition 1/5.
View Balekane's latest digital artworks for sale online >