The Indigenous Mythology of Imraan Christian

Throughout his career, artist Imraan Christian’s imagery has always been a quiet protest. His debut solo exhibition of his ongoing ‘Ma Se Kinders’ project is no different. As the closing of the exhibition approaches, Petra Mason reflects on the important message the artist delivers using new age mythology

By Petra Mason
Imraan Christian’s solo exhibition Ma Se Kinders is on view at Everard Read Cape Town until 26 April

Capetonian Imraan Christian and I were introduced back in early 2020 by Nirox Sculpture Park owner Benji with the view that we would collaborate on an arts and culture publication.The plan was to travel to the Cradle of Humankind to meet but civil unrest erupted in the area at a nearby squatter camp, so we postponed the cradle plans and then the world got hit by a global pandemic. 

Not wanting to miss the chance to connect with the fabled creative we opted to meet in Joburg city that day anyway. I made us lunch at the art deco heritage building I was living in. Initially we laughed about how times have changed, how once we would have been part of the people’s protest but these bougie days we’re opting for lunch over rioting, but the conversation soon got serious. We discussed the importance of the wisdom of elders and about the art of storytelling, about how his immediate Cape Town community in Grassy Park (and beyond) has an indigenous mythology yet to be fully realised, one which could inspire youth to freely explore and reclaim their own deeply rooted  indigenous identities. We also spoke about nomads and contemporary cultural heroes, themes he returns to often in his visual explorations. 

Oliver and Richard, fine art archival print, 2024

Throughout his career, Imraan’s imagery has always been a quiet protest like his ‘Ma Se Kinders’ or ‘Mother’s Children’, aka Mother Earth series and project which he started in 2017. Within the ‘Ma Se Kinders’ narrative he is free to roam and play while further examining his community, representing the everyday in their transient glow, or reframing icons, as he does with Pieta in the painting ‘Blind Hearts’. In this, its latest iteration, on hallowed gallery walls, ‘Ma Se Kinders’ is on view at the upscale Everard Read Gallery, located (somewhat ironically) at the colonially historic Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

Bunny ears bestie, wood sculpture, 1 of 3, 2024

This exhibition sees the artist progress from just photography (the medium for which he is best known) to the use of tactile wooden sculptures and paint on canvas which forms a series called “!Noma” meaning “rooted” in Nama, the indigenous Khoe language. !Noma forms part of the Ma se Kinders universe as a remembrance of a time before colonial borders.

The series celebrates the beauty of the nomadic, yet deeply rooted, indigenous migratory patterns we find throughout Africa’s history in pre colonial times. Comprised of fine art painting and portraiture, !Noma explores the beauty of identity without geographic borders through the portrayal of mythological characters and symbolical elements like water, earth and air.

The color blue is considered sacred in many indigenous mythologies, in particular the Nama from South Africa often told stories that spoke of the relationship between the sky and the sea, and how our great ancestors were stars that reflected in water. This series uses the color blue as a thread to weave together the portraits to create many different tales, depending on who is doing the weaving and where the story begins; much like history.

Blind hearts, acrylic and raw pigment on canvas, original, 2024

Imraan’s visionary imagery is at once surreal and magical, fuelled by his mission to create a new mythology for the youth of South Africa’s indigenous communities, who, as a result of centuries of colonialism, have been deprived of their own history. “Where we find historical loss, the only thing we can do is draw from our culture to reimagine and recreate,” he says profoundly. Imraan draws on shards of often-forgotten culture to create something entirely new: a fantastical world of indigenous gods, queens, and heroes playing their part in tales that can fill the gaps in a history that’s been ravaged by imperial amnesia. 

Before the exhibition closes later this week, visitors and collectors can get to ‘meet’ Imraan’s mythical subjects like Meta, Nur, Oliver and Richard while getting a glimpse into a magical, symbolic and at times highly recognisable community of imagery depicted tenderly with humble hope by the emerging painter who is already an established creative. The artist is commercially represented by Cape based Egg Films whose CEO Colin Howard considers Christaan a “multi-faceted, artistic photography and film talent and these talents, combined with his unique perspective, give his work an indelible mark,” he says.

‘Ma Se Kinders’ closes this week on 26 April at Everard Read Cape Town, the exhibition catalogue is available from the artist and the gallery, 021 418 4527. 

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